Trends in Digitial Technology and Palestinian Media
The data below show interesting trends with respect to media use and news. The data were reported in the Journalist Resource (journalistresource.org/studies/) and represent current trends in the sources of news. The conclusions from these data are not my primary concern here because they reinforce what we pretty much already know. That is, newspaper circulation is in decline, television viewership has dropped and more and more people get their news from social media – online and digital outlets in particular. These are the only two lines moving upward in the graph. But what is interesting is the theoretical possibilities of this trend for any international community. In other words, what are the potential consequences of this shift from traditional media to digital outlets. Below I speculate about a few possibilities with respect to groups in conflict and the Palestinians in particular. Again, the data in the graph do not pertain directly to any other international community, but they do represent a very common trend and one that either does or will influence allcommunities.
Historically, journalism and stories reported in media outlets provided a sense of coherence and at least a certain amount of consistency. Journalism was part of the power network in a culture with considerable respect and cultural capital. This was particularly true in less developed political systems such as many of those in the Middle East and of course the Palestinian Authority would qualify. There was typically one primary news outlet and everyone was exposed to the same information.
In the West Bank political communication was very limited by a combination of Israeli restrictions and undeveloped cultural traditions. From the 1980s into the 1990s penetration rates for news and media outlets were very low. This was because of poor communication infrastructure, economic development that was insufficient to improve access, lower literacy rates, and the general resistance of the culture to adopt new technology.
Things improved as a result of the Oslo Accords in 1993 where the Palestinians gained more control over their own technology. But the Internet became a revolutionary change. Because of the cross boundary capabilities of the Internet, and the fact that the Internet respected no borders, the Palestinians began to thrive with respect to information access and distribution. Internet penetration in the West Bank and Gaza is higher than in many other places such as Syria. New technology has energized Palestinian NGOs, human rights organizations, and made the formation of online communities possible. Also, during periods of violence and uprising when there is damage to buildings and Palestinian communication infrastructure, they are typically back on the air quickly because of availability of advanced technology.
But given that the PNA in the West Bank and Gaza has digital access and opportunity at least comparable to many political systems, it means that they also experienced the consequences of the digital age. One consequence is that Palestinians are now more involved in the media industry and thus more influential. Foreign news organizations use Palestinian talent and there are more young people involved in the news business with more ambition along with critical sensibilities.
There is still the problem of media control with no shortage of leaders who would like to use the media as a voice of propaganda. But multiple media outlets and the possibilities of user generated content make this more difficult. The ease and accessibility of digital forms of communication performs its democracy work in the West Bank and Gaza as well as any other place. Multiple voices and outlets are important and effective constraints on power. Where authoritarian media are governed by obedience and respect for political power, new digital media are more likely to broaden possibilities and make government monopolies difficult.
It is true enough that the Israeli-Palestinian problem is not easily addressed, but it remains the case that the rise in digital technology can structure in certain conflict resolution features that can contribute to a deliberative space responsible for helping to prepare the discourse of problem-solving. Some of the features of new digital technology that can enable the deliberative process are accessibility or availability of use to multiple citizens, equality or fairer access to media by a wider variety of people, along with the potential for more transparency and accountability. All in all, digital technology will benefit many aspects of West Bank and Gaza media. Even organizations that are more authoritarian such as Hamas cannot control digital technology sufficiently to manage the media environment. That is one reason why Hamas will maintain its reliance on violence as a form of control. Still, digital technology will facilitate the availability of mediated information that will one day at least find its way into the qualities of interaction necessary for progress toward mending political divides.