Reports and Representation: Arabic Media in Israel Looks to Overcome Difficulties, by Andreas Schneitter

May 04, 2014 0 Comments

When students ask Jack Khoury how to pursue a career in professional journalism, Khoury has the same advice every time: read everything you find, go to every place you can, talk to everyone you meet and be diligent, day and night. "As a journalist from the Arab community in Israel, you need to work as hard as three Jewish journalists together," he explains. It's the Jack Khoury way.

Khoury is a unique figure in the Israeli press scene. He broadcasts a news show on Radio A-Shams, an Arabic news station in Nazareth, and writes for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. For Haaretz Khoury covers a wide range of topics including Israel’s Arab population, the Palestinian territories and the greater Arab world. His latest articles, all written in Hebrew, cover meetings between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, mass death sentences handed down in Egypt and an accident on a construction site near Karmiel in which a young boy lost his life.
Khoury began his career as a reporter for local Arabic and Hebrew newspapers in the Galilee in the late 1990s. He now publishes approximately seven articles a week in Haaretz, one of Israel's major daily newspapers. This is a rare feat for Israeli-Arab journalists. "As far as I know, I'm the only one," says Khoury. 

For this reason, Khoury is a periodic guest at the offices of I'lam, an NGO based in the eastern quarter of Nazareth. I'lam was founded in the year 2000 by Arab-Israeli journalists and academics and works to help further the careers of Arab journalists in Israel. I’lam educates these journalists on mobilizing media platforms to improve their journalistic skills and to strengthen the identity of the Arab minority within Israeli society. Last year, I'lam launched the first forum  of Arab journalists in Israel and the West Bank. This forum allowed young and experienced professionals of local and international media to shared their experiences and discuss the problems facing the Arabic media in Israel. The title of last year's conference was "Organizational Challenges of Local Arab Media."

Indeed, the challenges are numerous. "When we talk about Arabic media in Israel, we talk about a small market," says Amal Jamal, general director of I'lam and scholar of Political Science at Tel Aviv University. "The advertising market and the financial capabilities are very limited [in Arabic media]." Another problem is the educational situation. "Future Israeli media workers have the possibility to gain their first experience at Radio Galatz during their compulsory army service, where they are trained by professionals. There is no alternative for young Arabs, who usually don't join the army," Jamal adds. The I'lam staff tries to close the gap by offering courses and workshops about photography, writing for the media and journalistic investigation in the fields of economic, political and environmental issues. However, with the number of Arabic media outlets increasing during the last years because of online publications and local papers, quality couldn't keep pace. Almost every village has a local paper, Jamal says, "but the number of newspapers is not the same as quality. Those newspapers cover only a small area and don't have the ressources for serious investigations, meaning the professional level is low. They are willing to take anybody who has a good camera and knows how to write, a little bit. In this case, competition damages the professional dimension."

Fayez al-Shtiwi has his own perspective on the realities of the Arabic media in Israel. Al-Shtiwi is the co-owner of Kulal-Arab, one of the leading weekly Arabic papers in Israel. Kul al-Arab is located in Nazareth, only a few steps  from the office of I'lam.
“If you want to be a good and successful Arab journalist in Israel, you can’t work for our paper eternally,“ al-Shtiwi says. “You must leave and I will be happy to support you." The average salary at Kul al-Arab is around 6,000 NIS a month, which is less than half the amount a journalist in the center will make. Kul al-Arab's circulation has declined in recent years to 38,000 issues weekly, which  are mostly sold in Arab villages and towns inside of Israel. "Only 10 percent are distributed in Ramallah, Bethlehem and East Jerusalem. However, in the North of Israel Kul al-Arab is one of the most important voices. In Nazareth, it is sold in 160 shops alone, while national papers, like Yedioth Ahronoth, are almost invisible."  Through these examples, al-Shtiwi has stressed the importance of local media for the Arab minority in Israel. According to several studies[1] and I'lam's surveys[2], Israel's Arabic citizens mostly appear in the national media for reasons relating to security, criminality and intelligence.

"To sum it up," says Amal Jamal, "the majority of this country shows no interest as long as the daily life of the Jewish majority is not affected, and vice versa. You find in Israel two public spheres that are totally separated."

Fayez al-Shtiwi enhances the importance of Arabic media in Israel by representing the political, social and cultural issues of a significant part of Israeli society and by offering a different view on the country than the national media. Still, according to his experience, Arab journalists will hardly find job opportunities in the Hebrew media because of the language barrier and the general bleak economic situation which most private media companies face. Al-Shtiwi estimates that the only people who are willing to follow Kul al-Arab outside of the Arab population "are the guys from the intelligence service." Though unsaid, the implication seems clear: the vast majority of Israel's public doesn't care about what is going on in the Arabic minority.
Except for Haaretz, says Jack Khoury, "because the owners and editors believe these are important issues to cover for a national paper." However, the subscribers of Haaretz don't seem to agree; usually Khoury's articles about the local Arab population receive only mediocre reading traffic.

[1]    Anat First: „Enemies, fellow vitims, or the forgotten? News coverage of Israeli Arabs in the 21st century“
      Abeer Baker: „Minorities, Law, and the Media: The Arab Minority in the Israeli Media“
[2]    Amal Jamal, Kholod Massalha: „The Discourse of Human Rights in the Israeli Media“, Ilam Media Center, 2012.
      Amal Jamal, Rana Awaisi: „The Challenges to Journalistic Professionalism: Between Independence and Difficult Work Conditions“, Ilam Media Center, 2012.


Diwaniyya Contributor