Case Study on Internews’ Gaza Humanitarian Information Serviceandthe Jossor ma’Gaza (Bridges to Gaza) Radio Program in Palestine

By Gloria Roh Post date: Feb 04, 2016

Location

Ongoing tension and frequent armed conflict between Israeli and Palestinian forces creates a challenging environment for journalists in the Gaza Strip. Dangerous working conditions and damagedtelecommunication infrastructures leave thousands of civilians with limited access to receiving and sharing vitalinformation. This case study looks at the efforts taken by Internews to alleviate this challenge through a journalistic approach. Internews created the Gaza Humanitarian Information Service (HIS) and the Bridges to Gaza radio program to (1) ensure access to timely and accurate humanitarian information (2) ensure two-way communication with aid agencies, (3) train local journalists to conduct quality humanitarian reporting and maintain public information, and (4) increase effectiveness and accountability of humanitarian response.

Journalists and the radio program learned to provide accurate, verified information in direct response to the community’s needs. In the beginning, communications were one way with emergency assistance messages from humanitarian organizations and government committees to the people. But as journalists interviewed the affected population and people began sending messages to the radio program and its social networks, those concerns were passed to the humanitarian community and led to direct impact in several instances.

Lessons learned include:

-          Journalists need to have a better understanding of how humanitarian reporting is different from regular reporting. Back-up systems need to be in place in case electricity or telecommunication infrastructures fail. The focus of reporting should shift to topics of the availability of resources, who qualifies for what types of information, how to access recovery assistance,result of assessments, and information from both the Israeli side and Palestinian officials. Emergency coverage especially requires complete flexibility to adapt to what civilians need.

-          It’s important to convince political leaders that even telling the people that there is no news is significant; otherwise, people believe that things are being hidden from them. Hidden agendas make it tougher for journalists to address people’s questions.

-          Humanitarian response is most effective when there are mechanisms built for two-way communication. This can take the form of humanitarian liaisons who speak with the project managers, newsletters summarizing civilian requests, or through direct feedback on social media or radio programs.

-          It’s efficient and more effective to utilize existing resources. Work with local media institutions, build trust with local journalists, and train them to provide usable news and information. They can build content because they know what is important to the local community, but they require training on the methodology of verification and production.

 

Bridges to Gaza was an incredibly popular and beneficial radio program in both the West Bank and Gaza. This did not go unnoticed by the Palestinian Broadcasting Company, who asked Internews to help them set up a training center using the same approach – learning on the job in real time doing real production. Many from the affected population expressed the feeling of finally being heard and felt relieved to have another avenue to send and receive information. However, the challenges are great and the assistance too slow.

Background

On July 7, 2014, a humanitarian emergency was declared in the Gaza Strip following a severe escalation in hostilities involving intense Israeli air strikes and Palestinian rocket fire.[1]  More than 215,000 Palestinians, almost 8% of Gaza’s population, were internally displaced. Most found refuge in various United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) shelters, and others with family members or civil society organizations.[2]

The conflict made it extremely challenging for local media to do their jobs. Journalists were under siege and deliberately targeted by Israeli forces. Electricity and telecommunication infrastructures were severely damaged. As thousands of people moved to locations along the coast of Gaza, their access to receiving and sharing vital, life-saving information became increasingly limited.[3]

Of the 25 local radio stations in the Gaza strip, only two independent stations were still operating in Gaza City, and they were unsure of how long they would be able to stay on air. The threat of attacks, cessation of public transportation, and lack of gasoline made it nearly impossible for staff to go to work. Most stations did not have the funds for equipment or the permissions, licenses, and additional fees to pay the Hamas government to operate mobile stations.[4]The ability to provide information about services, safe location, and functioning facilities to the people of Gaza became a huge challenge.

Internews Responds

Internews saw this as an opportunity to formalize a systematic response to all types of emergency information preparedness and response for the West Bank and Gaza. This had been under discussion with the partner stations and the Ministry of Information since the end of the 2012 conflict. What Internews had learned from that experience was that journalists needed to have a better understanding of how humanitarian reporting was different from regular reporting and that backup systems had to be in place.[5]

It was from thoseexperiences that Internews was able to set up a response and learning media lab with the Gaza Humanitarian Information Service (HIS). This project ensured:

-          Access to timely, accurate, targeted life-saving humanitarian information through local radio stations and SMS/mobile channels

-          Two-way communication flow with aid agencies through provision of high quality radio content, radio call-in/talk-back programs, SMS/mobile channels and contemporaneous audience research

-          Key local media outlets could remain on air and build their capacity to conduct quality humanitarian reporting, maintain the flow of crucial public information, and effectively manage and share audience feedback with air providers

-          An increased effectiveness and accountability of humanitarian response as communities better understand aid operations, access relief services and communicate with humanitarian agencies.

Internews managed to convince Palestine TV in the West Bank to loan the radio a frequency on which to broadcast informal programs to share information on locations of safe shelter, open clinics, and information on people in Gaza. The purpose of this three-month project was to provide humanitarian information to Gaza; first during the active conflict and then in the emergency situation after the cessation of violence, then finally in the recovery and reconstruction.

Project Activities

Bridges to Gaza isa 5-day a week, 50 minute radio broadcast aired on the 9-station Jossor regional radio network and televised nationally by Palestine TV Live. Timely updates regarding aid and rehabilitation efforts continue to be broadcast throughout the day as aid efforts and events unfold. The broadcast is produced by two dozen journalists, the editorial and production staff in Ramallah, and a dozen street reporters in Gaza. It also draws on a network of about 350 other Gaza and West Bank reporters connected on a secure network by a mobile phone application that is monitored by more than 3,000 additional journalists.[6]

Other activities included:

-          Training & mentoring in humanitarian reporting: One international and one international humanitarian liaisons work with the journalists to ensure the transmission of reliable, timely and useful information to the population of Gaza.

-          Social Media 2-way communication channels: Bridges to Gaza shares information via

  • Facebook, mainly in Arabic, targeting the young population in Gaza
  • Twitter, mainly in English, targeting the international community
  • YouTube, where audio files are posted online for people to download or listen to.

-          Regular audience research in Gaza: Audience surveys were conducted every 2 weeks throughout the course of the 3-month program. Results of the audience research serve to shape the program’s topic priorities and is shared with aid agencies.

-          Liaison with humanitarian responders: Two full-time Humanitarian Liaison Officers coordinate with the humanitarian community to support the dissemination of vital information.

-          SMS Feedback mechanism: In partnership with Souktel, a Ramallah-based mobile tech company, Internews set up a SMS audience feedback platform to support sharing of comments, suggestions, questions and concerns.[7]

Key Implementers

The Bridges to Gaza program is the result of cooperation between Internews, the Ministry of Information, Palestinian Broadcast Corporation, and Jossor Radio & Television Network. The program is funded by the United Kingdom Department for International Development. In addition:

-          Near East Consulting conducted the surveys on information needs and audience

-          Walter Dean, international humanitarian media production trainer from the Committee of Concerned Journalists/Columbia School of Journalism

-          Souktel, a Ramallah-based mobile tech company, set up an SMS audience feedback platform.

-          Zello, an American mobile phone platform, enabled Internews to do live reporting and allowed the audience to listen to the radio program via their mobile phones.[8]

Change in the Nature of Information

In the second week of the conflict, a five-day cease-fire was declared. Once the cease-fire ended and the conflict resumed, the radio program switched to emergency coverage to alert the people of Gaza where there were shelters that had room, which hospitals were functioning, and emergency assistance announcements coming from international humanitarian organizations.

By the fourth week of the project, a longer-term ceasefire took hold and Bridges to Gaza began informing people of Gaza how to access aid, health care, and replace lost official documents. As the early recovery began, the radio program shifted its content to cover issues of repair, inheritance, registration, and damage assessments.[9]

The nature of the information to the people of Gaza changed to meet their needs, questions, and concerns. In the beginning, communications were one way with emergency assistance messages from humanitarian organizations and government committees to the people. But as journalists interviewed the affected population and people began sending messages to the radio program and its social networks, those concerns were passed to the humanitarian community. This continued to happen through a number of channels; the project’s SMS messaging, Facebook, and a mobile platform as well as through interviews with the people of Gaza. 

Journalists improved the breadth and depth of coverage and made adjustments in topics and kinds of information needed. “Mid-way through the project, they began reporting the number of trucks going through the crossing daily, what is on them, the results of assessments, who qualifies for what types of information, how to access recovery assistance, information from the Israeli side on the goods that are and are not allowed, from PA officials on the plans and response to pressing needs in Gaza,” said Ms. Julia Pitner, Internews Regional Director of the Middle East.

Key Outcomes

-          After many questions and concerns expressed on bank loans for destroyed and damaged houses and businesses by the affected population through the program media, the Palestinian Monetary Authority and banks waived or delayed payments or forgave loans for the people – the radio program then told them how to apply.

-          The program began receiving calls and messages from Palestinian refugees who had fled Syria and Libya into Gaza when the Rafah border was open who were not on any aid agency’s list. This was made known to the humanitarian organizations and the PA. They now have IDs and have registered for aid and receiving assistance.

-          When the journalists discovered that the affected population was digging wells to have adequate supplies of water, the radio program brought a specialist to provide information of chemical contents in various locations and information on how to purify the water to drink.

-          When rumors began about delays in the start date of the schools, the radio program provided the accurate date and additional information for displaced families about which schools they should go to and the process of enrolment.

-          After a number of questions arose through the various media platforms on issues of inheritance and registering property loss or damage, the PA and humanitarian organizations were alerted to this problem and created a system with the Bar Association to certify ownership/inheritance in order to register losses.

-          A number of questions arose about the continued billing for services no longer received, i.e. electricity and phones, for homes that were destroyed; the program hosted officials from the companies and government to explain the procedure and ended with the alleviation of payment for those citizens.

-          University students who were unable to pay the fees for tuition raised the issue on the program and the PA and universities in Gaza responded with scholarships for those who had scored in the top 5% in the national testing.

-          A number of concerns arose around the caravans and leaking after the first rain and the humanitarian organizations as well as the PA were alerted. Assessment and repair teams were sent to those areas.[10]


Results

The principle impact has been the resulting action taken to improve assistance in response to the requests of the affected populations that were communicated by the project to the humanitarian organizations. The program addressed, answered, and provided information for all questions and concerns expressed by the affected population and led to direct impact in several instances.

Based on a survey at the beginning of October, 13% of the adult population in Gaza had heard the program and 6% listened on a regular basis with 97% saying it was useful information. In the West Bank, 7% of the adult population was listening on a regular basis with 86% saying it was useful and 73% saying it was unique.[11]

The Bridges to Gaza reporters became a trusted source of information in both Gaza and the West Bank and requests for training on the methodology of verification and production approaches came from several media outlets, most importantly from the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation.[12]

Challenges

“It was challenging from the beginning. We had to build trust among the journalists in Gaza and the West Bank, we had to adjust the nature of the reporting two times during the first two weeks of the radio programming because of collapsing cease-fires, and to schedule guests from the international humanitarian community, the government, and the business community.

We discovered that it was also important to provide the journalists cover and protection in Gaza, when two of the journalists were detained. We had to provide Jossor ma’Gaza staff IDs to enable them access to humanitarian organizations and provide them cover with the government in Gaza for taking pictures and interviewing the public.  By the second month, the emergency response shifted to a humanitarian response and became political. We did have a hard time convincing the political leaders that even telling people that there was no new news was important otherwise people believed that things were being hidden from them.  Toward the end, there were things that were being hidden and it became tougher for the journalists to address people’s questions.

The main challenge was the de-facto Hamas government in Gaza (as goods began disappearing) and then the suddenly secretive nature of the Palestinian Authority in the run-up to the donors’ conference for reconstruction.  All the Ministries started vying for control of the flow of information and we could not provide the type of information that the people needed and wanted to know.”[13]

Lessons Learned

The most unique aspect of this project was the journalistic approach in a changing and challenging environment. Internews was able to use the Gaza Humanitarian Information Service and the Bridges to Gaza radio program as an aid for humanitarian service as well as atraining environment for journalists, humanitarian organizations, and government ministries to test different approaches and solutions.

-          Journalists are targeted and can be detained during conflict, so it’s important to provide them cover and protection when they are out taking photos or interviewing the public.

-          Journalists need to have a better understanding of how humanitarian reporting is different from regular reporting. Back-up systems need to be in place in case electricity or telecommunication infrastructures fail. The focus of reporting should shift to topics ofthe availability of resources, who qualifies for what types of information, how to access recovery assistance,result of assessments, and information from both the Israeli side and Palestinian officials. Emergency coverage especially requires complete flexibility to adapt to what civilians need.

-          It’s important to convince political leaders that even telling the people that there is no news is significant; otherwise, people believe that things are being hidden from them. People start to assume the worst and panic. Hidden agendas also make it tougher for journalists to address people’s questions.

-          Humanitarian response is most effective when there are mechanisms built for two-way communication. This can take the form of humanitarian liaisons who speak with the project managers, newsletters summarizing civilian requests, or through direct feedback on social media or radio programs.

-          It’s efficient and helpful to utilize existing resources. Work with local media institutions, build trust with local journalists, and train them to provide usable news and information. They can build content because they know what is important to the local community, but they require training on the methodology of verification and production.

 

 

Bibliography

 

“Gaza Humanitarian Information Service (HIS).” Internews. Accessed November 19, 2015.

https://internews.org/sites/default/files/resources/Internews_GAZA_HIS_I...

“Gaza Public Embraces a New Kind of News.” Internews. Accessed November 19, 2015

https://www.internews.org/our-stories/project-updates/gaza-public-embrac...

“Gaza: Limited Information Puts Citizens at Increased Risk.” Internews. Accessed December 5,

2015.http://www.internews.org/our-stories/project-updates/gaza-limited-inform...

“In Gaza, Information Service Makes Connections to Aid and Services Easier: Jossor Ma’Gaza.”

Internews. http://www.internews.org/our-stories/project-updates/gaza-information-se...

Julia Pitner, (Internews Regional Director of Middle East), email interview, December 5, 2015.

“Occupied Palestinian Territory.” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. http://www.ochaopt.org/content.aspx?id=1010361

“Occupied Palestinian Territory: Gaza Emergency Situation Report.” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/ocha_opt_sitrep...

 

 


[1] “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. http://www.ochaopt.org/content.aspx?id=1010361

[2] “Occupied Palestinian Territory: Gaza Emergency Situation Report,” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/ocha_opt_sitrep...

[3] “Gaza: Limited Information Puts Citizens at Increased Risk,” Internews. http://www.internews.org/our-stories/project-updates/gaza-limited-inform...

[4] “Gaza: Limited Information Puts Citizens at Increased Risk”

[5] Julia Pitner (Internews Regional Director of the Middle East), email interview

[6] “Gaza Humanitarian Information Service (HIS)”

[7] “Gaza Humanitarian Information Service (HIS)”

[8] Julia Pitner

[9] Julia Pitner

[10] Julia Pitner

[12] Julia Pitner

[13] Julia Pitner