Lawsuits, complaints lead PA to cut satirical TV series

Abed Rabbo calls decision "a grave breach of freedom of expression and creativity", says order creates dangerous precedent.

PLO Exec. C'tee Sec.-Gen Abed Rabbo 311 (R) (photo credit: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters)
PLO Exec. C'tee Sec.-Gen Abed Rabbo 311 (R)
(photo credit: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters)
The Palestinian Authority leadership has ordered Palestine TV to stop airing a popular satirical program that has angered many Palestinians in recent weeks.
The show, Watan ala Watar (Homeland on a String) has been airing since the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, on August 1. The decision to take it off the air was made by PA Prosecutor- General Ahmed al-Mughni, who said he received complaints that the program had offended and humiliated a large number of people.
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The show has come under fire for allegedly ridiculing PA policemen, physicians and civil servants, whose representatives threatened to take legal action against Palestine TV and the producers of Watan ala Watar.
PLO Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo, who is in charge of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, said that he would abide by the prosecutor-general’s decision and stop airing the satirical program. However, he expressed opposition to the decision, saying it created a dangerous precedent, and harmed artistic work in the Palestinian territories.
“This decision is a dangerous precedent in the history of the Palestinian Authority,” Abed Rabbo said. “The prosecutor- general has appointed himself as the man in charge of artistic work, who is responsible for the public’s taste of things. This is a grave breach of freedom of expression and creativity.”
The prosecutor-general’s office said it had received complaints from the Anti- Corruption Institution, the Physicians’ Union and commanders of the PA police force in the West Bank against the program.
Bassam Zakarneh, chairman of the Public Workers Union in the West Bank, welcomed the decision to stop airing the satire. He claimed that the last few episodes had depicted policemen as drunkards and ridiculed Yasser Arafat, and prominent poet Mahmoud Darwish.
“We can’t allow a small number of people to defame the struggle of the Palestinian people and use abusive language against some people under the pretext of freedom of expression,” Zakarneh said.
Imad Farajeen, one of the producers of Watan ala Watar, strongly criticized the decision to stop airing the program as a blow to democracy.
“This decision is not only about Watan ala Watar, but also about general freedoms – especially freedom of expression,” he said.
Farajeen added that the ban would not deter him and his friends from uploading the show on YouTube and presenting it in other public forums.
Meanwhile, Birzeit University media lecturer, Juman Qunies, agreed with Farajeen.
“We are accustomed to some political subjects being off limits, such as not mocking a political party if there are Palestinian unity talks... The alarming thing now is that we can’t talk about the social problems that we suffer from,” said Qunies.
Nida Tuma contributed to this report.