Academic journal article Jerusalem Quarterly

Jerusalem Calling: The Birth of the Palestine Broadcasting Service

Academic journal article Jerusalem Quarterly

Jerusalem Calling: The Birth of the Palestine Broadcasting Service

Article excerpt

On the last day of March 1936, as Jerusalem was moving from winter into spring, the Palestine Broadcasting Service (PBS) began radio broadcasts from the new transmitter in Ramallah, with broadcasting offices located near the center of Jerusalem. The inaugural broadcast was attended by an array of dignitaries and Mandate government figures, with High Commissioner Arthur Wauchope - the governor-general of Mandate Palestine and highest representative of British power there - himself giving one of the opening speeches. "For some years I have been greatly impressed by the benefits that a well directed Broadcasting Service can bring to the mind and spirit of any people who enjoy its advantages," he stated in a speech later reproduced in full in the Palestine Post, as part of a multi-part article titled "Palestine Broadcasting Begun". He added that in Palestine "Broadcasting will be directed for the advantage of all classes of all communities."1 Wauchope's comments about advantages fit neatly within mid- 1930s European understandings of radio broadcasting, and particularly reflected bureaucratic conceptions of radio as a public good intended to benefit listeners. Yet as his comment about "all communities" indicated, his speech was delivered not to a group of European broadcasters or bureaucrats, but in the highly charged political context of Mandate Palestine - a context in which people took great interest in radio broadcasting, as the Palestine Post's coverage suggested. What advantages could radio broadcasting provide for listeners in this context, and how would a government- operated radio station address the religiously inflected nationalist tensions of Palestine's two primary communities?

In his speech, Wauchope stated that the station would not cover politics, but would focus on "knowledge and culture". With this statement and what followed, he laid out both the promise and the limitation of radio broadcasting in Mandate Palestine. At the same time, he gave voice to the British bureaucratic perspective on the territory and its biggest challenges: how to bring its rural Arab "peasant" population into the twentieth century while providing sufficient cultural stimulation for its urban Jewish "professional" population. He made only an oblique, brief reference to what Palestinians might have considered their biggest challenges - the political and religious contestation over the nature and identity of the mandate territory - suggesting the bureaucratic "modernization first" perspective brought about by the temporary calm of the mid-1930s. Wauchope's speech suggested that modernization would inherently resolve the problem of Palestine, somehow harmonizing the competing aims of its two populations. To do so, the station would focus on two groups.

While assuring listeners that the station would reach out to all people in Palestine, Wauchope described two groups that he hoped the station would reach: farmers and music lovers. "We shall try to stimulate new interests and make all forms of knowledge more widespread," he promised, citing these two groups as examples "in both of which I have deep interest." He continued:

there are thousands of farmers in this country who are striving to improve their methods of agriculture. I hope we shall find ways and means to help these farmers and assist them to increase the yield of the soil, improve the quality of their produce, and explain the advantages of various forms of cooperation.

There are thousands of people in Palestine who have a natural love of music, but who experience difficulty in finding the means whereby they may enjoy the many pleasures that music gives. The Broadcasting Service will endeavor to fill this need and stimulate musical life in Palestine, so that we may see both oriental and Western music grow in strength, side by side, each true to its own tradition.

Why these two groups above others? Wauchope's focus on them suggested both the Mandate government's focus and some of its blind spots. …

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