Participatory Media Among Palestinian Youth
Even before the Arab uprisings, citizens have been actively participating in the formation and distribution of media across the region. In a 2009 article entitled “Creative Activism: Youth Media in Palestine,” Julie Norman examines a form of participatory media emerging in Palestine that she calls “youth media.”
Norman uses the term “participatory media” to refer to alternative media produced by individuals and communities that “share personal stories and collective experiences,” and often challenge the dominant narratives of the mainstream media and raise awareness of issues. Participatory media has also served as a tool for creative expression and civic engagement of youth.
This expression and engagement is what Norman means by “youth media.” Norman describes youth media as a means of “amplifying young people’s voices on issues of importance to them.” Youth are confronting local problems and amplifying their voices in many ways.
One of the oldest forms of participatory youth media is theater. Youth theaters, such as The Freedom Theatre, Ashtar Theatre, and the Palestinian Children’s Theatre Center are raising awareness about everyday forms of oppression experienced by young people, and encouraging peaceful solutions through dialogue. Photography and visual communication have also proven to be a powerful media to overcome language barriers.
Other popular media include, film and video, websites, music, radio programs, and television dramas.
Besides functioning as a creative outlet, Palestinian youth media offers an alternative framework to the discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Norman explains the influence of youth media on the individual, community, region, and even international level. She writes:
“Essentially, participatory media enhance youth understandings of their own strengths and capabilities, as well as their communities’, thus deepening their sense of individual and collective agency. The creative process enables youth to become more critically aware of the issues affecting them, express their ideas and opinions, and inspire dialogue and action.”
Youth media generates discussion by revealing honest, genuine stories of everyday life of people in conflict. Using media as a catalyst for change, Palestinian youth focus on “individuals and communities, thus eliciting emotional responses in addition to providing cognitive knowledge,” states Norman.
Participatory media, specifically youth media, is not immune to power relations and challenges. Distribution opportunities for community-based projects are often limited. Along with fiscal constraints, government agencies, international activists, and coordinators often intervene in project outcomes.
These limitations may never be eliminated, but as long as youth ignore outside expectations and coordinators understand the importance of local ownership and true youth participation, their impact may be diminished in future youth-lead projects. Participatory media inspires youth to amplify their voices and these voices have inspired local and global communities to promote dialogue and greater understanding.
[Monica Komer is a first year undergraduate double majoring in International Studies and Journalism. She is a participant in the First Year Research Experience program, through which she is helping me with a project on “New Media and Electronic Networks” which will produce a chapter for a forthcoming compilation book about anthropology in the Middle East].
Norman, Julie M. 2009. Creative Activism: Youth Media in Palestine. Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 2: 251-274.