On Monday, at 2 A.M., police detained eight employees of RAM FM, which broadcasts from Jerusalem and Ramallah, alleging that the station in Jerusalem was operating illegally. Transmitters and office equipment were confiscated from the Jerusalem bureau although the Ramallah station has continued broadcasting.
The Communications Ministry stated that the station's staff were detained because of police assessments that they were operating without a license and had gone on the air without a tender.
"The resource of [available] frequencies is currently classed as a depleted resource, and the quality of broadcasting is compromised, as there are too many [broadcast] 'suppliers' offering services. We lack the authority to decide whom to arrest," Yehiel Shalvi, the ministry's spokesman, said yesterday.
Regarding the ongoing broadcasting from Ramallah, Shalvi said that licenses to operate radio stations there are issued by the Palestinian Authority.
RAM FM staffers say the station operates legally, and that they are looking into the legal ramifications of the police's action.
Jerusalem District Police spokesman Shmulik Ben-Ruby confirmed that eight of the station's personnel had been detained, among them station manager Maysoun Odeh-Gangat.
"The Communications Ministry issued orders to shut down the station and confiscate the 'pirate' broadcasting equipment operating there.
"We detained eight people for questioning, in accordance with new directives published by the State Prosecutor's Office and the attorney general, which state that we must deal with pirate radio stations with all the force of the law, after repeated cases of frequency interference, among other places, at Ben-Gurion Airport."
The eight workers were released to house arrest yesterday afternoon, but the Jerusalem office remains closed and its equipment is still confiscated.
Despite this, the station can be heard on 93.6 FM and on its Internet site, www.ramfm.net. Until Monday, everything at the Jerusalem station had seemed idyllic.
At the entrance to the spotless building in the Malkha technology park in which the RAM FM studios are located, the strains of Keren Peles' latest hit were still playing. Eleven floors above, facing broad views of the Judean Hills, one could forget for the moment that this was Israel. As a rule, some 20 Anglo youths work in the spacious offices, established by South African millionaire Issy Kirsh in 2006.
Kirsh is chairman of Primedia Broadcasting, and built RAM FM on the model of another station he owns, Radio 702, which operates in South Africa.
During the apartheid era, this was the only station in which both whites and blacks were on the air.
In its first year of operation, $2 million was invested in RAM FM, which began operating in February of last year.
The station's declared goal is bringing people together through music.
Recently the station mounted an outdoor advertising campaign in Israel and the Palestinian Authority with the catchphrase "music has no boundaries."
The ads featured artists like Bob Marley and the Beatles as examples of musicians who transcended continents and cultures through their work.
Brothers in arms - like South Africans
Station manager Odeh-Gangat, a 42-year old Palestinian, studied economics in France and political science in Washington. She said the station's promotional concept reflects its attempt to create a professional radio station, untainted by racism and prejudice, to forge a connection between the two peoples. The station employs local DJs, editors, and writers as well as South Africans, Australians, Brits, and Americans who, according to Odeh-Gangat, "want to be partners in what is happening in the Middle East."
RAM FMs chief news editor Mark Klusener noted that South Africans particularly feel that in Israel "they can make use of the unique life experience they gained in South Africa."
Odeh-Gangat met her husband Rafique Gangat, a South African of Indian descent, when he served as the South African consul-general in the Palestinian Authority. He is also an announcer on the station.
Apart from his wife, the other staff members detained on Monday are also "under house arrest for seven days and cannot leave Jerusalem, talk to each other, anyone else or members of the media," Gangat said yesterday.
"The reality is that if RAM FM was a pirate station, we wouldn't have invested $2 million in it, and we wouldn't have launched a massive advertising campaign. Pirate stations stay under the radar; they don't have advertising campaigns. But we know that we are legal. Both of our frequencies (93.6 and 87.7) are licensed by the Palestinian Authority and we pay for those licenses. "The Jerusalem studio and the Ramallah studio are linked by fiber optics. Everything that is produced in Jerusalem is sent back to Ramallah and broadcast from there. Nothing is actually broadcast from Jerusalem. "We feel very strongly about our mission and this has just made us more determined," he said. "The show must go on." Martin B., a blue-eyed, 33-year old Londoner, exemplifies the team of adventurous and highly-motivated young announcers who entered a fray that is foreign to them.
B. wandered the world for a decade, appearing on radio stations in Dubai, the Canary Islands, Egypt, and other locations before arriving here.
He now lives at the top of the hill he sees from the window of his office, and presents "The Breakfast Show," daily from 6-9 A.M. His is one of the most popular programs on the station.
He discovered RAM FM in a want ad. "You know the feeling when you just want to be part of something? That's how I felt when I read about the station," he said. "I thought that a station like that, so unique in the region in which it operates, would leave ample room for creativity." Despite his identification with the station's agenda, B. prefers to distance himself from politics on his own program.
"I believe that people prefer lighter content when they wake up in the morning. So I try to maintain an upbeat atmosphere on the program," he says. B. says he has hosted a variety of guests in the studio, including representatives of charitable organizations, Jewish and Arab students who attend a local high school together, and even Uri Geller.
For now, he enjoys living in the Middle East. "I'm in a new place, meet new and interesting people, and sense enormous openness. There's also a positive feeling at the station that something exciting is happening."
Although most programs on RAM FM refrain from direct involvement in political issues, its chief point of pride are its self-produced hourly news bulletins. "Media in Israel is commonly classified as pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian," Odeh- Gangat observed. "We try to find a balance between the two sides."
Following the Jerusalem station's closure, B. said: "Listeners have been calling us and sending emails to express their support. This came as a surprise. There were no prior warnings." B. is now broadcasting from the station's Ramallah branch.
A balanced viewpoint
The station employs Israeli announcers and writers, like Mike Brand, alongside Palestinians like Arda Aghazarian, who presents a daily, lunch program with Brand. This attempt to maintain balance is also evident in the content of news bulletins.
"We won't use a term like 'terrorist,' which is considered offensive in Palestinian eyes, nor will we use 'freedom fighter,'" said station director Odeh-Gangat, adding that the station attempts to provide in-depth coverage of issues ignored by Israeli media.
"A few days ago, a settler killed a Palestinian near Ramallah, after he took out a knife," she said. "We immediately reported the event but later sent a reporter to Bir Zeit University, where the Palestinian was a student, to shed light on the story from a Palestinian perspective. We will always try to bring both versions of the story. We do not have a political agenda. We mainly try to present facts on the ground in the most objective way possible."
The station concurrently strives to present a broader view of local, cultural issues. Odeh-Gangat calls such subjects, the Ramallah International Film Festival, the local water shortage, the organic food industry in Israel, and special events at Bir Zeit University, "the little things."
The station broadcasts 24 hours a day, but plays Western hits from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s rather than Israeli or Palestinian music. Music director Kevin Lee says that the station opts for a variety of music from Madonna to Linkin Park, "but we don't play the same songs a thousand times."
Although the station is aimed largely at Israelis and Palestinians, all broadcasts are in English. Odeh-Gangat said that the choice is part of the station's effort to be impartial. "First and foremost, market research we conducted indicated that there was a demand for an English-language station," she said.
"Moreover, we consider English to be a neutral language. If it is the official language used to conduct peace talks between Israel and Palestine, it is good enough for us."
Daphna Berman contributed to this article.
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