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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Who's telling the truth about Ramallah TV station raid? (updated)

From YNet:

Communication Ministry officials raided the al-Watan TV station in Ramallah Wednesday.

The raid was headed by officers at the ministry's Wireless Supervision Unit. Palestinian sources said that an IDF force accompanied them.

The IDF said that the raid was prompted by the station's use of unauthorized frequencies, which endanger flight routes over Ben Gurion International Airport.

One of the station's broadcasters said that the soldiers seized transmission equipment, computers and documents, and detained four of the station's employees.

From Ma'an:
Suleiman Zuheiri, undersecretary of the Palestinian ministry of telecommunication in Ramallah, said Israel had breached Article 36 of the Oslo agreement, which requires consultations with the PA.

The accord says a joint committee of technical experts representing both sides shall be established to address any issue arising on the topic of communications, including the growing future needs of the Palestinian side.

Zuheiri said the unilateral move should not have been made by the Israeli military, which is not authorized to seize transmitters or intervene in communications issues but did so anyway.

“The Israeli claims that the stations’ transmission interrupts aircraft communication at Ben Gurion airport are false because the airport’s range is very different from the range used by TV stations.

"Civil aviation waves, according to international parameters, start at 120 megahertz, while TV frequencies start at above 500 megahertz,” Zuheiri explained.

He added that the two stations Israeli forces raided and confiscated their transmitters had been registered at the International Telecommunication Union, clear evidence that the action was illegal and violated international treaties.

His ministry was never notified that these two stations caused interruptions, Zuheiri said, nor did Israel's communications ministry inform the Palestinian side of its plans to shut the stations down.
From what I can gather (and I am no expert in radio frequency communications) both of these assertions are wrong.

VHF broadcast TV in the Middle East ranges from 48 to 252 MHz. Civil aviation uses frequencies in the VHF space, between 108 MHz and 137 MHz.

However, broadcast TV VHF stays away from the aviation bands, with nothing broadcast between 87.75 MHz and 175.25 MHz.

In other words, no TV could see a signal even if the Ramallah station was broadcasting illegally within that range.

That is not to say that the station wouldn't use that frequency for other reasons, or that its equipment doesn't leak out into the aviation frequencies, or that Ben Gurion airport (or maybe a nearby military airbase) might need to use different frequencies for specific security reasons, or any number of other scenarios.

The GOI and IDF need to have the proper information available to journalists immediately when a story like this breaks, because even though in most cases the truth is on their side, they lose credibility because most reporters aren't going to follow up weeks or months later to find out the justification.

UPDATE: I am told that there are two issues that are being mixed up in the IDF explanation - the radio frequency of broadcasts and general electronic emissions. While it is unusual for a TV station's electronics to interfere with civil aviation radio or radar, it is possible, just like electronics can interfere with any radio or TV broadcasts at home. (h/t JD)