Since starting her career in the middle of the First Palestinian Intifada, Maysoun Odeh Gangat’s professional journey in the broadcast industry has been a lesson in perseverance and risk-taking. As co-founder and Managing Director of Radio Nisaa FM, the first radio station run by and for women in Palestine and the Middle East, Gangat is riding the radio wave with élan.
With a BA in Economic Theory from a US university and a passion for media and journalism, Gangat’s journey started with establishing and managing RAM FM, an English-language station with studios in Ramallah and Jerusalem. This stint was short-lived, as the station was closed by the Israelis after a year and a half.
Gangat saw this as an opportunity to start Nisaa FM, a dedicated women’s radio station in Palestine. In 2009, she set it up as part of the NISAA Broadcasting Radio Company, with strong support and seed capital from the Switzerland-based Womanity Foundation. In her current role, as well as managerial decisions, she takes care of all programming and content with her team of female presenters.
Located in Ramallah, Nisaa FM broadcasts in Arabic on 96.0 FM for Central West Bank, 96.2 FM for Northern West Bank, and 92.2 for Southern West Bank and Northern Gaza. It can also be accessed worldwide through its website.
Asked about running an all-woman station in a predominantly male society, Gangat is quick with her reply: “It’s a tough job. Six months after the closure of RAM FM, I set up Nisaa FM. The challenge was a big one as I brought a new concept to radio in Palestine – a specialised radio station focusing on gender and gender equality. Besides the cultural hiccups, there were technical challenges that needed to be overcome. For example, identifying a frequency that could cover the whole of Palestine was a major decision and a lot of brainstorming went into it.”
From humble beginnings in 2009, Nisaa FM has thrived. According to its own survey, listenership in Palestine reached 330,000 in 2016. Revenues have risen steadily, from $26,000 in the first six months of operations to $285,000 in 2017, most coming from grants and commercials. The team has grown from four people to 14, including a university intern.
“Radio is a very unique media outlet, especially for women: it is personal, anonymous and very effective”
The station has grown in stature too. Gangat highlights: “Nisaa FM established a precedent in the region as the first specialised radio station. The station has full programming on women’s issues that target contentious issues in society. In 2018, through one of our programmes, Taswaq, which we implemented with Polish Aid, we assisted 24 women entrepreneurs to increase their sales through a free advertising campaign to market their goods. We have also done free legal counselling through many of our programmes that have helped women understand their legal rights. Nisaa FM airs Arabic art genre and pop music but are selective in their choice of songs to ensure they do not undermine the status of women in society. Over the years, Nisaa FM has become an agent of social change!”
Digitisation has been a driver of disruption for the television broadcast industry, and Gangat agrees that radio certainly has not been untouched. But she’s optimistic: “If I look regionally, nationally and internationally, the most important thing is digitisation and moving more towards social media. Having said that, I still believe in the power of the FM signal, and therefore the radio industry will remain significant.
“With visuals becoming more relevant, we at Nisaa FM have a strategy where more videos of successful women’s stories are portrayed. Instead of viewing it as a threat, digitisation is at the core of our strategy! Palestine is a very young society and social media is very popular, so we are looking at incorporating more youth content to expand our listenership. It all ties together.”
An avid believer in the sisterhood, Gangat says: “I am very much inspired by the message of Nisaa FM: inform and empower Palestinian and Arab women! The mere fact that a small radio station can change a woman’s life is an inspiration to me.”
Attributing her success to her family, Gangat says: “People around me are my strength and have fuelled my success. My mother, husband and partner have all played different roles in my life. My mum gave me the confidence in my abilities as a girl and now as a woman. My husband supports me with the right advice and guidance, plus looks after our child when I travel around the globe talking about Nisaa FM. My partner, Yann Borgstedt, has believed in my leadership skills and backed me to set up and manage our joint project together. All of them give me the motivation to keep going in this space.”
Being passionate about women and journalism is central to the team at Nisaa FM, but it doesn’t end there. Gangat says: “Radio is a unique media outlet, especially for women. It is personal, anonymous and very effective. For the young journalists wanting to do radio, it is very important to have general knowledge first and foremost. We bump into young journalists who do not know much about places or conditions surrounding them. So general knowledge is very important. Second, the ability to work under pressure is very important. We often get interns or applicants who want to stick to certain working hours… they need to know that journalism isn’t a job, it is a passion that you live by!”
“I am very much inspired by the message of Nisaa FM: inform and empower Palestinian and Arab women! The mere fact that a small radio station can change a woman’s life is an inspiration to me”
Nisaa FM offers ample opportunities for employees to grow and succeed. It gives priority to female media graduates. It offers flexible working hours for mothers, with 70 days of paid maternity leave and an additional hour a day in the first year back for breastfeeding. The station also encourages female journalists through internal and external training courses.
Gangat is looking at expanding the station’s national reach, exploring funding opportunities and incorporating youth content. She hopes to see more women joining the industry in decision-making roles.
“There are not so many women leaders in the media industry; I mean decision-makers. If there were, the whole industry would shift in favour of women. We still see women mainly as beautiful faces, and the content is more determined by men. I’d like to see that change.”