Autumn is upon us and with it come the shouts and cacophony of the fall session
of the Knesset. There are weighty and serious issues for our elected
representatives to deal with concerning our country’s security, diplomatic
standing and future. Social legislation is also on the agenda, and this includes
Just mention the term “regulation” and our media
professionals become irritated, to say the least. Media oversight is not a
favorite topic among journalists.
But just as we expect the authorities
to make sure that restaurants are hygienic, we should also expect that the
press, printed, broadcast as well as electronic, is held to minimal standards
which protect the public from unethical practices.
Experience shows that
voluntary codes, such as those of Israel’s Press Council, are
There is no alternative but to advance legislation and use
the law to try and regulate the press.
Media bias is undemocratic, and,
when practiced by statesponsored and state-supported broadcasting networks – the
Israel Broadcasting Authority, Second Authority for Television and Radio, Israel
Educational Television Network and Army Radio – it is illegal.
It is in
essence the implementation of extreme minority rule by a few editors and TV
producers, several reporters and the odd researcher.
Bias can be
implemented in many ways and it is about time our MKs applied themselves to
assure that at least the media directly financed by the taxpayer is fair and
pluralistic. Commercial radio and television could also benefit from more equal
opportunity and pluralism.
With this in mind, we would suggest to the
Knesset members, irrespective of their ideological makeup, that there are some
pressing media-related issues which need their attention.
We start with
the Army Radio station. Unlike the IBA and the Second Authority, there is no law
regulating the operation of the station, or providing for its public
supervision. The only applicable law – enacted this past year – deals with
advertisement, and even this came about as a result of the intervention of the
High Court of Justice. Must we wait for further guidelines from the Supreme
Court? Wouldn’t it be better if the legislature took the initiative? We would
suggest that advertisement be entirely abolished from Army Radio; a
state-supported media organ competes unfairly with private radio stations that
live only off of their advertising income. Only an extra NIS 7.5 million per
year is needed to replace Army Radio’s advertising income.
want to serve in Army Radio should first be required to serve 18 months of
regular army duty, similar to hesder yeshiva students. Then, they would be
required to serve an additional three years at the station – after all, they are
getting a free education in journalism.
Going through some regular duty
might also make them a bit more appreciative of what the IDF is really
Army Radio’s goals as a public body must be defined. It should be
clear that its first obligation is to serve the needs of the Israel Defense
Forces. Army Radio needs a public supervisory body, which would assure
transparency of its operations, as required from any other nonprofit public
organization in Israel.
Israel needs a press law, as the existing ones
are mostly mandatory.
The 1933 Journalism Ordinance is still in force. A
2008 bill was tabled by then-interior minister Meir Sheetrit but it never became
One of the important issued raised at that time was the need for
newspapers to permanently delineate the owners and publishers of the paper and
their holdings. This would have made it much more difficult for publishers to
use their papers to implicitly or explicitly further their business interests at
the expense of the quality of the paper. It is not surprising that at that time,
it was the owners who vehemently opposed this.
The proposed law mandated
the appointment of an ombudsman who would deal with public complaints concerning
content as well as advertising. As we know, “respectable” newspapers around the
world maintain a public editor or representative, so why should Israel be
different? Digital Radio: if the government sincerely wishes to free up the
media and bring it into the 21st century, permitting true pluralism, it should
adopt a real “open skies” policy, instead of paying only lip service to the
idea. The draconian demands of the Second Authority should be removed. The
airwaves should be open to anyone who wants to broadcast. Modern technology
enables hundreds of stations to broadcast simultaneously, why is Israel limited
to a dozen or so, most of which are regional and not national? The Israel
Educational Television Network: This is a publicly funded station. Its status is
that of an autonomous unit within the Education Ministry. Is it really needed?
We believe that Israel has too many publicly funded media stations and that this
is one which should be closed down. However, if this is not possible for
political reasons, then at least it, too, must be regulated and its operations
The IBA: So much ink has been wasted on this ancient
institution which refuses to be modernized. The Knesset controls its budget; it
should use its power to force the IBA to serve the public instead of the present
situation whereby the public is the servant of the IBA.
surrounding the rejection of the Latma satirical program while using covert
tactics to authorize extreme leftwing satire is but one example of the terminal
sickness of this body. A general debate on this specific issue would contribute
to a public review of what the real task of public broadcasting in Israel is,
and of who it serves.
Our recommendation is that the Knesset support
Communication Minister Gilad Erdan in his demand that TV Channel 1 be closed
down, reformed completely and only then be allowed to go back on
Media licensing: This is not only needed for radio
The present law regulating the TV stations is so complex and
demanding that in practice it prevents new players from entering the field. It
must be altered significantly.
Amalgamating regulatory bodies: Israel has
too many public broadcasters, but not less problematic is the proliferation of
regulatory bodies. We should learn from others. An Israel Federal Communications
Commission should be established, and it should be given the responsibility of
overseeing all of Israel’s broadcasters. The regulations should be limited to
the bare essentials and enforced without leniency.
No, we are not suggesting regulating private websites, quite the
The web is mostly a breath of fresh air. But too many of the
publicly supported media franchises use their websites without care for media
ethics. This should be and can be regulated.
We have touched upon a
number of topics, but there are many more, such as the question whether Israel’s
Press Council should be mandated by law, the revision of the law governing
rating of programs with respect to violence, sex and drugs. The predecessors of
this Knesset almost always gave in to media demands, motivated by
self-preservation. Will the present Knesset outdo itself and provide the public
with true social media legislation?
The authors are, respectively, vice chairman
and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch.