Israel's largest cable provider to drop CNN for Al-Jazeera

A contract with the controversial network "should be finalized within a few days," says senior HOT rep.

October 23, 2007 00:25
2 minute read.
Israel's largest cable provider to drop CNN for Al-Jazeera

CNN off the air 224 88. (photo credit: Courtesy)

It's about to lose the right to broadcast CNN in Israel, but the country's largest cable provider appears to have found a replacement: Al-Jazeera in English. A contract with the controversial Gulf-based news network "should be finalized within a few days," a senior representative of HOT Television told The Jerusalem Post Monday. Should the deal be signed, it will put Al-Jazeera's English-language offshoot on the air around the time HOT drops CNN, said Yossi Lubaton, the company's vice president of marketing. The announcement marks the latest programming shake-up by the cable provider, whose subscribers make up nearly two-thirds of Israel's cable and satellite audience. Both HOT and its main competitor, Yes Television, already offer Al-Jazeera in Arabic, and Yes added Al-Jazeera's English channel last year. The removal of CNN and the addition of Al-Jazeera's English version both stemmed from financial considerations, Lubaton said, describing the changes as part of a cost-cutting campaign launched last year by HOT CEO David Kamenitz. "It's an economic issue," Lubaton said. "Most of the internationally famous news channels - Sky News, the BBC and Fox - for all of them the cost is significantly lower than CNN. [The move] to introduce Al-Jazeera in English comes at a much lower cost than CNN." Though HOT is prepared to cut ties with CNN at the end of the month, Lubaton distanced the company from statements released last week that appeared to question CNN's competitiveness as a news organization, and which drew attention to the channel's drop in the American ratings race behind Fox. "We are not arguing that CNN is not one of the leading news channels in the world, that CNN is not a good news channel," Lubaton said. But, he added, "We believe that the other news channels are sufficient to satisfy subscribers' news demand." That position is debatable, however, at least as it relates to the arrival of Al-Jazeera's English version, said Prof. Tamar Liebes, head of the Hebrew University's Communications Department. "Even to think of it as a replacement is a joke," Liebes said, adding that few Israeli viewers would be inclined to "trust" the channel's coverage of international affairs. Al-Jazeera's Arabic network, which broadcast videotapes featuring Osama bin Laden soon after the September 11, 2001, attacks, has been criticized for what some call its anti-American and anti-Israel news coverage. "It's incomprehensible," Liebes said. "Whatever functions CNN performed, none of them will be performed by Al-Jazeera. It's a whole different kind of person who will watch." The channel has remained the international news leader in Israel, said Hagit Mendes, a spokeswoman for the network here. Her comments were echoed by Liebes, who named the network one of two channels Israelis turn to for coverage of breaking news stories overseas. Asked about her channel's imminent eclipse in Israel by Al-Jazeera in English, Mendes declined to comment. "We have issues with HOT, not with other channels," she said. "We welcome another international news channel. It's a good thing to have as many channels as possible in a democratic society."

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