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The head of the Communications Ministry's regulating Council for Cable and Satellite Broadcasting told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday he does not consider cable firm HOT's plan to remove BBC Prime from its package to be a legal breach that requires the ministry's intervention.
As with a plan by satellite provider YES to remove Star World - in both cases to cut costs - Yoram Mokady noted that "Subscribers pay for an undefined package which does not specify which channels will stay. These issues are in the hands of market competition. The standards [enforced by the CCSB only] stipulate a general requirement for diversity within the basic cable packages," he said.
The Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) is holding a meeting on January 17 in Ra'anana to address its members' anger over the proposed cancellations. "We've had tons of calls and emails asking us to take action [over BBC Prime], especially from our Netanya office which deals directly with more olim from England," said David London of the AACI, which represents approximately 35,000 Anglo-Israelis.
That meeting, however, could be too late for YES's Star World broadcasts, which are due to end on January 15.
HOT told the Post on Sunday that it was still negotiating with the BBC. Should the talks break down, BBC Prime will be discontinued as of the end of January. HOT will then offer various British programs via a Video on Demand channel, for extra charges. Subscribers dissatisfied with such an alternative would be free to cancel their subscriptions.
YES is not cancelling BBC Prime, but spokeswoman Libi Cohen confirmed Star World will go on January 15. Another YES representative had no information on potential alternatives, and offered no price reduction for the reduced package.
The Israel Consumer Council has urged Mokedi to protect consumer interests and deter the companies from cutting costs by arbitrarily removing channels from the basic package.
If the CCSB believes the service providers are moving deliberately to narrow down their basic packages, it can recommend that the communications minister obligate them to lower their prices. But Mokady said he would not recommend such a step at present.
In fact, Mokady said he believed BBC Prime would ultimately stay. "The will of the people usually prevails in these sorts of situations, as when HOT announced it was cancelling CNN approximately a year and a half ago. Viewers called and wrote, and HOT listened."
As purported compensation if BBC Prime is withdrawn, HOT is offering new channels from the former Soviet republic of Georgia, Ethiopia and China.
"This is clearly not compensation for BBC Prime," said British-born Helen Linden, who now lives in Jerusalem. "If I stay with HOT, I lose BBC World, and if I switch to YES I lose Star World. I object to being put into this position," she said.
Telfed, the South African Zionist Federation, said numerous members had e-mailed and called to complain. "Many of our members are angry over this but no one is formally addressing it," said Sharon Bernstein of Telfed.