A man points as he stands on a tanker carrying liquified natural gas, ten miles off the coast from Hadera.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Much has been written lately about the gas monopoly and how the state should or should not deal with it. No matter from which angle the issue is discussed, all admit that monopolies are not desirable. The state has an obligation to do its utmost to end such economic anomalies.
There is also no reason to permit outrageous private profits from a national resource. There is, though, one monopoly that is hardly ever raised in the public discourse, namely the monopoly of the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) as well as that of the Army Radio Station (Galatz) over our radio airwaves.
For historical reasons, only these two stations are permitted to broadcast nationally. The regional radio stations are what their name implies; they are limited to certain geographically defined regions. The local Jerusalem radio station cannot be heard in Tel Aviv through the regular FM transmission. The commuter from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, or vice versa, who wants to listen to a regional station has to switch somewhere along the middle of the route. This is unpleasant, and so the average driver and passenger opt to listen to the IBA or Galatz, whose broadcasts are uninterrupted.
The result is that the reported audience listening to the two public stations is almost tenfold that of the regional ones. This has immense implications.
It is much better to advertise on a national station and so these two get the majority of the advertising market, even though they are publicly funded. Their competitive power to get advertising, which is based on their monopoly, is unfair to other networks, yet neither the government nor the press care. The immediate victim of this unfair practice is the quality of programming on the regional radio stations.
The smaller income perforce implies smaller budgets for programming.
The monopoly has, however, some additional aspects which are troubling.
It is no secret that both stations are dominated by left-wing liberals. One can just imagine how large segments of the population who have no choice but to get their information from the IBA and Galatz are seething about the media attack on Israel’s right wing and the residents of Judea and Samaria following the criminal attack which led to the murder of the infant Ali Dawabsha in the northern Samaria village of Duma. Even though to this day no one knows who the perpetrators are, the fingers are pointed immediately and consistently at Israel’s Right. Is the Druse population similarly castigated for the murderous attack on Syrians wounded just over a month ago? The anchors of the IBA and Galatz simply do not understand, nor do they want to understand, a position which differs with their own.
There is an added aspect concerning the programming of the IBA and Galatz: they don’t care at all about what the public thinks. Consider the “Kol Hamusika” channel of the IBA, which is supposed to broadcast classical music. It has never even occurred to the IBA management to ask the public whether they like the programming, or whether the musical content should be changed.
The monopoly can be changed and it only depends on you and me.
In past years, listening to radio broadcasts meant owning an FM receiver. This is no longer so. Anyone of us can tune in to their favorite radio station on the Internet. Even though this technology is available for over 10 years, it could not compete with the monopoly. It was still impossible (except for the very rich) to receive high-quality radio programming via the Internet.
But the technological revolution has arrived and now almost everyone, for a pittance, may listen to Internet radio through their smartphone, 24 hours a day. The third-generation cellular phone technology has allowed this to happen. The monthly cost is negligible, the bandwidth used is much less than the typical five-gigabyte listening package provided by the cell phone operators. Yet, one problem remains: how can one connect the smartphone to the car radio? In fact, this is really very easy. Almost all cars have in their radios the “AUX” option, which allows connecting an auxiliary apparatus to the radio. All one needs to connect the smartphone is a cable with two “male” ends. One is inserted into the phone, the other into the AUX jack. One sets the radio receiver to AUX and the monopoly is broken. There are dozens of apps which allow a smartphone user to surf any radio station she or he desires. Pick your favorite one and you can listen to it anywhere in Israel, indeed from anywhere in the world, including the US, Europe or even China.
Is the quality good enough even for classical music? From personal experience the answer is yes, and in many ways even better. In most road tunnels in Israel, FM reception is poor, but phone reception is maintained. In other words, using the AUX option, one will have better reception than on the FM radio.
This technology has an additional advantage. The owner of a website knows how many people are logged in at any given moment. In other words, instead of the “standard” rating procedure, which depends on inaccurate polls, here there is no question how many people are listening. The station’s managers can then use these precise statistics with the advertisers. A good station will profit and may become even better. A bad station will eventually disappear.
This technology, whose cost is negligible as the necessary cable can be bought for less than NIS 30, brings another revolution. The Second Authority for TV and Radio can now become the Second Authority for TV Only. There is no need for anyone interested in radio broadcasting to go through the hellish administrative demands of the Authority to open, at most, a regional radio station. Just go online, spend some money on advertising to let the public know you exist and you’re in business.
The upshot of all of this is that technology allows us to get rid of the monopoly of the IBA and Galatz over our airwaves. Don’t get angry at them, just do the right thing: stop listening to them. Go to your favorite radio station through your smartphone and start enjoying your daily trip to and from work.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il).
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