Much has been written concerning the required reckoning in the aftermath of the media’s fiasco during the four-month election campaign. The real question, though, is not what needs to be said, but what must be done. Our media needs to clean itself up thoroughly for there is too much chametz (leavened foods forbidden during Passover) lying around.
What could be done by government, the media itself and by media consumers? Let’s start with Channel 10 TV. This channel, as we have often written, has sullied Israel’s TV scene. It has cost the taxpayer over a billion shekels since its first broadcasts in January 2002. On March 22 it requested a broadcasting license for the next 15 years.
This request is now under deliberation by the Second Authority for TV and Radio (SATR).See the latest opinion pieces on our Opinion & Blogs Facebook page
But allow us to remind ourselves that prior to these elections, the channel was, as usual, in arrears in its payments, at that time to the tune of NIS 36 million. The government and the Knesset decided that this was not the appropriate time to close down the channel. The attorney general saved the day, allowing the channel to continue broadcasting until June 30, even though the law stipulated that under the circumstances the channel should be closed down.
The request to continue operating for the next 15 years under license, instead of the present concession system, came at the last moment. The law has set several conditions for granting a license. Among them are presenting guarantees for paying a NIS 67m.
annual license fee. Another demand is to spend at least NIS 130m. annually on local programming. Thirdly, there is a NIS 3m. fee just to submit a license request. In addition, anyone who wants a license must convince the SATR that they are financially stable.
It is no wonder that Israel lacks good TV programming.
The government obviously considers the media a cow, to be milked at will, with the government controlling the milking schedule. If it so happens that the cow is sick, as Channel 10 is, the cowhand decides to forgo the milking for that day. When this repeats itself too many times and the cow stops giving milk altogether, it is sent out for slaughter.
Channel 10 has continued to pay its debts, albeit only after receiving generous reductions which were then promptly applied to the other channels.
Thus, last week, the SATR decided to reduce the license fee to NIS 45m. and to forgo the license request fee of NIS 3m. to anyone already owning a concession. This last step was clearly meant to enable Channel 10 to submit its request without paying the fee. Why should Channel 10 have any advantage over new players? The logic is beyond us.
The present socialist law is ridiculous. In a free economy, anyone should be allowed to request a broadcasting license.
Technology is such that the airwaves are essentially limitless.
There is no reason to impose unnecessary draconian rules and regulations on broadcasters.
There is an analogy between restaurants and the media. A restaurant has to prove that it can uphold minimal sanitation standards. A TV station must do the same. It must prove that it has the ability to uphold minimal broadcasting standards, both technological and content-wise. But that is all that it should be obliged by law to do. A profitable TV station pays the salaries of its employees and taxes on profits.
The government should content itself with the resulting income.
We have often demanded in this column that Channel 10 be closed down. Being realistic, we expect the government to be too weak to do the right thing, which is to stop violating its own laws by continuing to make concessions to the channel. Nevertheless, even our politicians could show some leadership and thoroughly revamp the law, allowing anyone to broadcast and stopping government meddling in the broadcasting business. This would lead to true pluralism, and would end the Channel 10 saga, since it would be only one of many and would have to stand on its own two feet or cease existing.
But let us not assume that this would heal all of Israel’s media woes. Part of the problem, which also appears in the Channel 10 saga, lies in the superiority complex of the media. Too many in the media feel that they are above the law. Consider our national broadcaster IBA’s TV Channel 1, which should be a model of good citizenship. It decided, on Election Day, that the present law forbidding any Israeli TV channel from broadcasting statements of politicians is archaic and promptly violated it. At Israel’s Media Watch, we submitted a formal complaint to Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran, chairman of the Central Elections Committee, but do not expect any action to be taken.
There are other laws on the books that should be upheld.
One of them demands that all voices in Israeli society be heard. It has never been enforced, or to phrase it differently, people such as Ari Shavit of Channel 1’s Friday night Yoman show or Moshe Negbi, the IBA’s sole legal pundit, seemingly consider themselves to be the voice of everyone and so are not willing to allow themselves to be balanced by someone else sharing the studio with them on the same program.
This ridiculous state of affairs has been summarized aptly by Yaron Dekel, the present head of the army radio station Galatz, in a March 23 op-ed published in Globes: “The late minister Uri Orbach was a ground-breaker of the entry of right-wingers in to the mainstream media...there are not enough successors to Orbach.
Only a significant entry into the established mainstream media of journalists with kippot, residents from the periphery and those holding a rightwing line will change the situation and free it from its ‘in-a-bubble’ reality.”
In contrast to pundits such as ourselves, Dekel does not need to write; he can actually do. He can clean up the chametz in the Army Radio station.
The production of Hakol Shafit, a decidedly right-ofcenter satire series on Channel 1, shows that it is possible to provide good media content while remaining pluralistic.
Why cannot Dekel create real pluralism? We do not accept his claim that there are not enough successors to Orbach.
We can think of a half-dozen people at least who could be anchors of the news programs on the channel and do the job at least as well as people such as Yael Dan and Razi Barkai.
Public mass media should neither be dominated by an interfering government bureaucracy or by politicians who are members of various Knesset committees that seek their own airtime. It should not be the fiefdom of an elitist ideological and cultural clique behind the microphones and in front of the cameras. It is high time to discard the chametz..
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il).
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