In the beginning, there was only one government radio station operating in
Israel. The government decided that this was “good” and so it created in 1965 a
national TV station, operating under the auspices of the Israel Broadcasting
Authority. Israel prides itself in its modernity and progress-oriented policies
and indeed, it took a mere 17 years for the cable TV era to reach us.
1986, the government passed the “Bezeq Law” which is the basis for the
regulation of cable and satellite TV broadcasting. Having had 20 years’
experience, the legislators realized that the IBA national TV station was not
that interested in local news. In their wisdom, they decided that any
broadcasting company wanting to supply the public with cable TV services must
also commit itself to creating and broadcasting local programming at its own
expense. The local news network was born.
The law was further refined in
1996 and the cable television suppliers were now told to “broadcast news and
programs dealing with present-day issues in their local region only.” The law
was enacted for a fixed period of time – 10 years.
The 10 years passed
quickly, and naturally, cable TV suppliers did not intend to continue to foot
the bill. They threatened closure. Our sensitive legislators, whose livelihood
depends on their media image and thus almost always cave in to financial demands
coming from media organs, decided to change the rules of the game. From now on,
as an emergency measure, they decided that the licensee is permitted to deduct
up to NIS 25.5 million annually in lieu of their expenses. The local news
broadcasts were saved.
Is this important? The Knesset certainly thought
so. The official justification for passing the law as it appears in the Knesset
annals was, among other things: “Local news broadcasting is an important
facility for bringing to the public local events and news items from the
different regional areas of the country, including the peripheral regions. Such
events do not receive coverage in the national news and so reach the public only
through the local programming.
The law gives an answer to a pressing
A year passed, and again and yet again, the Knesset
repeatedly re-legislated this emergency measure for terms of a year or even
longer. The next-to-last temporary measure took place in 2011, allowing the law
to be in force until December 31, 2012.
As it so happens, Israel prides
itself in being an advanced democracy which safeguards equal rights for all,
especially when it comes to public funding, and one could expect that the
company given the right to produce the local broadcast would get it through an
open public tender. This way, any company could compete. The competition
presumably would lower the cost to the taxpayer and increase the quality and
everyone would be happy.
But things don’t work this way. On April 4,
2010, the Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting (CCTSB) agreed that
the local news would be created by the privately owned “Koda Communication”
The mandate of the CCTSB, as described on its website, is “to
represent, protect and promote the public interests in the field of cable and
satellite multi-channel subscriber television.”
Is this the way the
public interest was protected? By giving away the local broadcasting rights,
without any tender? Does this remind us of the accusations against the robber
barons in Israel? You bet it does.
Could the CCTSB defend itself by
claiming that no one else was interested in taking on this job? On July 18,
2012, the company running the “Radio Kol Rega” northern regional radio station
that was interested in competing for the right to broadcast the local news
received a letter from Mr.
Avi Licht, the deputy attorney-general,
notifying the company that indeed, the issue should be resolved via a public
tender. The company, on July 22, promptly petitioned the communications minister
to hold a public tender for the local news programming.
Another letter on
July 31 and a further request on September 27 led nowhere. The minister’s phone
was perhaps out of order.
The temporary local broadcasting law was about
to end on December 31, 2012, just before national elections; not a time to
quibble with trifling matters such as tenders. With the employees of Koda
Communication threatened with layoffs, our heroic Knesset Members decided to
save them and provide Koda Communication with an additional lifeline, lasting
until July 31, 2013.
But time inexorably moves only forward, and July 31
is already behind us. Radio Kol Rega as well as Israel’s Media Watch petitioned
the communications minister on July 15, demanding a public tender and cessation
of the continuous “temporary” measure unfairly maintaining Koda Communication at
taxpayers’ expense. Finally, the minister’s legal adviser answered: “Since the
law was to end on July 31 there wasn’t sufficient time to hold a public tender.
However, the ministry does believe that it would be right that any further
continuation of the present situation would be followed with a public
The bottom line is that the Knesset again passed a temporary
law, forcing the public to pay for the local TV news, this time for only five
months, until December 31, 2013. Radio Kol Rega and Israel’s Media Watch have
petitioned the High Court of Justice, which in its wisdom, permitted Radio Kol
Rega, the Knesset and the Communications Ministry an extension until October 3
to present their answer.
Does all of this sound like a soap opera?
Indeed, in this day and age, is there any need for local news
broadcasting funded from our own pocketbooks? Ynet, for example, has a Mynet
website which deals with local news.
Is the public really interested in
the local news broadcasting? The ratings are a jealously kept professional
secret, but judging from what we know and hear, they are negligible. The local
news networks have not created an important alternative, nor have they come up
with terribly important scoops which then reached the national
Their scope is also rather limited. There are only three
editions, dealing with the Kiryat Shmona, Beersheba and Tel Aviv local regions
(Tel Aviv is apparently considered the periphery). No one knows how much Koda
Communication profits from the public coffers. Indeed, in a country which
proudly possesses a plethora of public broadcasters – the Israel Broadcasting
Authority, Educational TV, the army radio station Galatz, the second authority
news programming – one can only wonder why additional funding should go for
something that no one really needs. Wouldn’t it be better to give the same funds
to Galatz so that it could eliminate all advertising and provide the public with
some quality local news instead? Will media justice be done? The authors are,
respectively, vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch