Channel 14 as Israel’s Fox News? - opinion

The $64,000 question is whether the new arrangement will finally turn the new channel into the Israeli Fox News – a respectable right-wing TV station with a large audience.

 THEN-PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a Channel 20 conference in Jerusalem earlier this year. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
THEN-PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a Channel 20 conference in Jerusalem earlier this year.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

In recent years I have turned into a regular viewer of TV channel 20, which on November 28 moved to channel 14 under the name of Now14.

I admit that at first the designation of the channel as the “heritage channel” did not catch my interest, especially since the heritage it dealt with was exclusively that of the Orthodox population. I started taking interest in the channel as it slowly, but surely started turning into a mouthpiece of the ‘Bibist’ (Pro Benjamin Netanyahu) section of the Israeli Right, as part of my desire to remain au currant of the views propagated by those who profess political ideologies and programs other than my own.

Even though Channel 20 professed “to say what the people think,” and it is no secret that the majority of the people (at least the Jewish people) in Israel are right-wingers, the channel never really took off, and remained with extremely low ratings: of 1% and less. Why? There is no doubt that many hostile factors in the media world did their best to prevent the channel from taking off, and the channel had severe budgetary problems. If some billionaire would have provided Channel 20 with the sort of funding provided by the late Sheldon Adelson to the freebie Yisrael Hayom, Channel 20 might have turned into an Israeli Fox News. But that would not have been enough.

The critical problem was professionalism – and channel 20 suffered, from the political sense, from rather poor content, and a lack of first-class professional journalists, who seek to investigate and discover – not just to reflect certain views that are not necessarily substantiable. The poor content was not caused by ideological reasons, but by poor management, and a certain lack of tolerance for divergent points of view among its staff.

Like Fox News, Channel 20 had many pretty female presenters, immaculately dressed, with serious facial expressions, who expressed very determined opinions, but with very little expertise or knowledge. Most of the male presenters and participants seemed to have permanent smirks on their faces, which gave them an air of contempt – especially when they spoke of the new government and its leaders. Some of these Channel 20 staff members – male and female – used to participate as members of the Friday evening teams of commentators, on the two major commercial channels 12 and 13, as part of the effort to present diverse opinions, but very rarely did they really contribute anything of value.

 Opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening broadcast of Channel 14, November 27, 2021. (credit: MEIR ELIPOUR) Opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening broadcast of Channel 14, November 27, 2021. (credit: MEIR ELIPOUR)

It should be noted that Channel 20 itself used to invite left-wing journalists and activists to participate in some of their programs, such as The Patriots. But recently I noticed that the frequency of these leftists’ appearances fell. Yinon Magal, the presenter of The Patriots, suggested that there were “some difficulties,” but did not indicate what these were.

The number of serious, professional journalists on Channel 20 were few. One of them is the 51-year-old Erel Segal, but unfortunately, he has turned into a bitter, grumpy short-tempered man (why?), which prevents him from being more effective. There wasn’t a single Amit Segal – the 39-year-old, bright, provocative and interesting right-wing political commentator of Channel 12, who is a pleasure to listen to, even when one doesn’t agree with much of what he says – on channel 20.

Amit Segal’s forte is that he does not speak of those he disagrees with in a way of contempt, but with a certain largesse. Perhaps the difference between the two Segals is that Erel views the opposite camp as dangerous enemies – as do most of the Likud and its leader – which must be beaten with a knockout, while Amit views it as a rival in a fencing dual, to be tactically outmaneuvered. Channel 20 also lacked any serious investigating reporters, such as Raviv Drucker from Channel 13 or Ilana Dayan from Channel 12.

Now Channel 20 and its team have moved lock, stock and barrel to the more prestigious Channel 14, right after channels 11, 12 and 13. I am not sure why it is more prestigious, and I have not managed to discover in what way the current arrangement is significantly different from the old arrangement, besides the fact that the new channel has much more spacious studios than Channel 20 had. Channel 14, like its predecessor, is a commercial channel, which like the rest of the commercial channels loses money, requiring its owners to dig deep into their pockets much of the time to keep their expensive toys solvent.

The $64,000 question is whether the new arrangement will finally turn the new channel into the Israeli Fox News – a respectable right-wing TV station with a large audience. Well, if there will be no major change in the basic approach of the owners and managers of the channel to the way it functions, to its professional make-up, to its basic approach to news, field work and investigative programs, I doubt whether there will be much change. It is only a week since the new channel started to broadcast, and so far, the results are disappointing, though viewing ratings on the first day were high, due to curiosity and an hour-long interview with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It was reported that channel 14 invited all the leaders of the parties in the Knesset for interviews, but only Netanyahu – who views it as his home channel – arrived. Of the various items on the first day of the broadcasts, presenter Yaara Zered interviewed MK Mossi Raz from Meretz, who spoke of attacks by “Hilltop Youths” on Palestinian farmers in the West Bank. Zered replied that the problem was marginal, and that left-wing Jews who come to help the Palestinians are the real problem, and provocateurs. According to Raz there are hundreds of such events. Zered simply brushed him off, as if to say “don’t confuse me with the facts.”

The interview with Netanyahu was totally different. He was interviewed by Erel Segal (who arrived with a big smile on his face) and Yinon Magal (who served as MK on behalf of Bayit Yehudi for eight months during the 20th Knesset). As expected, the two didn’t ask any difficult or embarrassing questions, and most of the time simply gaped at Netanyahu with the admiring eyes, letting their interviewee do what he likes to do best: speak of himself in superlative terms, and belittle and besmirch the current government. Basically, Netanyahu said nothing new or informative, merely repeating that in a short time “this awful government will be brought down.” He was not asked nor spoke about the Likud’s ruinous policy in the Knesset, and didn’t stop smirking.

Of course, one week is too short a time to judge the old-new channel. I expect the sound problems, from which the new channel suffers, will be overcome, as well as the work of the cameramen, who don’t seem to be coping with their long shots and closeups in the new spacious studio. These are merely technical problems. The rest has to do with substance and personnel. There is no earthly reason why Israel should not have a proper right-wing TV channel that is not hooked on one particular political leader, who has been ousted from power, and whose political future is unclear. In the meantime there are some excellent right-wing reporters from channels 11, 12 and 13.

The writer was a researcher in the Knesset Research and Information Center until her retirement, and recently published a book in Hebrew, The Job of the Knesset Member – An Undefined Job, soon to be published in English by Routledge.