Channel 2, freedom of speech and the Knesset channel

Let us hope that at least the Knesset channel will no longer be under the hegemony of Channel 2 in the next decade.

IDF RESERVISTS watch television in a Kiryat Gat community center as they wait for orders. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
IDF RESERVISTS watch television in a Kiryat Gat community center as they wait for orders.
C-SPAN, the Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network, was established by the cable television industry in the USA in 1979, providing the public with live coverage of a variety of governmental proceedings and congressional debates, historical programming as well as soft news. As reported on Wikipedia, it is a nonprofit organization, funded by a six-cent fee paid by the cable and satellite affiliates.
Emulating the US, Israel established the Knesset TV channel in 1995. Eight years later, the Knesset enacted a new law – “TV Broadcasts from the Knesset” – which firmly established the concept that there would be live broadcasts of Knesset deliberations. The funding for the channel comes from the Knesset budget, that is, we the taxpayers. TV Channel 2 won a 10-year contract to operate the channel starting November 2006.
In comparison to other TV channels in Israel, the Knesset channel is the most pluralistic.
Its presenters include people with diverse opinions, representing Right, Left, secular, religious and others. Notably though, the Arab minority is quite absent. The channel maintains a culture of fairness and equality. The other media channels have much to learn from it in this regard.
With the 10 years contract of channel 2 almost over, Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein has started the process of searching for a new carrier for the next decade. Wisely, he decided that after 13 years since the law was enacted, it is time not only to renew the contract, but first to review the operations of the channel, see what is positive and what needs to be changed. For this purpose he appointed a committee headed by former judge Sara Frisch.
The other members were Prof.
Amit Shechter, a former legal adviser of the IBA; Prof. Alean al-Krenawi, president of Achva College and a sociologist whose expertise is the Beduin communities; Dr. Dina Shkolnik who lectures on behavioral science; Dr. Revital Amiran, a political scientist; Mr. Haim Zisovitch, the spokesman of Bar-Ilan University and a former radio host and correspondent at the IBA; Mr. Zvika Brot, the Knesset correspondent of Yediot Aharonot; former Likud MK Yossi Achimeir; and journalist and Likud member Naftali Ben-Simon.
The Frisch Committee submitted its recommendations to Edelstein in February. The latter decided to adopt most of them, and they certainly include some sweeping changes.
Perhaps the most important relates to improvements in communication technology; the report recommended that all Knesset deliberations be shown live via the Internet. It also recommended rephrasing the law’s title to “Law of Knesset TV Broadcasts” which would limit the broadcasts’ content. Issues which have nothing to do with the Knesset and its deliberations would be avoided.
The committee further noted that the purpose of the channel is to serve the Knesset and so suggested the law should include a paragraph disallowing degradation of the Knesset.
As might be expected, these suggestions (and others) raised a brouhaha. People like journalist Amit Segal, who has a weekly program on the Knesset channel and is also the political correspondent of TV Channel 2, obviously have to worry about their future in the channel.
The present recommendations might imply that there is no space for soft news programs such as his. Unsurprisingly, Segal promptly and severely criticized the committee’s findings. As reported in Globes, his ire was especially directed toward Dr. Amiran, accusing her of allowing the Knesset speaker to use her as an academic fig leaf. Amiran did not agree with all the committee’s recommendations and added minority opinions. For example, she thought that the legislation should not deal at all with the means of recording, considering these to be professional concerns regarding which any interference would be a sort of cewnsorship.
At the same time, she defended the “degradation paragraph” which has been the central target of criticism by, for example, Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich, who accused Knesset speaker Edelstein of attempting to exploit the channel for political purposes.
Last week, the Knesset initiated deliberations on the proposed legislation. The “degradation paragraph” was roundly criticized by the opposition.
Not less important, though, was the sharp criticism of Avi Weiss, CEO and czar of TV Channel 2’s news company.
With tongue in cheek, he noted: “We are very concerned about the Frisch Committee recommendations, independent of the question of who will get the contract. I have a difference of opinion as to the depth of the work of the committee.”
The “concern” of people like Weiss and of Amit Segal, whose blatant conflict of interest should have led to a total rejection of their comments, is but another reflection of the dominance of TV Channel 2.
Let us hope that at least the Knesset channel will no longer be under the hegemony of Channel 2 in the next decade.
The authors are vice chairman and chairman respectively of Israel’s Media Watch (