Media Comment: A second-rate Second Authority

The Second Authority for Television and Radio's work is often sloppy, lacks attention to detail and shows mercy in cases that could be considered criminal.

TV television off air static_311 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
TV television off air static_311
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
The Second Authority for Television and Radio (SATR) is one of the largest regulatory bodies in Israel. It is very much a central to the operation of the country’s commercial broadcast media. With an annual budget of almost NIS 50 million, SATR oversees TV Channels 2 and 10, as well as 16 regional radio stations which; in turn, these outlets represent a great deal of money, with requisite economic influence and political interests.
The Authority’s influence, however, is not limited to granting franchises, determining rules and ethical guidelines for franchise holders and monitoring their performance. SATR is at the nexus of the move away from a system of licensing towards one that awards concessions. In addition, it controls the digitization process (the conversion of media to digital form) by maintaining the nationwide DTT infrastructure (the “IDAN+” project).
Analog television broadcasts in Israel ceased in March, 2011; today, terrestrial television is broadcast digitally only via the IDAN+ network. A third issue is the growth in the bandwidth.
SART is responsible for both protecting and promoting the public interest. To do so, it supposedly regulates issues such as unethical advertising, political bias and garbage broadcasting. But SATR work is often sloppy, shows a lack of attention to detail, and Authority policy has been to show mercy in cases that could be considered criminal.
So what do we need the Authority for?
CONSIDER PRIME Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s May address to the US Congress.
Viewers of Channel 2 news were not only given a simultaneous translation by Ms. Yonit Levy.
They also got Levy’s personal political opinions.
Such behavior is not only extremely unprofessional, but it also violates some of the most basic ethics of broadcasting.
The station was flooded with complaints. Dr. Ilan Avisar, SATR’s chairman, promised a review in June. But five months have passed and we know of no decision.
A rampant illegal practice by Channel 2 News is incorporation within the news of subtle, and not-so-subtle, advertising content. Eleven months ago, Israel’s Media Watch pointed out to Dr. Avisar that this policy was also in violation of the SATR’s 2007 decision forbidding the practice.
But nothing was done. Yisgav Nakdimon, the Channel 2 News directorate’s lawyer, asserted that the director of the news company has the authority to overrule the SATR council on issues of content. End of story.
A recent Israel Media Watch report on the satirical program Eretz Nehederet (It’s A Wonderful Country) revealed its ideologically biased content.
But SATR ignored it. One member of SATR’s Public Council, Dr. Dalia Zelikovitz, prepared a separate report on the rampant practice of implicit advertising on channels 2 and 10. The report has been lying on Dr. Avisar’s desk for months; it, too, has been ignored. At another media outlet, the Kol BaRama radio station, unlawful gender discrimination continues apace, despite our expose on the topic (Rachel is weeping, published on this page on August 10), has now been condoned by the SATR, and no regulatory action taken.
EVEN WHEN SATR does wag its finger, the results are unimpressive. Several years ago, Reshet was fined 10 minutes of advertising time for producing a “documentary” on how Fox prepares its advertising campaigns - effectively free advertising for the company, at the expense of programming time.
Did the fine deter them? They repeated the performance the following year, and again in 2009.
Even the news presenters couldn’t contain their smirks. SATR’s punitive action? A warning.
The 2011 State Comptroller’s report confirms that from 2008-2010 SATR’s response to infractions was simply substandard. Sanctions were rarely applied. Of 60 radio violations, only six (10 percent) monetary measures were taken, for a total of NIS 172,000. As for television, 336 violations led to 3 (0.9%!) punishments, for a total of NIS 200,000.
The comptroller found further that the SATR simply did not formulate regulations for fining the concessionaires. As a result, SATR remained powerless to impose its authority. The comptroller also noted that SATR failed to fully regulate the concessionaires’ contractual responsibility to provide quality programming.
SATR’s bureaucrats also developed the habit of delaying the publication date of its annual reports, making it virtually impossible for the public council to receive up-to-date information on the concessionaires’ level of compliance.
So to whom can the individual media consumer complain? Giora Rozen, the complaints commissioner, officially left his position almost a year ago, then returned to work on a part-time basis. No replacement has been appointed. So, the already poor response rate to complaints has suffered. Furthermore, in his new position as head of Israel’s umbrella organization of non-profit groups, Rozen is in a clear conflict-of-interest situation.
The groups he represents receive prominent news coverage.
The Second Authority has a legal obligation to act on behalf of the public good as well as assuring the proper nature of the broadcasting industry.
But instead of being the second authority they seem to be at best, second rate.
The authors are respectively the executive director and vice chairman of Israel’s Media Watch.