Media Comment: The sorry saga of Channel 10

The threat to the TV station has led to a media campaign about the threat to Israel’s democracy. But its news coverage has been fairer and more balanced than its competitors.

Channel 10 press conference 311 (photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
Channel 10 press conference 311
(photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
The establishment of Channel 10 television in early 2002 was marked by a shopping spree, for big-name talents as well as the broadcast rights to the European Football League games of Maccabi Tel Aviv. Among those hired were Yaakov Eilon, Tal Berman, Manny Pe’er, Rafi Reshef, Yaron London, Avri Gilad, Meir Einstein, Gideon Reicher, Shai and Dror, Merav Michaeli, Avi Ratzon and later, Erez Tal and Miki Haimovich.
The outpouring of cash forced Channel 1 and Channel 2 to enter the frenzy and pay ridiculous sums of money for the so-called “stars.” Rather than focus on content value, all that occurred was the wasting of a large amount of money to achieve a “splash” at the added cost of upsetting the budgets of the other two stations. The financial difficulties began to show up when Channel 10 had to implement its content obligations on screen, and they haven’t ended.
Not all is the fault of Channel 10. From the outset, it was supposed to be accessible to all citizens of Israel through the analog broadcast system, like Channel 2. The government did not stand by its commitment to the public, so for many years Channel 10 was available only to those who could afford hooking up by cable or satellite, paying exorbitant fees to receive the broadcasts.
This didn’t only hurt the consumer. The unfair advantage of Channels 1 and 2 hurt Channel 10’s ability to maximize profits. It is only since the inception of the DDT operating system three years ago that this historical injustice was corrected. Analog TV was eliminated last year so that for the first time equality was achieved between the reception possibilities of all three channels.
The establishment of Channel 10 as a third broadcasting channel was the brainchild of former communications minister Limor Livnat. She firmly believed, and justly so, that a third channel would contribute significantly to media pluralism in Israel. Over the years, Channel 10 made a sincere effort to implement this vision, through its news company and investigative reporting.
Israel’s Media Watch has found on many occasions that Channel 10’s news coverage was fairer and more balanced than its competitors. Indeed, it was Channel 10 that most recently was the first to report on a left-leaning American millionaire’s funding of this summer’s tent protest.
SADLY THOUGH, the channel was also an unfailing source of junk programming. Among some of the “outstanding” contributions were The Next Generation: 24/7 (2011), Survival (2007), Beauty and the Geek (2008), The Biggest Loser (2006), Pick Up, The Bachelor (2009- 2010), “The Models” (2005) and more. Its 2.3 Per Week (2011) show was defined by Second Authority for Radio and Television’s (SART’s) ombudsman as soft porn. Instead of being a true alternative to Channel 2’s content, it was at best a pale imitation.
Again and again, this was reflected in its viewer percentages. The losses piled up and investors abandoned the channel one after another. As early as March 2003, in view of NIS 160 million losses in 2002, the channel’s chairman, Yossi Maiman, said “I will not pay for Channel 10 by myself” and demanded other shareholders inject money to prevent a closure of the channel.
Since then, the channel’s economic base remained shaky. Closure threats came both from the owners and SART. They stemmed not only from the considerable financial losses, but were also due to non-compliance with franchise commitments including payment of royalties to the treasury.
The closure threats were accompanied by a campaign led by the channel’s senior executives, assisted by colleagues from other media organizations. The argument was that closure of the channel would be a black day for Israel’s democracy, no less. This concerted media pressure convinced the politicians time and again to provide the kind of financial relief which other companies could only dream about.
Already in April 2003, the channel received a stay of proceedings against it which resulted from its financial difficulties and low income as compared to expectations. Original productions were frozen. Layoffs included about 15 percent of the channel’s employees. The Second Authority Law was amended, reducing the channel’s investment and content commitments.
Not only financial debts were waived. The channel has consistently refused to implement its commitment to broadcast from Jerusalem. Almost a decade since its establishment, the channel still transmits from Givatayim while “negotiating” not to relocate.
In July 2009, Channel 10’s CEO announced that cash flow was sufficient for only one more month. He warned that without change, the channel would cease operation. On July 14, 2009, a demonstration of the channel’s employees was conducted outside the Knesset to protest the impending closure. As usual, the threat did not materialize. The ministries of Finance and Communications reached an agreement with the channel’s management postponing most of a NIS 35 million debt repayment to 2012.
On October 23, 2009, the Second Authority decided to open a new tender for the channel, ending Channel 10’s franchise. But this decision did not last. By the following January, SART’s council decided to again extend the franchise, subject, however, to the channel’s honoring all its debts. But the channel did not keep its commitments.
In September 2011, Ron Lauder decided to stop financing the channel. Vilifying publications against him alleging that he applied improper pressure on Channel 10 to force it to apologize for a libelous documentary broadcast on the Uvda program against businessman Sheldon Adelson supposedly were the reason.
This series of events led to the remarkable decision of the Knesset Economics Committee to close the channel. But the decision did not last even a week. Chairman Carmel Shama allowed an appeal of a few opposition MKs, so a new vote was to be held yesterday. It did not take place, apparently to provide yet another opportunity for a “compromise.”
THIS LATEST threat to Channel 10’s existence has led to a high-profile media campaign warning about serious consequences to Israel’s democracy.
Israel is on the verge of opening the DTT free broadcasts to numerous new channels. The explosion of Internet-based TV is creating fundamental changes in viewing habits. Israel’s democracy is being improved all the time. The closure of a poor channel will not really impact us all for long. No one denies that Channel 10 has not lived up to its commitments. But SART is weak and the politicians fearful. It is precisely this type of example which demeans Israel’s democracy and demonstrates how lawlessness can dominate us.
The writers are respectively chairman and vice chairman of Israel’s Media Watch.