Think About It: What is Netanyahu planning for Israel’s TV?

As if one needed any more proof of the fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main concern is his own political survival, along came his onslaught on the Communications Ministry.

Benjamin Netanyahu  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As if one needed any more proof of the fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main concern is his own political survival, along came his onslaught on the Communications Ministry.
To the best of my knowledge no Israeli prime minister ever insisted on introducing into the coalition agreements with his coalition partners a clause that explicitly excluded their acting in a manner contrary to his own wishes on a specific issue – and we have certainly seen some weird clauses in coalition agreements in this country.
Though Netanyahu hasn’t shared his plans in the field of electronic communications with the public, it is generally believed that his intention is to bring about the establishment a twin to Israel Hayom in the TV world; weaken or totally shut down Channel 10 TV, which over the years has been most outspoken against his own conduct and leadership; and bring about a split in the joint broadcasting arrangement of Reshet and Keshet on Channel 2, so that each will have its own seven-day-a-week channel. Some say that Channel 20 – the heritage channel – is designated to turn into the TV version of Israel Hayom. Well, these are mostly speculations, but the general direction is apparently accurate.
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In all fairness one must admit that irrespective of what one thinks of Netanyahu, he has good reason to feel that in the recent elections, and also before, most of the media did not treat him fairly. Especially Channel 10; even when Netanyahu representatives were invited to present his case on various issues, they were treated with open contempt. I would go so far as to say that Netanyahu attorney David Shimron deserves a prize for managing to keep his cool under the grilling and dismissive attitude he was subjected to in numerous TV interviews concerning Netanyahu’s real and imagined deeds and misdeeds, even though in some cases he tried to defend positions that I believe to be totally indefensible.
Shimron’s only contender for the title of “the man who kept his cool under the most trying circumstances during the last election campaign” is Aiman Uda, head of the Joint Arab List, who managed to remain outwardly calm in face of Avigdor Liberman’s outrageous outbursts of blind anti-Arab racism, live on television in Uda’s presence (“you are not wanted here,” “go sit in the parliament of Gaza” and “you are a fifth column” were some of the highlights).
Netanyahu is also right when he claims, as does the Israeli political Right in general, that the power of the Left in the media goes way beyond its political power, even though if the recent elections prove anything it is that in the final reckoning this media power is politically barren. It would be interesting to see what sort of effect a more balanced media would have. It cannot be ruled out that if the public didn’t feel that most of the media has an anti-Right bias its reactions might be more rational. Maybe.
Netanyahu would be superhuman if he continued to hold back. However, the course he chose – of taking full control over the Communications Ministry (appointing the hapless Ofir Akunis as “Minister in the Ministry of Communications” with no visible powers), and binding his coalition partners to avoid any active opposition to whatever measures he might decide to take – smacks too much of a vendetta, or a putsch in the communications scene.
“Balance” can be achieved in two ways. On the one hand one can have separate right-wing and left-wing communications venues, such as Fox News and MSNBC in the US. Since none of the major TV channels in Israel are as inclined to the Right as Channel 10 is to the Left, this approach would seem to justify developing Channel 20 into a full-blown channel, or alternatively – since Channel 20 does not broadcast on the Sabbath and religious holidays – develop a new “dedicated,” right-wing, pro-Netanyahu secular channel.
The second approach to “balance” is encouraging the various main channels to be pluralistic and balanced in terms of their programs, and this side by side with smaller dedicated channels. Two examples of this basic approach in Israel are channels 1 and 99 (the Knesset channel).
The presenters and reporters of public Channel 1 TV are generally much more official and apolitical in their style and approach than those of the commercial channels, and the channel tries to be more pluralistic in its content, offering much more religious content than do the other “secular” channels, and was the only channel, to the best of my knowledge, that made an effort to create a serious venue for cultural issues from a secular Mizrahi perspective, entitled Meturbatim (civilized). The failure of this program apparently had more to do with format than content, and might have been too highbrow in its approach, but it was nevertheless a earth-breaking effort, never tried in any of the other channels.
Channel 99 is probably the most pluralistic of the Israeli channels in that its presenters are identified with most of the political parties represented in the Knesset (most blatantly absent are the Arabs), including Hagai Segal, who sat in prison in the 1980s for his part in the activities of the Jewish Underground, and Ya’acov Eichler, haredi brother of MK Yisrael Eichler of the United Torah Judaism Party.
One of the flagship programs of Channel 99 is “Zug o Peret” (even or odd), which is an easygoing political program jointly presented by Nadav Perry and Amit Segal (son of Hagai Segal) – the two young, clever, smart-alec political commentators of channels 10 and 2 respectively, the first secular and inclined to the Left, the second religious and inclined to the Right – which works, surprisingly.
I do not know what the final outcome of Netanyahu’s planned “revolution” in the electronic media will look like, though given the declared intentions of Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev not to allow “pluralism” to damage the image of the State of Israel, the IDF and Israel’s tradition as a Jewish and democratic state, which is generally understood to mean “not to allow criticism of Israel and of the IDF, and to reject the superiority of democratic principles over [Orthodox] Jewish ones,” I cannot say that I am not worried.
I shall especially be sorry to see Channel 10 disappear, even though I watch the news and documentaries on all the other channels as well, and the reality programs on this channel are as awful as those on Channel 2. Channel 10 is the most Left-wing (or liberal) of the Israeli channels, and is certainly the most daring in its criticism of Netanyahu (reporter Raviv Drucker is the number one “culprit” in this regard).
However, it also has the most pleasant, smiling approach to news presentation (not as severe and woody as in the competing channels), and has an especially simpatico team of highly knowledgeable presenters and reporters.
Furthermore, it doesn’t have a single Ronny Daniel (the military commentator of Channel 2, who sounds like an IDF spokesman, when he isn’t busy telling the military command off for adopting policies that are mistaken in his opinion) on its team, and has the mythical old-timers London and Kirschenbaum, reminiscent of the two elderly guys on the Muppet Show, Statler and Waldorf, who get away with saying almost anything.
Of course, if Channel 10 is closed, most of its talented presenters and reporters will find work at the other channels – especially if the plan to split Reshet and Keshet materializes. But, for better or worse (probably the latter, I’m afraid), things will never be the same again.
The writer is a political scientist and retired Knesset employee.