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Very poor reception
gail lichtman
Licensing fees notwithstanding, many Jerusalemites still cannot receive television channels 1 and 2.
During the war this summer, Avigayil Froehlich and her husband decided to buy a television in order to be better informed about current events. After they bought the set, the couple discovered to their surprise that in their neighborhood - Har Homa - which they had only recently moved to, there is no over-the-air broadcast reception of Channel 1, Israel's state-owned TV channel. "I feel something is not fair here," Froehlich says. "I have been forced to pay for cable in order to get Channel 1, a channel that is supposed to be available for free. We are only one hill over from Gilo, where there is reception, and not in the middle of the Africa. I paid my license fee. There should be a signal we can pick up. Har Homa is not a wealthy neighborhood where families have lots of money to spare. I am being forced to spend NIS 159 a month for a cable package I don't want and which I can't really afford. My neighbor paid NIS 2,000 to put up a private satellite dish on the roof. Has the Broadcast Authority no responsibility towards the public?" Froehlich is just one of thousands of Jerusalem residents who live in neighborhoods where they cannot pick up over-the-air broadcasts of either Channel 1 or Channel 2 and are being forced to sign up for cable or invest in satellite dishes in order to get these local channels. In Israel, television and radio broadcasts fall under one of two authorities: either the state broadcasting network - the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) - or the Second Broadcasting Authority. The IBA, which grew out of the Voice of Israel, presides over three television channels (Channel 1, Channel 33 and Channel 99 - the latter two available only with cable or satellite) plus several radio stations. The IBA receives the bulk of its funding from the TV license fee (agra), with additional revenues coming from TV "sponsorship" and radio advertisement. For 25 years, the IBA held a monopoly on TV broadcasting in Israel, until the Second Broadcasting Authority officially launched Channel 2 in November 1993. The Second Authority, which operates by virtue of a 1990 Knesset Law, regulates commercial television (Channel Two and Channel 10, the latter of which is only available with cable or satellite) and private, regional radio stations. On its Web site (, the Second Authority states that there is free reception of Channel 2 using an UHF antenna. The Second Authority has two transmission stations in the Jerusalem area - one at the Shalom Hotel in Bayit Vegan, serving southern Jerusalem, and the other in Tel El Ful, serving northern Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim. The Second Authority's spokesperson's office, who sent In Jerusalem detailed instructions on how to orient a UHF antenna to receive Channel 2, claims that all areas of the city can receive this signal, although this claim is disputed by some residents of the San Simon and Katamon neighborhoods. The Second Authority also sent instructions on how to install a private satellite dish on the roof, including the correct angle and azimuth. As for Channel 10, which is transmitted by satellite, the Second Authority spokesperson's office responded that: "by law, there is no requirement that Channel 10 be transmitted by ground [transmitters]. However, we are currently exploring the possibility of setting up a ground distribution network for Channel 10 and this will be decided in the near future." The Knesset Committee for Public Complaints, in a report published on October 27, 2002, addressed the fact that Channel 10, a well as the publicly funded channels 23, 33 and 99, can only be received by satellite or cable and noted that the matter of over-the-air transmission was being looked into with respect to Channel 10. The report also stated that the public can eschew cable TV and receive these station using private satellite dishes. The IBA openly admits that there are neighborhoods in Jerusalem that cannot pick up Channel 1's signal. David Gambush, head of the IBA transmitters division, said that the IBA, for political and territorial reasons, cannot station transmitters to the east or south of the city and therefore "some of the neighborhoods facing east are blocked from receiving most broadcasts, and since these are densely populated neighborhoods with a lot of concrete containing iron inside, a phenomenon is created in which the signal is reflected, disturbing reception. Moreover, Jordanian and Palestinian stations cause additional disturbances." For those who do not want to sign up for cable, Gambush also recommends installing a private satellite dish as a solution. He does caution that since TV broadcasting is about to change from analog to digital, those purchasing private dishes should buy only those designed to receive digital signals. But what about the license fee? If you cannot get Channel 1, do you still have to pay the fee? While supposedly designed according to the model of the BBC license fee, the IBA license has a major difference. The BBC license fee is for "use of a television set or any other device to receive or record television programs." The IBA license, according to the government ePayment Service Web site, is to be paid by "every resident who has a television set in his possession, whether or not he is the actual owner of the television and regardless of usage." In other words, the license fee is a tax on everyone who owns a television and not a service fee. Therefore it has to be paid irrespective or whether or not one receives transmission and the Supreme Court has upheld this position. Nevertheless, does the IBA have an obligation to provide reception in all areas of Israel? In June 1993, the Supreme Court ruled on an appeal by 287 Givat Ze'ev residents, which claimed that the community did not receive a reasonable quality of over-the-air reception for Channel 1 and which sought to force Channel 1 to provide better reception. The court rejected their appeal, saying that even though the IBA was obligated to broadcast and the minister of communications was obligated to ensure that the broadcasts received by the public are of reasonable quality, this obligation cannot be divorced from budgetary constraints. "Every authority faces the need to find the appropriate balance between. performing its functions and duties according to law and its duty to preserve its budgetary framework. It is not reasonable that the IBA will bear [the costs] of what is entailed in providing a full solution to the problem of every individual." "There are two issues here," says Dr. Tal Zarsky of the University of Haifa's Faculty of Law, who specializes in communications law. "One is a policy issue and the other is a legal one. In terms of law, Channel 1 has to do its best [to provide reception of its signal] but if it is too expensive to provide it to a specific area, it is not obligated to do so. But the residents still have to pay their license fees. Channel 10, in accordance with the Telecommunications Law, has been allocated an over-the-air spectrum. And according to Section 51 A1 of this law, it is supposed to start using it after it is in operation throughout the country. "This is a case of procrastination and another example of something that is supposed to be done but isn't. The other publicly funded channels are under no requirements to provide over-the-air broadcasts and are within their rights to be available only on cable or by satellite. a "But the policy issue asks - is this fair?" he continues. "I take the unpopular position that sides with the government and the courts. Why? Because everything is a zero sum game of money. I think that if it is very expensive to set up reception in a specific area and the residents can have access either through cable or satellite, this is not where the money should be going. "In the US, the issue of over the air broadcasting is an extremely powerful right and is supposed to make information available to all no matter how rich or poor. But I don't think this is the right thing at this time for Israel when there are other options," he says. "Yes, if you happen to live in an area with no reception, this is unfair. But lots of things in life are unfair," Zarsky concludes.
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