Editorial

Hands Off Israel's Channel 20

Freedom of expression is a supreme principle in democracy and requires a media market free of political or official control. This principle is supposed to enable Channel 20 to broadcast in any field and on any issue

Channel 20 staff from "The Patriots" show, February 25, 2016.
Channel 20 staff from "The Patriots" show, February 25, 2016. Nadav Cohen Yonatan

Channel 20 is under an existential threat these days, having breached its license by broadcasting current affairs without a permit. In 2014 the channel received a license to operate as a television station for “heritage” programs, but in fact it has become a right-wing channel for current affairs that expresses clear support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The regulating authorities’ conduct toward the channel demonstrates all the distortions of the media market. For decades the ruling politicians have controlled broadcast media, which were owned by the state. When the market opened for competition among private operators in the ‘90s, the politicians refused to loosen their grip. Media laws gave them extensive power to control the content of broadcasts. Although external apparatuses were set up to supervise the area of content, the politicians appoint the supervisors personally.

The media law, which regulates the cable and satellite companies’ activity, was enacted in 1982. The Second Authority for Television and Radio, which regulates the activity of channels 2 and 10, operates on the basis of a law enacted in 1990. Over the years these laws have been amended, but no fundamental changes were made.

At the time the government’s supervision of the media had two main justifications. First, the content’s distribution infrastructure was limited and some of them used public resources. Second, the means of broadcasting, especially television, had a huge influence on the public and their activity had to be regulated in keeping with the public interest.

These two justifications are no longer relevant. The internet enables distribution of content without limit and the public’s consumption habits have been decentralized with the establishment of internet content and distribution channels like Facebook and Google.

Media market analysts – such as the committee headed by Professor Amit Schejter – have recommended significant de-regularization in the media market, but so far no move has been made toward legislation on this issue.

Netanyahu used to argue for competition in the media market, but in the nine years of his term, two of them as communications minister, he has done nothing about it. In recent years the Communications Ministry has dealt mainly in attempting to reduce the diversity in the opinion market, for example by trying to close down the public broadcasting corporation.

Freedom of expression is a supreme principle in democracy and requires a media market free of political or official control. This principle is supposed to enable Channel 20 to broadcast in any field and on any issue. Any interference in content, which limits the freedom of expression, is unnecessary. Legislators would do better to adapt the legislation to today’s media and lay off the media market.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel