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The new Arabic television channel took a big step forward yesterday as the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee approved changes to the broadcasting law that improve the chances of a successful tender to operate the channel. The channel has been relieved of the usual local-production requirements. Otherwise, 20% of its content would have had to be locally produced.

For the first two years the Arabic channel will only be required to fill 7.5% of its air time with original Israeli productions, rising to 12% in the the third year and then 20% from the fourth year on.

Nitzan Hen, chairman of the Cable and Satellite Broadcast Council, said: "We view the existence of a channel in Arabic as extremely important. It was lacking and is vital in the Israeli television landscape, and will provide an answer to Arab citizens of Israel who have not received adequate expression from the existing television channels."

Meanwhile, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss is conducting a special examination of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, he announced to the State Control Committee yesterday during a committee session on the IBA.

"It's no secret that public broadcasting is disintegrating, and must not," he said. He said the investigation was well underway, and he would try to finish it quickly. Lindenstrauss said he could remember no other investigation based on so many complaints.

Committee chairman Yoel Hasson said the new IBA chairman must be free of political interference. He must be a professional appointee with the proper qualifications, and with experience in managing a large body such as the IBA. Hasson, saying he represented the committee's opinion, called on the cabinet to help advance the new IBA law, which was never completed in the previous Knesset.