Because they felt so powerful and mighty, the members of the Knesset Finance Committee didn't even try to camouflage their intentions. They voted as one against Channel 10, then they smiled at one another. We've taught them a lesson. Now they know who's in charge here.
It's true that in much more critical matters those same MKs don't give a hoot about coalition discipline, and they don't take into account the winds blowing from the Prime Minister's Bureau. But this time, a tiny technical matter, they were perfectly disciplined. All of a sudden they could think as one - Likud, Shas, Yisrael Beiteinu and United Torah Judaism. Because it's a holy mission to strike at the media.
The message to Channel 10's journalists (in effect all Israel's journalists ) is clear - if you don't behave properly and don't obey the regime, we'll bring you down by hitting at your pockets. If you don't change the way you report about the prime minister, we'll close down the channel and send you home. All the media are now in trouble because there is an economic slowdown and less money is coming in from advertising; this message is making everyone shake, but particularly Channel 10, whose economic situation is very bad.
The Finance Committee's chairman, Carmel Shama-Hacohen (Likud), says the channel has another two months until the debt (NIS 45 millionBenjami) must be paid, and during this period a solution can be worked out. Which solution is he talking about? Maybe one in which political analyst Raviv Drucker is made a local reporter in Eilat?
From there he'll no longer be able to publish investigative reports on the prime minister, like the one on the ostentatious trips abroad by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family and the way these trips were paid for - "Bibi Tours." It's clear that the moment the Drucker obstacle is removed, the coalition won't have a problem meeting the channel halfway and postponing the debt for a year. After all, it's a paltry sum.
This is small change compared to the real issue - democracy. Because if the media are not alive and kicking, there is no democracy. Without courageous media that both bark at and bite our leaders, corruption will devour everything good. So the coalition mustn't be allowed to reign victorious over Channel 10.
And we're not talking about money that the state has heaped on Channel 10 and now it's time to give it back. The story is just the opposite. The state invented a crazy model of commercial television that doesn't exist anywhere else in the world. Because of its desire to control content, it invented a system whereby channels 2 and 10 are commercial channels that exist solely from advertising but where most of the content is dictated from above. They are forced to produce original productions, dramas and documentaries that cost hundreds of millions every year, while the regulator provides hundreds of pages of details on the production conditions including even the price paid for an hour of work.
And if all this weren't enough, the bureaucrats set up a monster known as the Second Television Authority with a budget of tens of millions and dozens of employees, whose job is to supervise content. The money for financing the authority comes from franchise fees and royalties paid by the two channels - this is where Channel 10's debt stems from. Not from any government benefits.
The state is allowed to be concerned that its citizens should see top quality television - original productions, avant-garde creations and documentaries. But why on a commercial channel? After all, that's what Channel 1 is for, the state channel that the public grudgingly funds through its television fee. Why is all this not done there? Why do they have latent unemployment there and show nostalgia television from 30 years ago?
It's a good thing the journalists were born before the state concluded that it had to control the media. Otherwise the regulator at the "newspaper authority" would decide for Haaretz just how many pages would go in the Gallery arts section, what the subjects would be, how much the writers would be paid and how big the headlines would be.
In view of the Finance Committee's decision, we can't escape the notion that the whole idea behind the system of two commercial TV channels was to set up crippled, unprofitable channels that would have to turn to the government's helping hand. That way, the government would get a weak and terrified channel that was too scared to criticize it if it got angry and tried to liquidate it - as is happening now to Channel 10.
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