Following the announcement by Israeli cable operator YES that it plans to drop CNN International from its programming by year's end, one leading communications professor is warning that the move signals a massive shift in Israel's broadcast media landscape.
"This is typical of the way 'media economics' works today," explains Sam Lehman-Wilzig, deputy director of Bar-Ilan University's School of Communication in Ramat Gan, and a former resident of New York City who immigrated to Israel in 1977. "Content is no longer measured by its intrinsic journalistic or quality value, but rather by whether it maximizes profits."
YES announced last week that it will not renew its contract to broadcast CNN at the end of the year, and "is looking into alternatives for the channel," according to statement released to Haaretz. The decision would appear to sound the death knell for the network's presence in Israel after it has been a fixture on its cable programming for two decades.
Last year, competing Israeli cable operator HOT also dropped the U.S. news network from its palette of American and European news channels, citing a contractual dispute. It had previously dropped the channel in 2007 but later brought it back in 2009.
With CNN apparently on its way out, Lehman-Wilzig says cable TV customers seeking an alternative American news channel will have to choose between polar opposites in terms of their political slants, Fox News and MSNBC.
"So the question becomes: What takes its place?" asked Lehman-Wilzig. "If [it is] either MSNBC or Fox - but not both - then the public will get an ideologically distorted picture of the world, left-wing and right-wing, respectively. ... Israelis will be left with a picture of either 'The world supports us' - Fox - or 'The world is against us' - MSNBC. That's the real damage here, a distorted picture of the way we are viewed by the world."
CNN said in a statement that it is "exploring the way we deliver our news in Israel."
CNN, founded in 1980 by media mogul Ted Turner, has played a significant cultural role in Israel over the years, notes Lehman-Wilzig, citing as an example the enduring image of correspondent Peter Arnett reporting from the rooftops of Baghdad as Scud missiles were being fired into Israel's cities during the 1991 Gulf War.
"This was the first "made-for-TV war," he says. "The general public received information and footage of the war at the same time that the U.S. president, George Bush, Sr., did. No longer would the political and military authorities have time to react to public pressure during wartime."
In a related programming development, YES confirmed to Haaretz yesterday that it also plans to drop the the BBC Entertainment Channel by year's end and replace it "with one of the world's largest content channels," though YES would not say which one. The BBC channel will remain available via HOT.
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