Channel 2 to Split Into Two 24/7 Stations After March 31

Communications Ministry issues draft legislation for reform of television.

Nati Toker
Nati Tucker
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A Channel 2 television studio.
A Channel 2 television studio.Credit: Daniel Bar-On
Nati Toker
Nati Tucker

March 31, 2015 will go down in Israeli television history as the dawn of a new era.

It is already scheduled to be the date when the Israel Broadcasting Authority and Channel 1 television are due to be shuttered and replaced by a new public broadcasting body. On Monday, the government said March 31 would also be the last day that the two Channel 2 franchisees — Reshet and Keshet — split the week between them: From April 1, both will be full-time broadcasters.

The deadline for splitting Channel 2 came in a draft of legislation released by the Communications Ministry on Monday, which also mandates that Reshet and Keshet also establish separate news organizations.

Under the draft legislation, position 22 on television remote controls will be discontinued. Instead, the two former Channel 2 franchisees will share positions 12 through 16.

“The move will increase competition in commercial television broadcasting and increase the amount of content on the air,’ said Communications Minister Gilad Erdan, who championed the shake-up, on Monday.

In fact, the broadcasters are less than convinced the reforms will work. The overhaul was originally drawn up by a government committee five years ago and the needed legislation approved by the Knesset in 2011. But in practice the law never went into effect as both Channel 2 franchisees — as well as their rival Channel 10 — had their licenses extended.

More recently the law was supposed to go into effect in October 2015, but with Channel 10 in financial crisis and expected to close by the end of the year, Shai Babad, CEO of the Second Television and Radio Authority, successfully lobbied to move the date forward.

Even so, many officials in the agency, not least its chairman, Ilan Avisar, would prefer to extend Channel 10’s license and let Reshet and Keshet share Channel 2 till as late as 2020.

The planned law grants Reshet and Keshet 15-year licenses and mandates that they operate news divisions. That means one of them will buy the existing joint news operation from the other, leaving the second franchisee to build up a new one from scratch, or perhaps buy Channel 10’s.

To help them cover the extra costs of full-time broadcasting and separate news divisions, the law entitles Reshet and Keshet to a refund of the 15-million-shekel ($4.2 million) license fee they have paid.

The broadcasters estimate the transition will cost them a combined 300 million shekels. Keshet’s board last week approved seven-day broadcasting, but Reshet’s directors have not, which means management isn’t yet authorized to begin transition spending.

Under the law, the two have to inform regulators within 14 days after it is enacted to accept the full-time-broadcast licenses.

Channel 10 is still fighting the law and wants its license extended to November. Unless it is successful, it will mean that in the first three months of 2015, there will be only one commercial broadcaster, namely Channel 2.

“The significance of the draft law, as it is worded now, is to give a monopoly to Channel 2 and Channel 2 news for several months, which risks turning into years,” Channel 10 said in a statement on Monday. “We are convinced that the communications and finance ministers, who have worked assiduously to increase competition into every market, won’t back creating a monopoly, of all places, in the media market.”

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