Two and a half years after the public uproar and passage of a law to allow Channel 20 to broadcast news, the network is considering a major change in its schedule – and may take its main news program off the air.
One of the options under consideration is to cut the news cast and move an open studio program to an earlier hour.
The cancellation of the news program would be another stage in the continuing failure of the broadcaster, after a long list of cutbacks and layoffs in the past few months. Channel 20 is suffering from very low revenues. It has not been measured by the ratings organizations since deciding to leave the ratings committee. If it were rated the station would likely score only in the tens of thousands of viewers during prime time.
The plan also follows the layoffs of many reporters, editors and production staff. Two weeks ago, the program’s editor, Tomer Merhavi, left after saying he no longer had the means to produce the news show.
Channel 20 will switch to broadcasting short news breaks, as it has been doing for the past two months. Instead of broadcasting news flashes form 1 p.m., the station will expand the this segment and begin it in the morning.
The future of many other programs on the station is still unclear.
The owner of Channel 20, Yitzchak Mirilashvili, is seen as forced to provide hundreds of thousands of shekels a month to keep it operating. He’s been forced to make cuts due to a failure to keep revenue in line with expenses. Channel 20 has also made major investments in a new studio in Jerusalem.
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Canceling the news program, hosted by Lital Shemesh, woud be a major change. Only two and a half years ago the station and its journalists led a broad public fight for regulatory changes to enable them to broadcast news shows.
The battle ended with a quick and problematic legislative move in the Knesset, in which Channel 20 was granted exceptional conditions. At the same time, Channel 20 was allowed to continue to benefit from other breaks it was given when it was supposed to be a heritage channel.
Sefi Ovadia of Reshet 13 has reported on recordings of conversations between former communications minister Ayoub Kara and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, concerning Channel 20, in which Netanyahu can be heard as coming to the rescue of Channel 20, even considering a dissolution of the cable and satellite television council to grant the station a permit to broadcast news, without it having to meet the required conditions.
Channel 20 was originally founded as an Israeli heritage channel, but has never met these rules, and instead chose to become a station with a right-wing orientation that expresses sweeping support for Netanyahu. The best-known figures on the channel are Golan and Shimon Riklin, who echo Netanyahu’s messages on almost every issue, and are partners in his harsh attacks against the country’s legal and law enforcement systems.
Netanyahu has chosen time after time to be interviewed only on Channel 20, and his wife Sara and son Yair have also appeared on the channel quite a number of times.
Channel 20 has not as yet offered any response to this report.