Israel's Cable TV Companies Won't Get Own News Channels Just Yet

Communications minister backs down from plan to grant HOT and Yes with permits to establish own news channels; MK Shelly Yacimovich slams plan as attempt to wield power over politicians and regulators.

Communications Minister Gilad Erdan has backed down from a plan to grant the owners of cable TV company HOT and satellite TV company Yes permits to establish their own news channels, as part of the Economic Arrangements Bill. Instead, the plan will go through the legislative process on its own.

Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich launched a ferocious attack Tuesday against the plan.“The news broadcasts by HOT and Yes won’t earn money,” Yacimovich wrote on her Facebook page. “The owners want them exactly for the same reason Nochi Dankner wanted [the daily newspaper] Maariv even though he knew he would lose money on it: To hold a toy in their hands, an influential tool with which they can threaten honest politicians and regulators while rewarding those who serve them; to transform the news from being democracy’s watchdog − as it should be − into an attack dog against democracy.

“In a sneak move overnight − an unprecedented insertion into the Economic Arrangements Law without a tender or any public discourse − these two stood to receive from the Communications Ministry a priceless gift in the power it grants: the ability to broadcast the news,” Yacimovich wrote, referring to Patrick Drahi, the controlling shareholder of HOT, and Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq, which owns Yes.

Part of the government’s justification for granting permits for new news stations is the cutbacks in the media industry. Creating new news stations would make more workplaces for journalists whose jobs are at risk, particularly those at the floundering public broadcasters.

Erdan backed down from his intention of including the bill in the Economic Arrangements Law, but in a Facebook post of his own he defended the granting of approval for the establishment of news channels by Drahi and Elovitch.

“It will pass as government legislation that I’ll sponsor on behalf of the Communications Ministry in the next few months, but the essence won’t change,” he wrote. “We are intensifying the competition in the field of news. The goal: more pluralism, more opinions, more audiences who will be reflected in the media.”

Erdan quoted antitrust commissioner David Gilo as saying: “There is concentration in the area of news in Israel’s television media market, and the introduction of new players could improve this problematic situation, as well as boost pluralism and the variety of opinions in the media.”

Drahi has been in the process of launching an international TV news network, i24, billed as an Israeli counter to Al Jazeera. The network, based in Jaffa, intends to broadcast news in English, French and Arabic.

Ofer Vaknin
Olivier Fitoussi