Panel Recommends Independent Media Regulator for Israel

Wide-ranging proposals call for liberalizing Israel's television industry.

Tomer Appelbaum

A year and a half after it was formed, a government committee presented Thursday a package of recommended reforms for Israel’s media industry, including the establishment of a new regulatory body and introducing greater competition into multichannel video programming over the Internet.

The centerpiece of the committee’s recommendations is the creation of an independent, professional communications authority, a matter long discussed but never put into effect. The authority would replace the Communications Ministry, the Second Authority for Television and Radio and the Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting in overseeing infrastructure and content.

The Schejter proposals will now be given to an interministerial committee headed by Communications Ministry Director General Shlomo Filber and the heads of the two regulatory agencies.

The panel’s more-technical recommendations will likely be put into legislative form, but the more far-reaching recommendations, such as the establishment of an independent media agency, are unlikely to pass muster with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also communications minister.

In order to bring more competitors into the multichannel TV segment, the Schejter panel recommended doing away with broadcast licenses for new and future broadcasters like Cellcom TV and simply requiring them to register with the new communications authority.

It urged network neutrality, meaning infrastructure providers like Bezeq and Hot would be barred from interfering with content sent over their networks, from blocking content or giving priority to their own content over rivals’.

The new broadcasters would be exempt from local-content requirements, at least initially, and would be permitted to sell advertising time. Veteran broadcasters like Bezeq’s Yes unit and Hot would still have to produce a minimum amount of quality local programming and remain barred from selling ad time but other regulations would be eased, the committee said.

In a major change from current rules, the multichannel broadcasters would be able to operate their own channels.

In a radical change from the system in place now, quality programming costs should be subsidized by a dedicated government fund.

Led by Prof. Amit Schejter of Ben-Gurion University, the panel was appointed by Gilad Erdan when he held the communications portfolio. Erdan stepped down during Netanyahu’s last government, and Netanyahu has since held the post, leading to delays in the committee’s work.