Is Israel Getting Its Very Own Version of Fox News?

Channel 20, which has been broadcasting Jewish heritage programming with a right-wing bent since 2014, is planning to request a license to set up a news company.

Nati Toker
Nati Tucker
The Communication Ministry’s proposed reforms have dropped a bombshell on the television broadcasting market.
The Communication Ministry’s proposed reforms have dropped a bombshell on the television broadcasting market. Credit: Bloomberg
Nati Toker
Nati Tucker

Israel's Channel 20, which broadcasts under a license as a Jewish heritage channel, has plans to set up its own news company with right-wing leanings, similar to Fox News.

The channel, which started broadcasting in 2014, has submitted a request to the Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting Council to set up its own news company. It is estimated that it would cost at least 60 million shekels ($15 million) a year to run.

The channel already broadcasts a number of programs with a clear right-wing slant, including current affairs shows. The council is currently checking whether Channel 20 is playing by the rules when it comes to its responsibility to broadcast heritage programming.

At this stage, Channel 20 still hasn’t officially made the request. If and when it does, it will go under discussion at the council, which is likely to demand that the channel draft an ethics policy, and might even appoint a public official to supervise broadcasts and make sure the channel is independent.

Responding to reports of its plans to open a right-leaning news outfit, the channel said it is "entitled to submit a request to produce news independently, and that is what we did."

"We are committed to reflecting the range of voices and opinions of Israeli society, with the periphery at the center, and not on the sidelines. These days, when the media is doing some soul-searching, it looks like there isn't a more appropriate timing for setting up another news company, which will contribute to increasing the plurality of the Israeli media."

Channel 20's main investor is Yitzhak Mirilashvili, the son of the Georgian-Israeli billionaire Mikhail Mirilashvili, who supports and donates to the Chabad movement. The channel's chairman is Moti Shklar. Representing the owners is Avi Bar, formerly the director of the Sports Channel, who is involved today in other channels and media initiatives.

Notable presenters on Channel 20 include Atila Shumpelby from the Ynet news website, Kalman Liebskind from the Maariv daily, and Arel Segal from the Makor Rishon newspaper.

If it is given a license to operate, this new news operation would join Israel's two commercial news companies, Channel 2 and Channel 10, along with the public Channel 1. Channel 9 got a permit in 2009 to run its own news operation, and stop purchasing news content from Channel 2.

With an estimated cost of 60 million shekels to set up a news operation, and the channel originally planning an investment of only around 15 million shekels, it is likely that Channel 20 will try to establish working partnerships to provide it with content. In the past, it collaborated widely with Ynet, but this collaboration was reduced.

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