Israeli Lawmakers Must Stop Interfering With the Media

עקיבא נוביק
Akiva Novick
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Anchorwoman Yaara Zered on Channel 14 News.
Anchorwoman Yaara Zered on Channel 14 News.Credit: Channel 14
עקיבא נוביק
Akiva Novick

Here’s the latest from the Ministry of Supreme Oversight: News shall not be broadcast after 9 P.M. The hours after that will be devoted to entertaining the citizenry before they retire to their chambers. Moreover, the channel tasked with lifting the nation’s spirits with religious programming will be permitted to broadcast news, subject to oversight.

Comrade Yulia Shamalov-Berkovich (chair of the Second Authority for Television and Radio, which supervises commercial broadcasting in Israel) spearheaded this move. The supervising comrade, Yoaz Hendel (aka the communications minister), opposed the move.

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One would hope that at some point, a member of the agency’s council would wake up and realize that it’s almost 2022. The citizenry has long since watched, read and listened to whatever it pleases. If there was ever a need for oversight of commercial news broadcasts, it has long since passed.

Legislators aren’t supposed to interfere in what happens on our screens. It always ends badly. News broadcasts are no longer a limited resource. Anyone who wants to and is financially capable of launching a channel should be allowed to do so, without anyone interfering in its content (as long as it isn’t horribly offensive).

Just as anyone can stream a news show over the internet, there’s no reason why television, which has a thousand channels, shouldn’t include lots of news. How much? As much as is available. Who will determine the programs’ length? The editors.

Personally, I can’t bear a 90-minute news show. But I find orders from on high even more unbearable.

Does someone want to air a news program that’s 10 hours long? Let him. Ten minutes? That’s fine too. A channel that constantly plays the song “I have a song that annoys people”? Absolutely!

Free our television. We never gave it to you. A situation in which a politicized council manages our television is intolerable.

After all, such regulations won’t defeat the Jewish brain. Instead of one program 90 minutes long, they’ll air an hour-long program followed by a “special news magazine” that, miraculously, will last half an hour. That’s already happening.

Moreover, the biggest improvement in quality ever to befall our television news was a series of reports and news magazines that the late Channel 10 began airing. The authority’s council played no role in this.

People on the right who are rejoicing over the curtailment of the news shows are suffering from especially short memories. Just recently, they were forced to campaign to get the restrictions on Channel 20 removed.

After all, it was founded as a “heritage channel” on the basis of a ridiculous document, divorced from reality, that defined the terms of its license and the spirit of the Jewish people in which it was expected to broadcast. This license was violated and turned into a laughingstock until the channel was finally allowed to broadcast news, without any of the conditions imposed on its rivals (and yes, I’m drowning in a bathtub of conflicts of interest as a journalist employed by the public broadcasting corporation, but that’s a different issue).

An oversight council is always a bad idea, but the current one is especially bad. Shamalov-Berkovich is a very political figure. She served as a Knesset member for the now-defunct Kadima party, deserted to Likud and from there jumped to the Calcala Israel party, which is still in its infancy.

Needless to say, the minister who appointed her, former communications minister Ayoub Kara, is famous for his understanding of the media. And he himself was appointed by then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu because of his absolute loyalty, which suited the Netanyahu family’s obsession with controlling the media.

Not only that, but the decision to curtail the length of our news programming is a blatant provocation by the council. Hendel had announced that he was cutting regulation to a minimum. He opposed interfering in the duration of news broadcasts and plans to replace the council in the coming weeks, so Shamalov-Berkovich will no longer have this job.

Perhaps the next council will revoke this decision. But it would be much better if, in the process, it revoked itself as well.

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