Battle Against TV Fees Wends Way to Friends in Knesset

A bill that will exempt Channel 9 (the Russian language channel) and Channel 24 (the music channel) from paying airing fees to the HOT and Yes cable and satellite tv companies is to be debated in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice committee instead of the Finance Committee, which normally deals with laws pertaining to television airing issues.

The decision to move the debate to the Constitution and Law Committee was made by the House Committee, at the request of the House Committee's chairman, MK Zeev Elkin (Likud) and MK Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beiteinu).

The Communications Ministry opposes the bill. Knesset sources believe that the initiators of the bill will have an easier time promoting the bill within the Constitution and Law Committee, which is chaired by Yisrael Beiteinu MK David Rotem, who is in favor of moving the debate.

The bill has suffered harsh criticism from the Finance Committee's legal council, who has told the House Committee that communications-related legislation is to be debated only in the Finance Committee.

Elkin said the bill was transferred after Finance Committee chairman Ofir Akunis (Likud) indicated his consent. Rotem also said that since the bill contains aspects relating to equality and access, it would be more appropriately dealt with in the Constitution and Law Committee.

Passing the law will mean huge savings for channels 9 and 24.

The Communications Ministry has calculated that each of the channels would face transmission fees of NIS 2.4 million annually to HOT and NIS 2.1 million to Yes.

These are the only two channels that are subject to fees at the moment, although similarly dedicated channels that may be established in the future would also have to pay.

Ilatov maintains that the issue at stake in the bill is freedom to conduct business and equal opportunity in a competitive market.

The fact that large channels are exempt from the fee while the burden falls on the shoulders of small ones indicates a lack of proportionality in the provision of opportunity, Ilatov argues.

"The issue is no less legal than economic. The two committees are governed by the coalition, and a law supported by the government and the coalition will be debated in a similar manner in either committee," he said.