Taking Stock / Channel Grovel

Look at them.

How cultured they are. How Israeli, how Zionist. How they parade their creativity, variegation, art, intellect. How they showcase tradition and heritage. And let's not forget their contribution to the community, to the fight against poverty and the battle against cancer. We haven't even gotten to their documentaries yet. In fact, we haven't seen an awakening like this since the Renaissance.

Look at them! At Uri, Yohanan and Dorit as they rub shoulders with artists, give platforms to performers and just contribute, contribute, and contribute more and more to the community. Look how they touch base with the common people, glorifying the heritage, the religion, the history.

It is pathetic, of course. Channel 2 is a business, pure and simple. It has been a business since day one in its 10-year history, and will remain a business in the future, too. The Channel 2 franchisees' sudden cultural revival will evaporate into the ether a second after the winners of the Channel 2 tender are declared in March 2005. We can say that much from having watched Channel 2 over the last decade.

Channel 2 is a business driven by ratings, pure and simple. It lives off advertising, strives to reduce costs and improve the return on investment.

Many of its current-events and investigative journalism shows are mere sensationalism packaged as serious journalism. That isn't only because the public has a penchant for talk and game shows, but because television isn't the right medium for complex subject matter.

But that is perfectly all right, dear readers. Channel 2 is a commercial channel targeting the masses. Any true attempt to make it a vehicle of better culture or a network with educational value is doomed to fail.

The regulators' attempt to make Channel 2 more culturally aware did practically nothing but damage. It enabled the franchisees to maintain their monopoly while blurring its substance. We did not get culture or competition.

Cometh the Channel 10

But that's all history, which changed with the advent of Channel 10. Next year, there's a chance that the rival commercial station will become more financially robust, when one of the three Channel 2 franchisees changes boat and comes on board. (Only two companies can win the new Channel 2, whereas three companies currently run it. At least one will lose, if not more.) And even today, there are some narrow-range designated channels that finance their operations through advertising.

Much of the content that the regulators fondly call "highbrow" is merely the franchisees' fig-leaf, offering substandard cultural, educational or journalistic value. But there are strong shows that are not categorized as cultural, even though they do contain a great deal of educational value - language, information, current events, geography and mainly a lot of pure knowledge.

That heritage thingie

The challenge the regulators face is to assure lively competition in the television and advertising market. And what about that culture and heritage thingie? Wait a second - there is a channel that's supposed to handle all that! And it gets a hefty NIS 900 million a year budget financed by the taxpayer.

The problem is, of course, that that "national" channel is riddled with politics, bad management, and corruption. It is emasculated and spendthrift. And in recent years it has been as rating-mad as Channel 2. Which network aired the Victoria's Secret fashion show? Channel 1, of course, after tempting the viewers with a slew of alluring promos, just as commercial channels do.

In case you don't habitually follow the fashion world, allow us to clarify that the Victoria's Secret fashion event is soft porn, showcasing leggy models in underwear.

Why was it shown on Channel 1? Maybe because it isn't operating on a franchise that's about to expire. It doesn't have to grovel before the regulators.

The closer the Channel 2 tender becomes, the more nauseating the franchisees' obsequiousness becomes. The result is preordained, of course - the tender will be a warped mutant with unclear terms, devoid of culture and clear criteria, and almost inevitably followed by the losers' grousing to the High Court the second the winners are announced.

It is time to stop the hypocrisy. It is time to separate the commercial and public channels. Commercial television is an amazing medium capable of wonderful and beautiful things, when they are economically sensible. Attempts to make it something else have and will fail.

Culture. Art. Education. Heritage. Documentaries - they all belong on the commercial channel only if they make economic sense. And who said that, from all places, this fare should come from the idiot-box between commercials, anyway?