The Protest Will Be Over What to Televise

The Knesset's Economic Affairs Committee began discussing the new Israel Broadcasting Authority Law on Monday and it is already clear that the legislative process will be much more complicated and protracted than originally thought.

The three main paragraphs in the law deal with the move from the franchise system to granting licenses for commercial television, advancing a narrow package on satellite and cable, and allowing advertising on these channels.

The law has met with a great deal of criticism on the part of both the Knesset representatives and the interested parties. The Knesset members are demanding that first there has to be a parallel discussion about the IBA and how it functions.

In addition to the MKs, the debate was attended by representatives of the various media bodies involved. At its start, the director general of the Second Television and Radio Broadcasting Authority, Menashe Samira, presented an assessment of growth of the television market and said he expected another commercial channel to join channels 2 and 10 once the system of licenses was introduced, expected in the year 2012.

His remarks were met by stormy protests as the existing channels are already having difficulty making ends meet.

Yossi Warshavski, director general of Channel 10, responded: "The conduct toward us is scandalous and intolerable and the discussion is likely to be pointless since it is possible that only Channel 2 will remain and Channel 10 will not survive."

Later, Avi Zvi, director general of Channel 2 franchisee Reshet, gave further details.

"If Channel 10 is already a patient in the emergency ward," he said, "then Reshet is in the ambulance on its way to the hospital. We need help now because we aren't able to create an economically viable business. Adding additional competitors is a death sentence for us."

When the parts of the law dealing with cable and satellite TV reform came up, the representatives of HOT and Yes attacked the Finance Ministry's plans. The chairwoman of the Second Authority, Nurit Dabush, said that an examination by the authority had shown that allowing advertising on cable and satellite channels would deal a death blow to commercial TV and the local radio stations.

"The economic basis is insufficient. No work has been done to examine the implications," added HOT's deputy director for regulation, Yoram Mokedi. "We are all losing and there is a reform for the sake of a reform. We are not interested either in the narrow package or in the introduction of ads."

Similar sentiments were expressed by the director general of Yes, Ron Eilon.

"It is the shareholders and the bank managers who subside the TV broadcasts, and not the state," he said. "We ask that you allow us to run our businesses on our own."

Questions surrounding the Israel Broadcasting Authority came up several times in the discussion. Public television, which is funded by taxes, invests smaller sums than the commercial bodies, the committee members said.

They added that the law must also include reforms for the IBA so that it would be possible to decrease the obligations of commercial TV to produce material.

IBA director general Motti Sklar agreed and said that the plan was to complete negotiations about the reform in the IBA by the end of the year.

In response to a request from the MKs, committee chairman Ofir Akunis announced that there would soon be a joint meeting with the Knesset's education committee that is responsible for the IBA.

During the meeting, Dabush announced that the meeting about the future of Channel 10, due to have been held last Tuesday, would be put off until next week. She said this was because council members were required to receive documents relating to the matter on the agenda 48 hours before a meeting. She said ongoing discussions with the treasury could have an effect on the decision.

Two weeks ago, Samira stated that he could not recommend extending the franchise.

On Sunday night another discussion was held with Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon (Likud) and attended by treasury representatives and Samira.