In a move that has sparked concern and opposition, significant changes to Israel’s TV and news sectors are on the horizon. The proposed reforms are expected to receive approval in the coming months and have raised alarms among the local broadcasting and production community, prompting them to unite and express their outrage.
The planned changes, lofted by Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, include a substantial reduction in local original content quotas, the establishment of a new regulatory body with government-selected members, potentially interfering with Israeli content, and the removal of the requirement for networks to hold independent licenses for broadcasting news content.
Another contentious aspect of the proposals involves banning public broadcaster KAN 11 from generating revenue through advertising and introducing provisions that facilitate the sale of the network’s assets.
Perhaps most peculiarly, the new legislation would establish a government committee to measure TV ratings, a responsibility that has traditionally been overseen by an independent measurement body. This has led to fears that the ratings data might be manipulated to create a false perception of right-leaning Channel 14’s superiority over its competitors, making it more appealing to advertisers.
Israeli media outlets protest planned “destructive” media reform
In an unprecedented move, KAN, Keshet, and Reshet issued a joint statement last week condemning the government’s “destructive plan” as part of a broader scheme to suppress free media in Israel.
“The implementation of this plan, which includes substantial government oversight and government censorship of news, as is customary in dark regimes, will result in serious damage to Israeli democracy,” they said. “While in enlightened democracies the governments keep the media separate from politics – the Israeli government does the opposite and is trying to regain full control in its hands.”
The Israeli Journalists Association also weighed in, warning that Karhi’s plan would blur the lines between fake news and news and undermine the distinction between funded content and genuine journalism.
In July, former communications minister Yoaz Hendel took to Twitter to criticize Karhi’s plan, stating that “Karhi is the essence of the [current] government,” and “the gist of the problem.”
“He managed at the same time to scare the opponents of the government and on the other hand to present something that has not the slightest chance of being realized. No competition, no free market, no infrastructure,” he said.
According to Hendel, Karhi was dead set on his reform plans since the start of his tenure. “When Karai was appointed to his position, we sat down for a short time — an hour, he didn’t need more than that,” he recalled. “I did manage to tell him that the broadcasting market is not the focus of the Communications Ministry. The name misleads those who do not understand the office. Just as the reception minister does not deal with cellular reception, so the communications minister should not deal all day with the content of the media, but with communication infrastructures and a little regulation.”
He concluded by noting that “those who fear the end of democracy and the government’s takeover of the broadcasting market can rest easy. In my opinion, nothing will change,” but that by focusing on the controversial reform plan, Karhi is ignoring the actual responsibilities that a communications minister is responsible for.
The public and stakeholders have been given a 21-day window to provide feedback on the proposed legislation. After the summer recess, the legislation will be revisited and is likely to be passed early next year. The outcome will undoubtedly shape the future of media in Israel and is being closely watched by both industry players and the general public.