In the beginning of May it was announced that Channel 20 had won a tender to run the Knesset Channel for the next ten years, after a little over ten years during which it was run by the News Corporation of Channel 2.
The main reason why the result of the tender more than raised eyebrows has to do with the fact that Channel 20, which started broadcasting exactly three years ago, has a clear and blunt right wing (many would say extreme right wing) orientation.
This is absolutely legitimate if one is a true believer in pluralism, and admits that since all the other major TV channels have a left-wing to liberal right-wing orientation, given the fact that large segments of the population appear to belong to the non-liberal wing of the Right, there should be a channel that reflects and supports its ideology, as long as it remains within the confines of the law.
However, the question must be asked whether it is appropriate for such a channel to take charge of the extremely delicate job of reporting the work of the Knesset and all its members, in a fair manner, as required by article 12 of the Knesset Channel Broadcasting Law.
An additional problem is that originally Channel 20 was designed as one of four “designated” channels, which was to concentrate on Jewish heritage and tradition, but very rapidly started to spread into political issues, inter alia attacking President Reuven Rivlin for his conciliatory approach to all the Israeli “tribes” (one of the tribes bring the Arab population of the state), and concentrating its reporting of the 2015 election on the Likud, the Bayit Yehudi, Kulanu and Yahad (Eli Yishai’s extreme right-wing party that didn’t pass the qualifying threshold), leaving all the rest of the parties out.
Despite its transgressions, the inclination of the authorities is to legalize the deviation from the original terms of the channel’s concession, and recently channel 20 was even granted permission to establish a news corporation of its own, which supposedly will also serve the Knesset channel, after it passes over to Channel 20 at the end of July.
The main fear of those who disapprove of Channel 20 having won the tender - apparently on the basis of an impressive and innovative outline (including a program for children), since the channel has absolutely no experience in the type of content expected of a parliamentary channel - is that the Knesset Channel under Channel 20 will reflect the atmosphere and modus operandi of the mother channel.
If, as was reported several weeks ago in Globes, the main TV “talents” expected to lead the innovated Knesset Channel, will be some of the stars of Channel 20’s political flag program “The Patriots” - Er’el Segal, Kalman Libeskind, and Irit Linor - this implies a rather unharnessed and frequently offensive style and content. “The Patriots” is a nightly program on current affairs, in which a host and four panelists discuss (with quite a lot of concurrent shouting) current news items. Segal and Linor are the program’s regular hosts, and though there are two regular guest panelists who are left-wingers (i.e. Hani Zubida, and Yariv Openheimer), and an occasional moderate right-winger, the majority are religious, hard core conservative right-wingers.
Much of what transpires on “the Patriots” would be totally unacceptable for delivery on the Knesset Channel, both in terms of the language used, and its spirit.
Last week, for example, the panel discussed a decision of the Knesset Ethics Committee (made up of Yitzhak Vaknin from Shas, Eyal Ben-Reuven from the Zionist Camp, Rachel Azaria from Kulanu, and Yousef Jabareen from the United Arab List) to remove MK Oren Hazan (Likud) for one week from all Knesset activity (except voting) due to the fact that back in April he obstructed an interview being given by MK Michal Rozin (Meretz) to Channel 20 from an authorized demonstration held by Meretz and Shovrim Shtika in Kiryat Ono, while yelling obscenities at her, which led her to walk away from the interview.
Hazan, who claimed that he had simply been realizing his right to free speech, admitted to the Ethics Committee that he had set the incident up with the Channel 20 presenter Dana Somberg, who was interviewing Rozin, and that he had been given a microphone by Channel 20 for this purpose. The Ethics Committee stated in its decision that preventing others from talking through bullying cannot be viewed as a legitimate exercise of free speech.
During the discussion on the “Patriots” Kalman Libskind - who has a morning talk show on the new Reshet Beth radio station - stated that the Knesset Ethics Committee ought to be disbanded (this was several days after he had supported the code of ethics published by Prof. Asa Kasher for University lecturers on his talk show), while none of the other panelists, nor Er’el Segal who was the host, protested.
However, since all the participants in the tender had undertaken to establish a separate body to run the Knesset Channel, and various figures from outside Channel 20 - such as the former General Manager of the Broadcasting Authority Motti Shkaler, former Globes editor Hagai Golan, and the former General Manager of the Hot cabel- TV company, David Kaminitz - have joined the body set up by Channel 20 for the purpose, and since in accordance with the request of Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, the new operating body of the Knesset Channel will be taking on part of the staff employed by the current operating body, perhaps the fears and concerns are exaggerated.
Certainly, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.
In other words, if Channel 20 will manage to run the Knesset Channel as fairly and objectively as did the News Corporation of Channel 2, it will be a major moral victory for the right-wing media.