Court blocks right-wing station from producing Knesset Channel

Court blocks right-wing station from producing Knesset Channel

Responding to petition from competitors who had also vied for contract, judges find broadcast tender process was flawed

View of Channel 2 newsroom in Neve Ilan studio outside Jerusalem, April 7, 2017. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)
View of Channel 2 newsroom in Neve Ilan studio outside Jerusalem, April 7, 2017. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)

The High Court on Wednesday nixed a contract for Channel 20 to produce, manage and broadcast the Knesset Channel for the next 10 years.

Responding to a petition from Channel 2 News and the parent company of Channel 10, which had both vied with the new right-wing channel for the rights to manage the parliament broadcaster, the court found that there were irregularities in the tender process and suspended the agreement until it could be properly investigated.

Channel 20 had been due to begin running the Knesset Channel on July 27, but following the court’s ruling the current broadcaster, Channel 2 News, will continue until a further decision is made.

Channel 2 News claimed in its petition that there were discrepancies between the content Channel 20’s tender application, and the business plan.

Channel 2 is also petitioning the court to discard the application of RGE Media Group, which came second in the tender process and which owns Channel 10.

Both Channel 2 and RGE expressed satisfaction at the court’s ruling.

It is unclear whether the court will instruct the government to begin the entire tender process again, or whether it will award the broadcasting rights to one of the channels based on the previous tender applications.

Channel 20 began broadcasting in August 2014 as a station focusing on Jewish tradition with a conservative bent. Sometimes referred to as Israel’s Fox News for its right-of-center programming and public claim of offering a countering view to the “mainstream media,” it is not authorized to broadcast news items.

The station is currently under fire for broadcasting a provocative interview with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week. The impromptu segment is being probed by the Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting to determine if it fell beyond the scope of the station’s license because it constituted news content.

Channel 20 has paid out hundreds of thousands of shekels in fines for other infractions, including for broadcasting news content, since it went on air in 2014.

Under the terms of its current license, Channel 20 can only show news items if the council approves the broadcast in advance. The channel has sought to expand its rights to include news content.

Although permission was granted for the station to show news in December 2016, that was on condition of implementing certain appointments and other supplementary measures, a process that has not yet been completed.

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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