Right-leaning Channel 20 loses rights to broadcast Knesset TV

Following court decision against station, state regulator forced to look at competitor that placed second in tender

A view of the television studios of the Knesset Channel, at the Knesset, Jan 19, 2011. (Isaac Harari/FLASH90)
A view of the television studios of the Knesset Channel, at the Knesset, Jan 19, 2011. (Isaac Harari/FLASH90)

Channel 20 on Thursday lost its bid to produce, manage and broadcast the Knesset Channel following a court appeal by the competitors that lost out on the tender.

In May the Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting awarded Channel 20 the license to broadcast from the parliament for the next 10 years, based on a bid that came in ahead of those of competitors Hadashot (formerly Channel 2 News), Channel 10 and an independent television production company.

However, in July, the High Court found, following a petition by Hadashot, that there were irregularities in the tender process and suspended the agreement until it could be properly investigated.

On Tuesday the Justice Ministry announced it would not defend the decision to award the contract to Channel 20, forcing the council to withdraw the offer. The council will now examine the bid of RGE Group, the owner of Channel 10.

“At this stage, and although the council still believes that the winning bid offered the best content, in view of the legal opinion there is no choice but to declare the rejection of the winning bid,” the council announced.

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

Hadashot claimed in its petition that the content proposed in Channel 20’s application did not fulfill the requirements listed in the tender.

A spokesperson for Hadashot on Thursday described the court’s decision as “an unprecedented legal victory,” adding that the result was due “to the insistence of the news company on the principles of fair, equal and transparent bidding.”

Since its founding in 2006, the Knesset Channel, which broadcasts all the plenary sessions from the parliament and a range of political and current events programs, has been run by Channel 2.

According to the council’s statement, Channel 20 had received the most points in a system measuring whether the production companies fulfilled the criteria to run the Knesset Channel.

The council noted that in its winning proposal, Channel 20 had presented “an up-to-date graphic packaging and re-branding of the channel, along with design of a dedicated website, as well as details of the launch of the new channel.”

Channel 20's Erel Segal satirizes Zionist Union MK Stav Shaffir on a February 29, 2016 show. (screen capture: YouTube)
Channel 20’s Erel Segal satirizes Zionist Union MK Stav Shaffir on a February 29, 2016, show. (screen capture: YouTube)

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 to offer a countering view to the “mainstream media,” the channel only received permission to broadcast its own news programs in December 2016.

Channel 20 came under fire that month when it censured President Reuven Rivlin for attending a conference in New York at which members of Breaking the Silence — a group that publishes allegations of Israeli soldiers’ transgressions against Palestinians in the West Bank — also appeared.

In March 2016 Zionist Union MK Stav Shaffir claimed that a satirical skit aired on Channel 20 amounted to sexual harassment. Taking to Facebook, Shaffir slammed the channel for a segment on its show “The Patriots” in which host Erel Segel said the MK derived sexual pleasure from riding her bicycle.

Shaffir, 32, this Knesset’s youngest parliamentarian, explained in Facebook post at the time that the skit took aim at a column she had written a week earlier for the Haaretz newspaper on the topic of happiness. Shaffir, who admitted in her post to having “deep” ideological differences with the station, said the sketch veered from the comedic to the offensive.

In response, the TV station said Shaffir’s complaint was rooted in political differences, and charged that the MK “didn’t miss an opportunity to bash Channel 20.”

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