Israeli Law Enforcer Blocks News Broadcasts on Cable TV

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By Jenny David

Aug. 25 — Deputy Attorney General Avi Licht has recommended that Patrick Drahi's i24 television news station should not be allowed to air on HOT, the Israeli cable TV monopoly owned by Drahi, because it would harm competition.

His formal opinion, obtained on Aug. 20 by Bloomberg BNA, strengthens and expands a decision by the Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting to block the broadcasts on the basis of Israel's Communications Law.

The Communications Law forbids the owner of a broadcast network from also owning a news channel—a scheme designed to keep network owners from influencing news reporting.

By adding that dual broadcasts would also violate Israel's Economic Concentration Law, Licht for the first time applied antitrust law to the communications sector. The Economic Concentration Law—formally entitled “the Law to Advance Competition and Limit Monopolization”—is intended to keep large corporations from amassing too much economic or political power, Licht maintained.

The drafting of the statute, passed in late 2013, followed widespread social protests against the country's high cost-of-living and what came to be known as its economic “tycoons.”

Licht's legal opinion “does not constitute any expression of value with respect to the channel or the role it wishes to fill,” the Justice Ministry told Bloomberg BNA in an Aug. 20 statement. Rather, “it is intended to direct the station's request to the proper licensing track,” the ministry spokesman said.

That track now will be the Antitrust Authority.

i24news is an international, 24-hour news and current affairs TV channel based in Jaffa that is known for its pro-Israel point of view. It began broadcasts in English, Arabic and French about a year ago and streams the news live on Internet. It airs internationally, but not in Israel and not in Hebrew.

Nevertheless, Licht said the station should be treated as an Israeli station since the owners, the executives, many of the journalists and the offices are based in Israel.

Drahi is a major investor in i24news and a controlling shareholder in HOT.

The opinion follows the submission of a Supreme Court petition against the cable authority, arguing that it is illogical for i24news to be broadcast on televisions around the world, but not in Israel, and that blocking the channel infringes freedom of speech. The petition was submitted by a previously unknown non-governmental organization calling itself the “Civilian Coalition.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jenny David in Jerusalem at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Barbagallo at pbarbagallo@bna.com