Anti-government protests in Israel are raging after controversial legislation to weaken the Supreme Court was passed, and now the very future of the nation’s thriving TV sector feels under threat.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial judicial reforms, which have led hundreds of thousands to take to the streets for months on end, were rubberstamped last Monday and have caused uproar both domestically and on the international stage as the most right-wing government in Israel’s short history tightens its grip. Meanwhile, dozens more laws look set to impinge on rights in areas such as LGBTQ+ reform over the coming months, in a nation that has long been seen as one of the more progressive in its region.
Beyond the judicial overhaul, which will remove the Supreme Court’s power to reverse government decisions it deems unreasonable, major changes to the TV and news sectors are planned. While not entirely surprising, these proposals have alarmed the local broadcasting and production community, who have banded together to express their outrage.
The proposals, which are expected to pass but not for months, include the significant reduction of local original content quotas, the creation of a new regulator whose members would largely be chosen by the government and which could meddle with Israeli content, and the cancellation of the requirement for networks to obtain independent licenses in order to broadcast news content.
If the proposals pass in their current form, public broadcaster Kan 11 – no friend of the incumbent government – will also be banned from making money via advertising, while there are provisions to make it easier to sell off the network’s assets.
Bizarrely, the new laws would also forge a first-of-its-kind government committee to measure TV ratings, undoing the decades-long process of ratings being overseen by an independent measurement body. Fears have been raised that ratings data will therefore be tampered with in order to make it appear that the right-leaning Channel 14 – which is sympathetic to Netanyahu – is performing better than competitors, thereby making it more attractive to advertisers.
The laws are being championed by Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, one of the most outwardly right-wing members of Netanyahu’s new government, who has shown willing to push against free expression during his short tenure. For a brief period, he was even mooting the closure of the public broadcaster altogether.
“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.”
Karhi’s plan will eliminate the distinction between “fake news and news, and between funded content and journalism,” according to a separate statement from the Israeli Journalists Association.
The Israeli public and interested stakeholders now have 21 days to give their view on the legislation, which will be picked up after the summer recess and likely pass early next year.
Insiders from the local broadcasting sector have vowed to do all within their power to water down the proposals and TV producers are particularly concerned, according to Tzvika Gottlieb, who runs the Israeli Producer’s Association. He told Deadline the government will “be able to do almost anything it wants” if they pass in current form.
The Israeli TV industry has long punched above its weight, introducing the likes of Fauda, Shtisel and Tehran to the world, but Gottlieb believes the next generation of hits are under threat due to the planned reduction in local content quotas.
Buried deep in the 134-page document are requirements for Keshet and Reshet to drop their amount of local original content investment from 15% to 12% of earnings, while smaller commercial networks such as Yes and Hot would see steeper declines to just 4%. Furthermore, due to the high local earnings threshold for these quotas, most U.S. streamers would likely not be required to invest anything at all on original shows – concluding a battle that has been ongoing since long before the protests against judicial reform began. The streamers have invariably committed to local Israeli content over the past months.
Gottlieb is concerned for the very future of the Israeli TV industry and thinks non-commercial content in Hebrew is particularly under threat.
“This will kill production here,” he added. “The only way for channels to invest properly is through obligation and if you don’t obligate them then they won’t do it. We are talking about the livelihood of tens of thousands of families.”
Insiders at the Israeli broadcasters stressed a continued commitment to local production and said they are on the same side as the IPA in their opposition to the legislation, but Gottlieb remains fearful.
On the ground
On the ground, the protests show little signs of slowing and creatives have been out in full force, with the IPA last week helping a well-known producer out of prison following a brief arrest, according to Gottlieb.
Our Boys creator Hagai Levi was himself briefly arrested several months ago but that hasn’t stopped him from joining the crowds and roadblocks. He points out that protesting has already had some success by delaying parts of the legislation and influencing Karhi before he reversed the mooted closure of Kan 11.
“It is very important to show that things are not going back to normal and that protests can become even bigger,” he added.
These protests have been well organized but “full of rage,” he went on to say, while giving local Israelis a “deeper understanding” of the plight of Palestinian settlers.
Levi, who is currently striking in solidarity with the WGA and has received “many many messages” from supporters in the U.S. and around the world, will spend time over the coming months discussing these issues at trade confabs and events.
He will likely be joined by Euphoria creator Ron Leshem, who told Deadline Israeli creatives have a “moral oblgiation” to act against the “wider risk” wrought by the proposals.
“The true artistic freedom that has existed in Israel in the past decades is in crucial danger,” he added. “Broadcasters and the drama community are fighting against the government’s attempt to take over media outlets and against the erosion of artistic freedom, but it’s not enough.”
Gottlieb has also joined the protests but is troubled by the impact the government is having on families up and down the country.
“It’s so diffficult because it divides these families,” he said.
“Parents and children do not agree and children do not want to speak to their parents or brothers and sisters. I take part in the protests personally because I want to live in democracy, for my children to be free and for them to love whoever they want. Hopefully we are successful.”
Content Source: deadline.com