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Israel Society & Culture: Television and Radio Media

by Yehiel Limor

The field of electronic communications in Israel is undergoing a process of vigorous development. If the government carries out its planned reforms, a variety of new broadcast outlets will be added to those operating, which currently include two national television channels, a network of regional TV cable stations, two national radio stations, and 15 regional ones.


Radio, the oldest of the broadcast media, began to operate under the British Mandate (1922-48), which established the "Voice of Jerusalem" for various reasons: an awareness of the educational value of broadcasting and its political influence, as well as the intention of keeping an eye on the burgeoning broadcasting potential of the small Jewish community. The official radio station came on the air for the first time on March 30, 1936 and was to serve the Jewish and Arab populations, as well as British administration officials. News bulletins reflected topics of interest to the British, and the station was in effect an organ of British Mandatory policy.

With the establishment of the State of Israel, the name of the radio station was changed to Kol Yisrael (the Voice of Israel), and the military radio station Galei Tzahal (IDF Radio) was opened. For many years, these two stations constituted the country's entire broadcasting system - monolithic and government-controlled.

In 1965, Israel became the first country in the world to have educational TV before general-purpose TV. Educational television was approved by the government, which realized the importance of the small screen for educational purposes, and the Rothschild Foundation provided funding. Later, educational TV was transferred from the responsibility of the Rothschild Foundation to the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education and Culture, and it is a unit of the ministry to this day. The first public broadcast was on March 24, 1966.

In 1965, the status of the state radio also underwent a major change. Kol Yisrael, by then broadcasting on two wavelengths, became an autonomous body, the Israel Broadcasting Authority. Three years later, when Israel Television was established, it also became part of the Authority.

Development of broadcasting in the eighties and nineties

Israel currently has two television channels as well as a network of cable-television stations, and regional radio stations have been added to Kol Israel and Galei Tzahal.

The quick transition from a monopoly to multiple channels was not unique to Israel. In many ways, it imitated processes seen in the seventies and eighties in Western Europe.

By the second half of the nineties, broadcasting in Israel comprised:

The Israel Broadcasting Authority

Set up along the lines of the BBC, it is responsible for radio (Kol Yisrael) and television (ITV), and is funded mainly by license fees on TV sets. About 20% of its revenue is from advertising.

Radio (Kol Yisrael)

The station operates several channels, geared to various audiences. Reshet Alef (first network) broadcasts discussions on cultural and general events, as well as children's programs. Reshet Bet (second network) provides news and discussion of current events. Reshet Gimmel (third network) offers light music. Kol Hamusica plays classical music, Kol Haderech intersperses traffic reports with music, and Reka is designated for new immigrants and broadcasts mainly in Russian and Amharic. Kol Zion Lagola is beamed to Jewish communities abroad and Kol Yisrael in Arabic is broadcast for Israeli Arabs and listeners in Arab countries.

Israel Television (ITV)

Established in 1968, ITV operates two channels. Channel One, its main channel, broadcasts news, original productions, children's and entertainment programs and films. An hour and a half of each evening's broadcasts are devoted to programs in Arabic. ITV's other channel, broadcasting by satellite, was established in the early nineties.

The Second Television and Radio Authority

Established by law in 1993, it is responsible for the Second Television Channel and the regional radio stations. The authority, a public body, authorizes and supervises licensees who are selected by tender. Licenses are limited to a 4-6 year period. Funding for these stations is from advertisements.

The Second TV Channel

Operated by three licensees, each broadcasting two days a week, with Saturday broadcasts done by rotation, the Second Channel provides a great deal of entertainment and films. It has its own news division, shared by the licensees.

Regional Radio

In the mid-nineties, the Second Authority set up 16 regional radio stations, to be operated by private licensees. Two of the stations are intended for specific audiences: Radio 2000 for the Arabs of Northern Israel, and Kol Hay in central Israel for Jewish religious listeners.

Educational Television

Established in 1965, ETV today provides not only educational programming but also enrichment programs and broadcasts on current events. It broadcasts on Channels One and Two, as well as on cable TV. Funding is provided by the Ministry of Education and Culture.

Galei Tzahal

Galei Tzahal, the military radio station set up in 1950, broadcasts on two channels and enjoys great popularity. The first channel provides news and talk shows and the second channel offers music and traffic reports. Although funded by the army, its listeners today are mainly civilians.

Cable TV

Cable TV, which began broadcasting in the late eighties, today reaches 65% of all households. The law governing cable TV divided the country into license areas, with one licensee per area and funding provided by user fees. The cable networks offer 30-40 channels, many of them foreign, picked up by satellite. These include MTV, SKY NEWS, CNN and BBC as well as channels from Egypt, France, Germany, India, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, Spain, Russia and Turkey.

Unlicensed (Pirate) Radio Stations

An unusual phenomenon in Israel is the proliferation of radio stations operating without a license. The first such station, the Voice of Peace, started broadcasting in 1973 in imitation of similar stations in Europe. Today, many more such stations operate around the country. Although they are illegal, the authorities tend to be lenient. Some are amateur, others provide ethnic music or religious programs, and some are commercial, funded by advertisements.

Privatization of broadcasting

The government which took office in 1996 declared its intention to privatize public broadcasting, as part of a general policy of privatization. Two public committees were set up to survey the future of broadcasting, sparking a public debate similar to that held in other Western countries. Supporters of public radio and TV argue that these should be kept free of commercial constraints in order to guarantee freedom of speech in a democratic society.

Sources: Israeli Foreign Ministry