Radio and Television: Israel

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History of radio and television in Israel.

Broadcasting in Israel has accompanied the gradual weakening of state hegemony, the transition from a "melting pot" philosophy to a multicultural orientation, and the growth of privatization and market control. After its introduction by the British, broadcasting was a full government monopoly for some thirty years. The first radio station, the Voice of Jerusalem, went on the air in 1936 under the Palestine Broadcasting Service. Following a traditional British colonial policy of curbing nationalist content while allowing for some carefully monitored cultural expression, the government controlled the news tightly. Other programming was produced by the Jewish and Arab communities.

Renamed Kol Yisrael (the voice of Israel) when Israel was established in 1948, radio came under the direct control of the Ministry of the Interior, and later of the Prime Minister's office. Most programming was in Hebrew, some in Arabic and in the languages spoken by new immigrants. For many years, Israel's broadcasting system was monolithic and government-controlled, including Kol Yisrael and Galei Tzahal, the army station opened in 1950. Direct official control was justified by security challenges and by the need to stabilize the nation and to achieve immigrant acculturation. The government monopoly was abolished in 1965 in response to popular and political criticism and in an effort at satisfying increasing media needs. The Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) Law was enacted in the same year, introducing the IBA as a public, nongovernmental body broadcasting in Hebrew and Arabic.

Israel Television became part of the IBA shortly after its establishment in 1968. An educational television service set up in 1966 by the Rothschild Foundation was transferred to the Ministry of Education. Although formally modeled on the BBC, the IBA has never been entirely free from governmental influence. In the 1980s an "open skies" philosophy emerged, producing demands to increase the number of news channels and to upgrade cultural creativity. The broadcasting system underwent remarkable growth: Private cable TV appeared in 1989 and satellite services in 2002, two commercial television channels went on the air in 1992 and 2002, and regional private commercial radio stations started transmissions in 1996.

Media concentration, privatization, and incorporation reduced competition for entrance into and access to the market. Economic interests and government pressures have enhanced media conformism that favors government policies and powerful economic groups. Nevertheless, technological progress helped to empower some "voiceless" groups through a large number of pirate radio stations, such as the now defunct left-wing Voice of Peace and right-wing Channel Seven ; low-powered ultraorthodox religious stations called "holy channels"; pirate radio and cable TV in Russian and Arabic; and an illegal industry of homemade audio- and videocassettes operated by Israeli-Palestinian partnerships. Also activist groups of the elderly, feminists, gays, greens, and others have gained access to community radio and television outlets, and to radio stations in schools and colleges.

Radio and television have always been important components of the political scene. In addition to their use for electoral purposes, they have served both to support the government and to criticize its policies and actions on issues such as war, occupation, peacemaking efforts, economic crises, and social integration.

The procedures that govern press censorship also apply to broadcasting. According to Israeli law, all broadcast materials must be submitted to the military censor, in a fashion similar to press censorship. Adopted from British Mandatory emergency measures, these laws have been adapted to the changing circumstances. Thus, an agreement between the government, the army, and the media provides a list of security-related topics that must be cleared, allowing for only a fraction to be submitted. Foreign correspondents work under strict control, particularly in the occupied territories.

see also newspapers and print media: israel.


Caspi, Dan, and Limor, Yehiel. The In/Outsiders: The Mass Media in Israel. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 1999

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