Repositioned news channel 14 targets mainstream audiences while retaining pro-Netanyahu storyline

During a recent evening news broadcast, Channel 14 presenter Shimon Riklin and his commentary team sympathized with indicted Shas MK Aryeh Deri over his recent plea deal, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit called ” bad seed” for bringing former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to justice, and questioned the seriousness of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

For news broadcast in Israel, this is far from standard rate. But for Channel 14, a conservative channel sometimes compared to Fox News and officially known as Now 14, that’s kind of the point. This is a 24 hour news station that is always on except on Shabbat. The channel inhabits a milieu in which Orthodox Jewish dress and mores are common — few anchors, anchors or reporters appear without a head covering — and in which Netanyahu remains a political hero.

Netanyahu was notoriously focused on his portrayal in the media and sought to control the narrative – two of the cases he is on trial for revolve around attempts to influence media coverage. In the print media, Israel Hayom is seen by many as a spokesman for Netanyahu, but there had been no broadcast equivalent until Now 14.

Backed by an influx of cash from Russian businessman Yitzchak Mirilashvili – son of Georgian-born billionaire Mikhael Mirilashvili, who paid for a new studio and on-air talent – and moved into a slot on Dialing alongside other news channels, Now 14 is making a move for legitimacy as a true conservative alternative to Israel’s mainstream news channels.

But critics say that as long as the channel continues to repeat the former prime minister, it will never be taken seriously in the Israeli media landscape.

“He doesn’t offer good journalism, he has no talent and he has ethical issues,” said Eytan Gilboa, professor and founding director of Bar Ilan University’s School of Communication. “He only has one position, that’s Netanyahu’s channel.”

Others, however, argue that Israel’s mainstream channels are bullhorns for liberal politicians, leaving open space in the media sphere for a right-wing religious option.

“Other channels have completely left-wing leanings,” said veteran journalist Yaakov Ahimeir, 83, who has been a presenter at the Kol Yisrael radio station and Channel 1 since the early 1970s, and still appears occasionally on the TV. ‘antenna. “They may have had right-wing guests, but right-wing audiences felt left out of those channels. This is why establishing “Now 14” is a necessity. This gives a broader view of the problems in Israel.

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during Channel 20’s annual Jerusalem conference in Jerusalem on March 16, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The other two main commercial news channels, 12 and 13, reflect a more standard and critical approach to Israeli politics. Channel 13, officially known as Reshet 13, investigated most of the early corruption allegations against Netanyahu, but then underwent a more recent overhaul as a more mainstream, slightly less left-leaning news organization.

Keshet’s Channel 12 is the main competitor to Reshet, considered the flagship of Israeli news programming. He was once accused by Yair Netanyahu, Netanyahu’s eldest son, of having media coverage almost as damaging to the Jewish people as the Nazis.

He also competes with Kan on Channel 11, a state-funded outlet that produces independent reporting.

Now 14 began broadcasting in August 2014, initially as a Channel 20 cable and satellite station, with a mission to provide Jewish heritage content. In 2016, in light of changes to the Israeli television regulatory system, the channel received permission from the Israel Broadcasting Authority to broadcast its own news programs.

Early last year, with funding from Mirilashvili, Channel 20 grew to 14, completing a block of news channels that begins with the Kan public broadcaster on 11, and began calling itself Now 14.

Even before the move, Netanyahu has long been accused of involvement in Channel 20 operations.

According to Nir Hefetz, a former Netanyahu aide turned state witness in the corruption cases against him, Netanyahu’s son Yair sought to get involved in hiring journalists at Channel 14, sending a list of names the chain should choose from.

When candidates weren’t chosen, Yair sat down with network executives to vent his frustration, Hefetz said.

Even so, many members of the network are close to Netanyahu both personally and ideologically.

Among the channel’s presenters are Erel Segal and Jacob Bardugo, two stalwart Netanyahu supporters and well-known right-wing commentators. Another is Yinon Magal, media personality and former right-wing politician.

In February 2020, Segal, then a Kan 11 news anchor, was suspended for appearing in a video with Netanyahu, in which he, Magal and Riklin sang the song “Praise, O Jerusalem” with the prime minister, a few weeks before march 2020. election. Seven months later, he moved to Channel 20.

From left: Erel Segal, Yinon Magal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Shimon Riklin, in a video posted to Netanyahu’s Twitter account on February 13, 2020. (Screenshot)

But the channel’s supporters say any alignment with Netanyahu is a result of the station’s right-handed leanings.

“It’s right in his mind,” Ahimeir said. “It’s not necessarily to promote Mr. Netanyahu as leader of the opposition, it’s just Jewish, traditional and Zionist.”

Asked to respond to accusations that the channel was controlled or influenced by the Prime Minister, the station’s management only replied that as a media company, Channel 14 has a license to broadcast on television and over the radio and operate in accordance with state law and regulations. of Israel.

The channel had great potential to attract the political right, Bar Ilan’s Gilboa said, noting the large number of right-wing voters.

Instead, he said: “It looks like a community TV channel. These are not professional journalists, this is a one-sided plea.

Shimon Riklin, center, during a Channel 20 broadcast from HaBima Square in Tel Aviv on October 15, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

Now 14’s ratings remained lackluster, despite the change. The channel’s prime-time news rarely reaches a quarter of what channels 12 and 13 receive, according to viewership figures released by Ice.co.il.

Gilboa said the channel had skimped on the staff and correspondents needed to make it a strong news channel. Ad revenue has been minimal even with the move upmarket, he said. The loss of advertising shekels to digital media is an industry-wide problem, but it will affect Channel 14 more intensely as long as it remains entrenched in its pro-Netanyahu niche, he said.

“Three commercial channels is too many, there’s no room for ad revenue,” Gilboa said. “If 14 thought he would gain more publicity and revenue, that’s not happening and it won’t happen unless he changes his content.”

Tsuriel Rashi, a professor of media at Ariel University, noted that the channel is still finding its feet in a media landscape where newcomers are scarce and could still find its identity.

“We need a few years to find out if it’s a mainstream, right-wing or just serving Bibi,” Rashi said.