Israel’s first conservative TV news channel sees ratings spike

by David Isaac

The Israeli public has woken to the fact that legacy stations are not impartial purveyors of news, but players in the political game, says Channel 14 news anchor Lital Shemesh.

(JNS) Israel’s unabashedly conservative Channel 14 television became the story last week when its “Main Edition” beat out Channel 11 and Channel 13 to become the country’s second most popular prime-time news show (Channel 12 remained in the top spot).

While the reason isn’t hard to find—the ratings jump started on March 5, coinciding with the debut of popular news anchor Sharon Gal, who moved from Channel 13—Channel 14 has been gaining on the competition for some time.

“We’ve seen a rise in the ratings for the past half year,” Lital Shemesh, a popular Channel 14 news anchor, told JNS.

Over the last six months, “The Patriots,” where panelists weigh in on current events, saw a steady increase in viewership, with its ratings growing from 2.2% to 4.5% between September 2022 and February 2023. This compares to 1.4% in January 2022, according to the Israel Audience Research Board (IARB). Similarly, “Main Edition” had seen a rise in the ratings before the arrival of Gal.

Channel 14 began as Channel 20, a moreshet, or “heritage,” station, meaning its programs covered topics related to Jewish history, religion, culture and tradition. Shemesh, who joined the channel in 2015, a year after its founding, said the fact that it started as a moreshet channel is one reason that progress was slow. “It took time for us to get a license for live news shows every night,” she said.

Channel 14 also works with a small budget.

“We started with two evening shows. Only a year ago, we started airing morning, noon, and nightly shows,” said Shemesh.

One factor working in Channel 14’s favor is that the Israeli public has woken up to the fact that legacy stations are not impartial purveyors of news, but players in the political game, said Shemesh, crediting social media for inadvertently raising awareness.

“People see what journalists are tweeting. What they’re thinking. And so now they’re voting wisely with their remote control to choose what to see,” she added.

Channel 20 became Channel 14 a little over a year ago, in Nov. 2021.

“That move really helped our ratings. It put us closer to the other channels,” said Shemesh. (In Israel, the main news channels are 11, 12 and 13.)

Asaf Nissan, who serves as deputy editor of “The Patriots,” the channel’s most popular show and who joined the channel shortly after it moved to 14, agreed that moving down the dial was an important factor in Channel 14’s recent success, characterizing it as a branding issue.

“Channel 20 was defined as more of a conservative, Jewish channel and less as a right-wing news channel. When they decided to brand themselves on 14 as a news channel, which is right next to other news channels on the remote, it definitely made things easier,” he said.

Nissan compared Channel 14’s rise to that of Fox News, which offered an alternative to mainstream, liberal news channels.

“Channels 12 and 13 are liberal. Channel 11, the public broadcasting station, tries to bring a more balanced approach but it, too, favors a more liberal agenda. People got tired of listening to one thing all the time. They were looking for variety,” he said.

“And in some cases, Channel 14 covers it better, like issues related to Judea and Samaria. Just using the name ‘Judea and Samaria’ instead of the ‘territories’ is a big change for the audience. Another example is judicial reform. All the other channels call it a judicial ‘revolution.’ The only place to call it judicial reform is Channel 14,” he added.

Yinon Magal, anchor of “The Patriots,” also deserves a lot of credit, according to Nissan, who said the show is popular not just for its conservative viewpoint but for the way it effectively employs satire.

“As the anchor, he is just phenomenal, one of the best news people I’ve ever worked with. He’s very involved in the process. As a result, we have a fuller picture of what we want to show, exactly which sound bites to use, what topics to cover. Plus, he has this ability to make fun of every situation, a gift for satire,” said Nissan.

Channel 14’s ratings also got a lift from a surprising source: former Prime Minister Yair Lapid, now leader of the opposition. His Yesh Atid Party submitted a petition to the Central Elections Committee against the channel and its owner Yitzchak Mirilashvili in Sept. 2022. The petition requested that the channel be redefined as a propaganda arm of the right, given its “significant political activity during an election period.”

“It was a literal attempt to get us off the air,” Nissan said, adding that the staff wore the criticism as a badge of honor.

“If we weren’t having an effect, Lapid wouldn’t have cared. When he saw the channel was having an actual impact, that it was changing people’s attitudes on a day-to-day basis, he became worried.”

The Central Election Committee rejected Lapid’s petition, which backfired, becoming a “huge advertisement” for Channel 14, said Nissan.

“The joke at the channel was that we should send Lapid a bouquet as a thank you. We actually increased our ratings,” he added.

Lital Shemesh took a more somber view of Lapid’s effort.

“This wasn’t the first time they tried to shut down a media outlet. They’ve tried to shut down the Israel Hayom newspaper and Arutz 7 radio and also now Channel 14. I find it sad when a politician is trying to shut down a TV station, trying to damage the basics of democracy and freedom of speech. If you want to win an election—fight a fair fight. Don’t try to take the only channel criticizing you off the air.”

Both agree that the future for Channel 14 looks bright. Shemesh noted that the channel is now earning enough in advertising revenue to pay its way. Nissan said that ratings are up across the board.

“Every aspect of the channel is on the rise, right at dawn with the morning show,” he said.

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