In recent months, a television channel in Israel that until a few years ago was rather marginal in the national media landscape has gained more and more influence. It is called 14ערוץ, Channel 14, and is known for its radical positions and very close to the Israeli far right. In recent years its audience has increased greatly, coinciding with the growing polarization of the political debate in Israel, where the most right-wing executive in the country’s history is in government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Canale 14 was born less than ten years ago as a small niche channel for the dissemination of Jewish culture, and immediately moved on to political themes: today it is one of the most followed private channels in Israel, and due to its contents and his style is considered almost a propaganda organ of Netanyahu himself. The polarization of the political debate in Israel has also increased following the serious political crisis triggered by the reform of the judicial system proposed by the government, which provoked enormous protests from the opposition and civil society.
On several occasions, Canale 14 guests and journalists have explicitly echoed the positions of the prime minister and the far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties that support him. Not long ago an analyst defined the judges of the Israeli Supreme Court as a group intent on “establishing a fascist oligarchy”: the Court has very critical positions on the justice reform, which wants to take away its powers and entrust them to the government and which is considered by many a danger for democracy, because it effectively eliminates any counterweight to the power of the government in office (Israel does not have a Constitution and the Supreme Court represents an important counterweight to the power of the government).
During the programs broadcast by Canale 14 the judiciary was accused of wanting to carry out political persecution against the government, the very extensive protests underway in Israel against the reform were described as a dangerous subversive action and space was given to various theories of the conspiracy, including that the protests were financed and supported by the CIA, the United States intelligence agency. More generally, journalists from Canale 14 have openly claimed to have right-wing positions close to those of the government: Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, of the Israeli research center Israel Democracy Institute, described the channel’s programming as “very one-sided”, in where “there is not even the pretense of being balanced: there is no dedication to the facts and there is no apology for the lies”.
The channel has been gaining visibility and influence for a couple of years, but in recent months the data on audience ratings have risen significantly, in some cases exceeding those of the main state channels.
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Canale 14 was born in 2014 under the name of Canale 20, winning a tender from the Israeli government to create a “Jewish Heritage Channel”. Since then the channel’s main shareholder has been Yitzchak Mirilashvili, an Israeli billionaire entrepreneur of Russian origins and one of the co-founders of VKontakte, the main Russian social network. Mirilashvili’s father, Michael, is a Russian Jewish billionaire considered very close to Netanyahu.
At the time of its foundation, the cultural dissemination channel was not authorized by the regulations in force to broadcast news programs and programmes, which however it attempted to do straight away, receiving sanctions from the authorities for this. In 2016 the channel finally obtained the license to broadcast news: already then in local newspapers Channel 14 was nicknamed “Israel’s Fox News” (Fox News is one of the most conservative networks in the United States, very close to the positions of the former president Donald Trump).
A first turning point for the growth of the channel and its audience came in 2018, when the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, approved some rules according to which the channel was allowed to broadcast news and political programs without time limits. The second turning point, in 2021, was made possible instead by the economic means of Mirilashvili, who purchased the broadcast rights of his programs on channel 14 instead of on channel 20 of commercial television with the equivalent of over 1 million euros, from hence the current name Channel 14. The new location of the channel brought it closer to very popular channels such as 11, 12 and 13, giving the programs broadcast a larger audience and greater credibility.
From the beginning, Channel 14 aimed at a conservative and traditionalist audience: ultra-Orthodox Jews, Netanyahu voters, settlers occupying the Palestinian territories in the West Bank, among others. The closeness to a traditionalist audience was also created through very concrete editorial choices: unlike many other Israeli television channels, in fact, Canale 14 does not broadcast its programs during Shabbat, the holy day for people of the Jewish religion.
According to data cited by the Times of Israel, over the course of these nine years the channel’s Jewish audience has gone from being less than 1 percent of the total to over 7 percent. The moments in which the channel seems to be most popular are those in which he deals with political topics and the most divisive and discussed news, for example those relating to the conflict with the Palestinians. The channel’s most popular program is called I patrioti, a live talk show with guests and journalists who comment on current events.
Over the last few months, Canale 14’s style has attracted a lot of attention. Last June, for example, among the guests invited during one of the broadcasts was Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak, who falsely accused the founders of the socialist Mapai party, which dominated the first half of Israeli political history and is considered the precursor of current Labor Party, of having contributed to deporting Jews to Nazi concentration camps.
About a year ago the channel was then accused of having offered positive and favorable coverage to some members of Likud, Netanyahu’s party, in exchange for money. On another occasion, a report aired on the channel was highly criticized for inviting listeners to “rejoice”, quoting a biblical verse, over the death of the Israeli Arab politician Said al Harumi, accusing him of being a supporter of “terrorists”. Palestinians. On yet another occasion, a journalist from the channel complained live about the lack of deaths in an armed attack on a city inhabited by Israeli Arabs.
Part of the success gained by the channel is also due to the promotion that some right-wing politicians make of it. Shuki Tausig, of the progressive Israeli magazine The Seventh Eye, told the Times of Israel that the channel receives “crazy promotion” on social media from Netanyahu and his ministers. Channel 14 is also one of the few Israeli channels to which Netanyahu agrees to give interviews: according to a study by Seventh Eye he has already given 14 interviews from October to today. In many other cases Netanyahu has refused to give interviews to Israeli television channels, claiming that the media had implemented a political persecution against him.
Following this rhetoric, Canale 14 presented itself as an original and credible alternative to a left-wing media landscape described as excessively uniform and conformist. Orly Goldklang, deputy editor of the conservative newspaper Makor Rishon, said Channel 14 satisfied a “real thirst for media alternatives” to mainstream channels and networks. According to her, this need would have been satisfied precisely during the protests against the reform of the judicial system, when apart from Canale 14, which was in favor of the government, “everything else on TV was in favor of the protests”.