Gulf War Sparks Change At Staterun Israeli TV

The outbreak of the Persian Gulf war has forced Israel’s government-run television station, ITV, to make some quick and unexpected changes in its schedule.

A broadcast of the film “Hanover Street,” a wartime romance set during the London blitz, was canceled hastily after the first missiles fell on Tel Aviv. A segment of the miniseries “War And Remembrance” was switched from primetime to midnight when many viewers objected to the possibility of watching Jews go to the gas chamber while sitting in their own homes wearing gas masks.

But the war also has brought about more significant developments in Israeli tv, changes that will affect society long after missiles stop falling.

The sudden demand for increased news coverage and home entertainment has spurred ITV to begin broadcasting 24 hours a day, almost doubling its air time. Early-morning news programs in Hebrew, Arabic and English were cobbled together and put on the air in addition to extended midday and evening broadcasts.

All-night broadcasting was deemed essential for an Israeli public frequently awakened by air-raid sirens. To fill the extra hours, ITV has had to dig deep into its archives, providing viewers with a mishmash of obscure movies, imported series and musicvideos.

Since its inception in 1968, ITV has had almost a complete monopoly. A quasi-independent second channel started broadcasting two years ago; expected to become the country’s first fully commercial channel, it still is broadcast on a weaker transmission than ITV and does not reach many households. A cable system that began broadcasting last year is hooked up to fewer than 10% of Israeli households.

According to the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s director general, Aryeh Mekel, ITV’s increased effort will create a $15 million operating deficit in the coming year. But he said that public approval of the changes is so high they could continue indefinitely, even if it meant a significant rise in the so-called “tv tax,” an annual consumer levy of more than $100 per tv set.

But not everyone at ITV is completely happy with the changes. Esther Soffer, director of ITV’s entertainment department, said, “People should not be watching television all the time. It’s better that they get a good night’s sleep.” But in Israel these days, with or without the television on, a good night’s sleep is no sure thing.

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