Could you watch a split TV screen where one side shows you images from a massive explosion killing 10, meanwhile the other half is presenting a soccer match on mute? Weird question I know, but Israelis faced that dilemma one Saturday evening, early March 2002.
In the early 2000’s Israeli television wasn’t easy to watch. During the days of the second Intifada Israelis feared suicide bombings and terror attacks which claimed the lives of many civilians. Whenever something of the sort took place, Israeli TV had to go into ‘crisis mode’ broadcasts. Those were long, repetitive and with basic norms such as stopping regular programing or not breaking for commercials. As the conflict continued, producers lost money for not being able to show advertisement and the viewers grew numb.
The Israeli leading national channel, Channel 2, at the time was operated by 3 franchisees dividing the days of the week between them. In March 2002 ‘Telad’ was responsible for Saturdays, which also meant it was responsible for broadcasting live soccer matches from the Israeli league. That night, in a sensational match, the champion Maccabi Haifa was down 3-0 against the last team in the league Irony Kiryat Gat, when a suicide bombing took place in the heart of Jerusalem. ‘Telad’ didn’t stop the broadcast from the match, rather it kept it on one third of the screen on mute. It took the producers more than 10 minutes to decide to cut the feed from the game. By not switching the game off, the company broke many norms in Israeli news and society at the time, although some would say it portrayed Israel numbing sentiment.
The company was censured and reprimanded by the Second Authority for Television and Radio, the governing body over Israel’s commercial broadcasters, and by the public. But even worse the incident left an impression the company was not able to fix, and was a factor that cost ‘Telad’ its franchise. When Channel 2 was launched in 1993 it was agreed the three operator system will become two operators in 2005. ‘Telad’ lost its place to its competition.
The ‘split screen’ scandal demonstrated how a non-governmental media governing body (the Second Authority for Television and Radio) enforced its norms on producers, even when they lost money, and how eventually it affected the entire Channel 2 structure. Although it is important to note the incident also changed how ‘crisis broadcasts’ were done in Israel, with the understanding some changes had to be made.