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Israeli Cable to Drop CNN

The nation’s three cable companies — Matav, Golden Channels and Tevel — have not yet dropped CNN International from their services, but have begun offering their subscribers Fox News, CNN’s top rival.

The cable companies applied to the Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting, an Israeli government agency, for permission to let their broadcast agreements with CNN lapse. The companies asserted they could not afford to renew their agreements with the network given current financial hardships.

The council agreed, said Efrat Shimoni, the head of channel licensing.

The announcement may mean that the 1.1 million cable subscribers in Israel will not receive CNN come November.

The news network’s officials in Atlanta said they were confident they could reach a contract agreement by November, when the contracts are set to expire.

Ron Ciccone, CNN’s managing director for the Middle East, said the company would consider the council’s decision, but objected that it seemed to be continued “scapegoating of CNN.”

“We have every concern that the Israeli public be properly served with responsible and objective reporting. If in fact they lose CNN, it will be a sad loss for their freedom of choice,” Ciccone said in a statement.

Several Israeli government officials and members of pro-Israeli activist groups have accused the network of a pro-Palestinian bias in its coverage of the region. CNN, a subsidiary of AOL Time Warner, has denied the allegation.

As early as October, 2000, Gideon Meir, an official of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said Israel had complained to CNN about its reporting of the violence. Earlier this year, the Yesha council, which represents Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, accused the network of biased reporting and prohibited reporters from entering the settlements.

Criticism intensified after CNN founder Ted Turner likened Israel’s use of violence to terrorism in an interview with The Guardian newspaper in June.

“The Palestinians are fighting with human suicide bombers, that’s all they have. The Israelis … they’ve got one of the most powerful military machines in the world. The Palestinians have nothing. So, who are the terrorists? I would make a case that both sides are involved in terrorism,” Turner said.

Following the interview, CNN sent chief news executive Eason Jordan to Israel.

Jordan admitted that Turner’s comments exacerbated tensions, but stressed “any suggestion that CNN is anti-Israel is absolutely ridiculous and baseless.”

Despite complaints against CNN, the Israeli government and cable companies reject allegations that the action towards dropping CNN was motivated by the news network’s coverage.