Army Radio Bill extended despite controversy

Several MKs say IDF broadcasts must be more politically balanced.

June 28, 2011 04:12
4 minute read.

The Knesset Economics Committee voted unanimously to extend Army Radio’s mandate by a year and a half on Monday, in spite of the controversy surrounding the station in the past week.

Committee chair MK Carmel Shama-Hacohen pointed out that recent “increased interest” in Army Radio does not actually have to do with the Army Radio Bill.

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The bill allows the station to air messages from sponsors, which are shorter than advertisements and promote government agencies and non-profit organizations, in addition to receiving its funding from the state.

IDF Education and Youth Corps Commander Brig.-Gen. Eli Shermeister, whose corps is responsible for Army Radio called the station “essential to the IDF,” saying it “enriches soldiers’ culture.”

Shermeister and Shama-Hacohen both said the Knesset should pass a permanent Army Radio law, rather than one that needs to be reviewed each year.

However, right-wing NGO My Israel and a group of reservists protested against the station, claiming it does not represent soldiers and “aids the enemy.”

My Israel disseminated recordings Hamas and Fatah officials saying they support the IDF station, because it gives them freedom of speech, and over 250 reservists demonstrated outside Army Radio’s Jaffa offices on Sunday night.

“This is a political battle to break the left’s monopoly on the station,” My Israel chairwoman Ayelet Shaked told the committee. “We expect balance and variety in a station that belongs to the soldiers and the people. It can’t be that all the broadcasters will have the same opinion.”

Shaked read a letter she said came from a company commander in Operation Cast Lead, who said he was furious to hear Army Radio program hosts lament that the IDF acted immorally after he endangered his life in order to avoid harming civilians.

“The point of Army Radio is to make soldiers better at their job, and not be against them, like the UN,” Shaked added. “I don’t think that this is an outrageous demand.”

Israel Media Watch chairman Eli Pollack called for Army Radio to be more transparent.

“The problem with Army Radio isn’t about balance or lack of balance. It’s that they are a public radio station with no public regulation. The public doesn’t know where its money is going,” Pollack explained.

“The broadcasts with [Hamas spokesman Ribhi] Rantisi are insane,” Likud MK Danny Danon said. “The government has to do something about this failure.”

MK Ya’acov Katz (National Union) said “96 percent of the station’s broadcasts have nothing to do with the IDF. Their money has to go towards making the soldiers happy,” Katz suggested. “After a week of hearing Army Radio, our soldiers will identify with Rantisi Shmantisi,” he said, referring to the Hamas spokesman.

MK Daniel Ben-Simon (Labor) said he was concerned that those speaking against Army Radio are doing so from ideological and not topical concerns.

“Public broadcasts should have full independence, and if they need messages from sponsors in order to fund themselves, we should allow it,” he said, adding that he is speaking someone who worked as a journalist for over two decades.

“Maybe the make-up [of Army Radio’s broadcasters] needs some care,” Ben-Simon added.

MK Nachman Shai (Kadima), formerly Army Radio’s commander, said “any attempt to silence the media will fail.” Shai explained that the station’s messages from sponsors began under his command, because the station lacked funds.

“I wish there wouldn’t be any advertising, but without it, the station wouldn’t exist,” he said.

Yigal Harari, representing local radio stations, said that Army Radio’s messages from sponsors takes advertising away from smaller stations, which don’t have government funded antennas and soldiers working for less than minimum wage.

Army Radio host Razi Barkai responded that only 3:40 minutes out of every hour are for messages from sponsors, which are “NGOs or public bodies, or information for soldiers. My program is sponsored by [cellphone carrier] Pelephone, but its content has nothing to do with Pelephone.”

MK Yulia Shamolov Berkovich (Kadima) told Barkai: “I appreciate your professionalism, but sometimes your program makes me sick.”

MK Michael Ben-Ari said that an army radio station is a waste of Defense Ministry funds that could be better spent otherwise.

“I did reserve duty until a few years ago, and we used to get real food. Now reservists get dinner trays,” Ben-Ari said.

“Maybe just like how the fresh food was cut, Army Radio needs to be cut.

“I listen to Army Radio, and I don’t see how it’s connected to the IDF. It may be a great radio station, but who really needs such an anachronism?” he asked.

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