The government on Sunday approved Communications Minister Gilad Erdan and Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s initial draft for a proposed bill that would shut down and replace the Israel Broadcasting Authority Should the bill eventually pass, the IBA will cease to exist some time in 2015.
While there is consensus, even among IBA employees and the unions that represent them, that the IBA is in desperate need of reform, opinions vary as to how reforms should be implemented and whether so drastic a measure is really necessary – or moral.
In addition to the closure of the IBA, the bill also calls for the broadcast licensing fee to be canceled.
Although only two ministers voted against the proposed bill, several said that it was flawed in its present format and requires revision.
Though in favor of the bill, especially with regard to cancellation of the licensing fee, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that there were many high quality people at the IBA who will be absorbed into the new public broadcasting network.
He also promised that those who will not be re-employed will receive fair severance conditions, but did not expand on what these would be.
Netanyahu said that the draft needed to be amended in order to be effective, but it indicated a clear direction.
The two ministers who voted against the bill were Transportation Minister Israel Katz (Likud) and Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz (Hatnua).
Katz was wary of the possibility that the fee for driving licenses might be increased in order to finance the reforms.
“If the IBA license fee is to be canceled through the front door,” he said, “it should not be imposed through the driver’s window.”
Peretz, a former chairman of the Histadrut – the Israel Federation of Labor – and a zealous defender of workers’ rights, said that while he supported the cancellation of the license fee , he did not support the cancellation of the previous agreement for reforms, which was signed by government representatives and abrogated by Lapid.
The draft proposal that was passed does not include any obligation to the IBA’s 1,900 employees, he said, adding that he would oppose any reforms in which workers were held to blame for the failures of management.
“I’m not prepared to join the band in celebrating the funeral of public broadcasting.”
Labor MK Eitan Cabel, who was a minister without a portfolio and responsible for the Broadcasting Authority, congratulated Erdan, saying that he appreciated his initiative in trying to rescue public broadcasting in Israel.
Cabel pledged to do all that he could to help the reforms to advance, but at the same time stressed the need for “clear answers” to questions about how the new broadcasting entity would be financed and how appointments to senior positions will be made and by who.
“Politics continue to rule the corridors of the IBA”, said Cabel.
He also suggested that an interim body be appointed to replace the current failed management of the IBA, “because with every passing day in which the present management remains in office, more public funds will be wasted.”
Cabel was also concerned about “dedicated and talented employees” who will lose their jobs and insisted that they must not be thrown out onto the street. Everything should be done to ensure that all those who will be dismissed will be treated fairly, he said.
Knesset Finance Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky of Jewish Home congratulated Erdan and the Government on their decision to open a new broadcasting authority, saying that Israel has a right to, and needs, a strong public broadcasting authority – something that has not yet come about.
This is why drastic measures had to be utilized, he said, while simultaneously voicing the hope that the government will concern itself with absorbing deserving employees in the new enterprise, while taking care of those who will be dismissed.
Slomiansky said that the government must assign a permanent budget to the new broadcasting authority, so that public broadcasting will not be dependent on government decisions.
Fellow Jewish Home MK Ayelet Shaked said she fully supported Erdan and told him to stand firm against any pressures.
Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On dismissed the bill that she said was a political, populist tactic that negates collective agreements.
Gal-On said that the broadcasting license fee is roughly equivalent to a shekel a day for every household, and she didn’t regard its cancellation as a big deal.
Her understanding of the draft was that in future, public broadcasting will be subject to the benevolence of politicians.
Meretz faction chairman Ilan Gilon had a similar reaction, saying that the decision to terminate public broadcasting was born out of populist intent and a desire to find favor in the eyes of the public.
“The Netanyahu government is destroying an institution that is one of the basic foundations of democracy,” Gilon said.