(photo credit: SASSON TIRAM)
Communications Minister Gilad Erdan announced on Thursday he is putting into motion measures to close the Israel Broadcasting Authority and Educational Television and replace them with a new structure.
The broadcast license fee will be eliminated by the end of March 2015, Erdan added.
The radio fee for vehicle owners will, however, be retained.
There are to be three television channels, one in Hebrew, one in Arabic and one for children.
The eight radio stations currently operating will remain, but the news departments will be amalgamated into a single division for radio and television. Radio commercials will be eliminated. The IBA’s assets are to be sold.
The annual budget will be somewhere between NIS 620 million and NIS 720m.
Speakers at the early morning media conference in Tel Aviv in addition to Erdan included Finance Minister Yair Lapid, and independent television producer Ram Landes, whom Erdan had appointed to head a committee that probed IBA operations and made recommendations on the future of public broadcasting.
Opposition leader Issac Herzog was skeptical about the financing of the restructured service and said that from experience, he could forecast that the Finance Ministry would withdraw it support for the planned reforms, as it has done with similar initiatives in the past. Treasury officials would declare that there was not enough money with which to finance the budget, and public broadcasting would die a natural death, Herzog said.
This must not be allowed to happen, because public broadcasting is vital to a democracy, he said.
Lapid insisted that there was no intention to do away with public broadcasting. “What we want is something better, cheaper and divorced from political influence,” he said.
The restructured broadcasting service would be financed from the state budget, Lapid said.
Lapid, in an interview with Israel Radio’s Esti Perez, said he was convinced that unlike 13 previous committees whose work had been futile, the recommendations of the Landes Committee would go into effect because they were supported by the prime minister, the finance minister and the communications minister.
When Perez asked what prompted such a united stand, Lapid replied that everyone understands that the situation at the IBA is intolerable and that quality and objectivity are lacking.
Perez bridled at this saying that her colleagues had integrity and courage. “Why not just change the management?” she asked.
“It’s not only the management, it’s the product,” replied Lapid. “No one wants to destroy a quality product – but it’s no good and it contaminates the good within it. There is no intention to get rid of the good.”
The aim was to get a public broadcasting service of the quality of the BBC, he said.
The new structure will be run by a directorate that will be transparent and will not be answerable to the government, Lapid said.
Labor MK Eitan Cabel, a former minister who was responsible for the IBA, issued a statement in which he said he supported Erdan, but with reservations.
The existing management had to be dismissed immediately and replaced with an interim committee until permanent changes are put in place, he said.
Knesset Finance Committee chairman Nissan Slomianski (Bayit Yehudi) called for the permanent closure of the IBA, saying it is wasting millions of shekels in public funds collected through license fees. He called for a investigation as to how the monies were spent.
Labor MK Itzik Shmuli released a statement in which he declared that the IBA was rotten to the core and had lost its moral right to continue.