The army radio station Galei Tzahal (Galatz) was inaugurated on September 24, 1950. The station, in addition to being part of the Israel Defense Forces’ effort was to be an educational tool, helping to absorb new immigrants, strengthen ties with the Hebrew language and increase knowledge about the land of Israel.

From these laudable goals, Galatz has turned these past few decades into an almost post-Zionist media organ. All too often it has preferred to provide a platform to Israel’s enemies and to stifle the dissent of those who attempted to defend the Zionist heritage and culture. Even today, the post-Zionist attitude is still present at the station.

For example, the 7 a.m. presenter, Micha Friedman, expressed only yesterday his personal misgivings about the recapture of Mount Hermon during the Yom Kippur War. However, for the first time in 15 years, the Galatz commander is again a personality who clearly identifies with Zionism, and the results are evident.

Galatz head Yaron Dekel appeared on Monday before the Knesset Economics Committee and among the various topics he discussed was that of 35 new cadets, a third come from the periphery and nine are religious. Even more, for the first time ever, Hesder Yeshiva students will be allowed to serve in Galatz in fulfillment of their active army duties.

This comes in stark contrast to the norm of the past whereby too often, people from the Tel Aviv area were accepted and the sons and daughters of journalists and other VIPs found a soft spot in the admission process, a phenomenon that earned the sobriquet “dynasties.”

The change is also evident in content.

Galatz today is much more attentive to Jewish culture and heritage. Its programming for Jewish and Israeli holidays is substantially improved. Even its relations with the public are progressing. Dekel has appointed a new ombudsman, Eran Elyakim, who, among his other efforts, has established a special web page providing his email address and thus facilitating contact with the public.

But no, the days of the messiah are still to come, for not all at Galatz is as it should be. Perhaps foremost is the legal status of the station. Already in 1969, the Knesset placed the responsibility for oversight of Galatz on the Israel Broadcasting Authority, but the IBA has not done its job. There is no public oversight while the station, which is funded by the public from the budget of the Defense Ministry, is allowed to broadcast commercial advertisements and gain external income.

Ten years ago, four regional radio stations petitioned the Supreme Court, noting the unfair advantage of the army radio station in procuring profit-generating advertisements.

Given the publicly supported budget, Galatz can offer airtime under conditions such as national coverage, something the regional radio stations cannot do as they are limited geographically.

The Supreme Court denied the petition, but only after the state noted that a law had been passed allowing the stations to advertise. The law itself was valid only for a limited period of time, until a formal Galatz law could be enacted, which would permanently establish the mode of operation of Galatz. Like many other temporary issues this law has de facto become rather permanent.

The Knesset ratifies it anew as a temporary law every year or so. Indeed, the last “temporary law” expired on May 31 and one may argue as a result that the present advertising on Galatz is illegal.

Indeed it is precisely for this reason that the Knesset economics committee convened this past Monday. On the table was a proposal for a detailed set of regulations governing the broadcasting of advertisement on the station.

These included some obvious restrictions such as disallowing ads that insult or hurt the feelings or religious beliefs of parts of the population, calls for disruption of the law or public order, etc. There were, however, some additional, questionable clauses.

The suggested restrictions included political advertisement or the advertisement of publicly or ideologically disputed issues or even calls for changes of legislation.

In fact, the same restrictions exist today for all radio and TV advertisements. Citing these restrictions enabled supervising authorities at times to prevent ads, for example, for Efrat, an organization which seeks to prevent abortions, as well as ads for homosexual advocacy groups, Jews residing across the Green Line and others.

In a democracy which respects freedom of expression, such restrictions are unacceptable.

As long as an advertisement does not violate the law, does not incite, purposely hurt people’s feelings and other such obvious measures, and the advertiser pays the necessary funds, there should be no restrictions on the content. Why are journalists allowed to use the airwaves through their personal columns or editorial privileges for the same purposes, while others are restricted? It is high time that our society becomes more open to public discourse not managed and governed by journalists, presenters and editors.

Interestingly, all these issues could not be dealt with in the Knesset committee, for a simple reason. As the legal counsel of the economics committee, Etti Bendler, explained, since there is no law defining the army radio station and its operation, and the temporary law had expired, one cannot bring to the committee for discussion and ratification any principles of operation. The upshot of all of this is that as of now, if you hear any kind of advertising on Galatz, you should know that it is not legal.

The committee discussion, however, did include some interesting revelations. For example, Galatz’s income from advertising is NIS 20 million, almost half its annual budget. Dekel claimed that the station’s portion of Israel’s radio advertising is only 10 percent, implying that it really does not threaten the others. However, combined with the IBA, we find that advertisement on the public media is around 60 percent of market share of radio advertisement.

This is not fair by any means, not to mention that the public which pays for the public radio deserves an ad-free broadcast.

As noted by MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud) in the discussion, the very existence of the Galatz radio station is questionable. There is an inherent contradiction between the needs of the army and the the need for a free media station in a modern democracy.

The continued service of soldiers in a station which makes its living commercially is also problematic. It is high time that Galatz’s future be discussed seriously and difficult decisions made, but at the very least, advertisements should no longer be allowed.

The authors are, respectively, vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il).

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