Dr. Amir Gilat was appointed chairman of the Israel Broadcasting Authority by
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his government in July 2010. He has had
over three years to reform the IBA, and from the outset Gilat made it clear that
his foremost challenge was to do just that.
Many hoped that the reform
would transform the IBA, known for its bloated budget, its huge workforce with a
minimal output, its inefficiency, the refusal of the unions to allow any
streamlining and, finally for its deep-seated political and cultural biases,
especially in its news programs, into a real leader of Israel’s
But after many years of haggling, Dr. Gilat had to show for his
efforts an agreement between the IBA and its many unions which would cost the
government over NIS 700 million and which would mainly serve to reduce the
workforce by perhaps 500 people, or about 25 percent.
No wonder the
unions were willing to sign on to Gilat’s offer: Those workers leaving the IBA
would mainly be approaching retirement age and their pension conditions would be
vastly improved under the agreement.
The deal did little to facilitate
streamlining the IBA, and thus how the IBA would balance its budget in the
future remained an open question.
But perhaps the most distressing aspect
of this story is how normal Dr. Gilat’s performance over the past three years
has been. He followed the footsteps of his predecessors in fighting with his
director- general, Yoni Ben-Menachem, rather than working with him. As a result,
under his leadership, the IBA is not able to take significant action in any
Consider the Latma tragicomedy of errors. For two years, the
IBA “negotiated” with Caroline Glick (senior contributing editor of The
Jerusalem Post) to air The Tribal Update, the satirical news program she
launched four years ago on the Internet through her Hebrew-language, satirical
media criticism website Latma.
What distinguishes Latma from “regular”
Israeli satire in that it is pro-Israel and unabashedly Zionist. The show
regularly mocks leftist icons from the PLO to Peace Now while skewering the
Israeli media for its radical left-wing biases. Latma’s flagship
television-on-Internet program is the antithesis of Channel 2’s flagship satire
program Eretz Nehederet, which is openly and unabashedly
Mordechai Shaklar, the previous director-general of the
IBA, was the first to push for Latma’s show to be broadcast on Channel 1. He
argued that it would balance Channel 2’s program, and judging by its star status
on the net, (many of its programs were seen by millions of people worldwide),
Latma’s show would likely enjoy high ratings, something sorely needed by the
Dr. Gilat on many occasions expressed his support for the idea.
However, contrary to Channel 2’s airing of Eretz Nehederet, Gilat fretted that
it would be wrong to allow a patriotic show like Latma to go on air with no
post-Zionist show to balance it. So he decided that the IBA would support two
Then, more than three years after Shaklar asked Latma
to produce a pilot half-hour show, and more than two years after the pilot
passed the test, the IBA decided that actually, it had no intention of airing
The official reason was the financial straits the IBA was
It wasn’t a question of quality, as Latma’s show was approved by IBA
committees four separate times. Latma was presented with a contract a year ago,
and then the IBA broke off talks with no explanation.
Over the entire
period, IBA personnel told Glick that she would be sent a broadcasting contract
within days, but this never materialized.
Then, last week, Latma received
a laconic, one-sentence letter informing them the IBA had decided not to air
Why? The IBA, notorious for burning public money, was
suddenly concerned that Latma’s budget – funded entirely by private donors –
would not be sufficient to produce the program. Unlike the IBA, Latma is in the
black and never spent a shekel it did not have, but the IBA’s legal department –
the same department responsible for hundreds of millions of shekels of public
money lost in litigation – was concerned that Latma was not in good financial
For those of us with short memories, we note that in June 2013,
after years of negotiation and frustration, Glick was in fact running out of
funds. Glick had told Channel 1 executives for more than a year that it was
likely she would suspend the show and restart it after a contract was signed,
for just this reason.
But nevertheless, the financial issue was all a
When a groundbreaking Zionist initiative was poised to go
mainstream, all the creative ingenuity that somehow never makes its way onto the
television screen is brought to bear to torpedo it. The final decision was
actually made by the content committee of the IBA, chaired by
Latma was not invited to present its case.
This is not
reform, but cultural repression. And this was not the only fiasco during
Consider the programming content. Nothing has changed
during these past three years of negotiations with Latma.
post-Zionist biases remain as they always were. Moshe Negbi remains the IBA’s
sole legal commentator. Arie Golan continues with his left-wing morning news
program on the IBA’s Reshet Bet radio station.
Shlomo Nitzan retains his
spot on Reshet Bet where he has been propagating his views for two decades.
Keren Neubach has her progressive socialist radio program 8 a.m.
directly responsible for formulating programming policy. Is this all that he
managed to accomplish? Actually, no – there’s worse.
Under his auspices,
the Hebrew language suffers daily. The IBA’s reporters do not know how to speak
Hebrew correctly, the advertisers use English and the commentators consider it
beneath them to use Hebrew words, preferring English slang. Did we mention post-
Zionism? Our conclusion is that at the IBA, “reform” means finding better ways
to waste public money. No wonder, then, that Communications Minister Gilad
Erdan, who is responsible for the IBA, along with Finance Minister Yair Lapid,
has decided to freeze the reform. Erdan intends to close the IBA and start it
again from scratch, because he sees no other way to reform it in a meaningful
Gilat could well do to learn from our sage Hillel who, upon seeing a
head floating by on a river exclaimed, “that because you killed, you were also
killed, but your murderers will also come to justice.”
For someone who
had the gall to string Latma along all these years, it is perhaps only fitting
that his baby, the “reform” of the IBA, is also being put on hold.
will only hope fervently that Erdan will not bow to pressure. Sadly, after all
these years we have also become convinced that only major surgery will reform
The authors are, respectively, vice chairman and chairman of
Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il).