On rare occasion, the proverbial little man scores a symbolic victory over the
powers-that-be. His “sweet revenge,” even if not game-changing, is heartening
because it reassures us that common sense can sometimes beat the odds and
triumph over bureaucratic inflexibility and insensitivity.
That was the
case last week when the Israel Broadcasting Authority gave in and agreed to stop
demanding license fee payments from persons who do not own a TV set or whose set
is not connected to either cable or satellite providers. In such cases, the IBA
will make restitution for fees unfairly collected.
This was an agreement
worked out in Jerusalem District Court which heard a class action suit on the
matter and conferred on the deal the status of a verdict.
The damage for
the anyway cash-strapped and teetering IBA could amount to tens of millions of
shekels annually. But the fault is fully the IBA’s for serially treating members
of the public like fools obliged to foot its bills no matter what.
is the happy ending to a prolonged struggle involving cases submitted by
fee-payers who do not possess digital converters and cannot receive
Analog broadcasts were discontinued in Israel as of March
2011. But this made no impression on IBA debt-collectors.
In the IBA’s
worldview the existence in a home of a computer monitor alone sufficed to demand
license fees. The official line consistently and obstinately was that this
constituted “potential for broadcast reception – even if only a future
The examples grew increasingly absurd.
A video editor was
required to pay license fees for monitors he uses to go over tapes. Store-owners
were liable for closed-circuit monitors because a theoretical possibility was
said to exist of “picking up broadcasts.”
Some businesses were fined for
playing background music from their own CDs with no connection to Israel
An Or Yehuda resident was hounded for years despite the fact that
he on principle had excluded all television sets and/or monitors from his
The range of cases is mind-boggling. The bottom line is that the
IBA has arrogantly insisted that there is almost no situation in which it can be
prevented from demanding a licensing fee. “How do we know that you will not hook
your monitors up to digital broadcasts without informing the authorities?” the
IBA responded to one complainant.
Almost anyone who claims exemption from
the fee might be treated as willfully noncompliant, be forced to prove his/her
innocence and then have that proof dismissed arbitrarily.
The fees are a
throwback to the early days of radio and are modeled on the British tradition of
compulsory public subscription, which first appeared as the Wireless License.
The license fee remains the IBA’s main source of revenue, although radio
stations advertise extensively and commercial enterprises sponsor some TV
But at heart, most opposition to the fee is predicated on the
reality that, with a plethora of competing channels, the IBA has long ago lost
its status as a TV mainstay.
Its ratings are exceedingly low and those
who do not tune in cannot reconcile themselves to paying for what they do not
The trouble with the IBA is that the funds it collects – often
highhandedly – are not used wisely to attract viewers back to intelligent and
Disproportionate amounts are squandered on
unimaginative, stale local productions, often featuring little more than a
couple of people engaged in tedious highbrow dialogue in a studio
Too many fee-payers feel they are not getting their money’s
worth. The manner in which the fees are collected only adds insult to injury.
The combination has generated great hostility toward the IBA’s licensing
This ranks high among ordinary Israelis’ pet peeves, as distinct
from big economic worries and existential anxieties.
The fees are
perceived as a nuisance, if not a much-reviled imposition that most Israelis
consider wholly unwarranted. Some of our involuntary contributions to the public
coffers are clearly unavoidable, but IBA fees have become an outright
That is why even a small victory is so gratifying.