IBA logo 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy of IBA)
In 2006, I came back to Israel after living in the US for over eight years. One
of the first things I had to take care of was health insurance. Back then, there
was a law stating that even a returning citizen (toshav chozer) was not entitled
to coverage immediately. There was a waiting period based on the amount of time
one had resided overseas. The bottom line was that I had to take out private
insurance to ensure I would get proper medical treatment if needed.
couple of months after my return, I found a job and started working. When I got
my first paycheck, lo and behold, I saw a considerable deduction for “health
tax”; the money government takes toward medical insurance. I took a trip down to
Social Security (Bituah Leumi), the agency which collects the tax, to protest.
The whole thing made no sense me.
I remember very distinctly the clerk
telling me that the law is the law; there was no way for me to opt out of the
non-coverage and I would have to pay the full amount for the duration of my
waiting period. So basically for nine months I paid the State of Israel for a
service I didn’t get. Talk about chutzpah.
So why am I mentioning this
story in a column dedicated to media matters? Primarily because of the recent
uproar and potential politicization of the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA)
and Israeli Educational Television (IETV), two channels which are funded,
directly and indirectly, by taxpayers. We might pay for them, but they’re hardly
A quick recap on the recent developments: First of all, the
Supreme Court threw out a petition from the Tel Aviv Journalists Association
regarding the appointment of Yoni Ben-Menachem as the new head of the IBA. The
IBA falls under the purview of the Prime Minister’s Office, which approved the
selection. Turns out that three of the IBA committee members who
recommended Ben-Menachem, including its chairman, all worked for Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu at one point.
The court said there was no evidence
that there were any political machinations in Ben-Menachem’s appointment and
that his experience at the channel makes him a qualified
Another key event took place late last week, when the Prime
Minister’s Office was reported to be planning either the demise of IETV or to
have it moved to be under the IBA. The appointment of IETV’s new
director-general, Eldad Koblentz, has been waiting for weeks for a green light
from the government. The channel is currently managed by the Education Ministry
which budgets and pays its operating costs. MKs from both sides of the aisle,
including Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, have blasted this proposal, calling
it the death knell of the station.
The IBA gets direct funding from the
taxpayers primarily by way of licensing fees paid every year by people who own
TV sets & radios. Back in the 1980s, they put together a PR campaign
anchored on the famous slogan loosely translated – “there is value for the
licensing fee” – which has become commonplace in Israel. Anyone who watches
television, however, knows that this has not been the case for a long
The IBA, which reportedly has a whopping NIS 800 million annual
budget, has long since fallen out of favor with the Israeli public. When you
combine Channel 1’s dismal ratings and the Likud’s so-called libertarian economic
policies, one would think that it would be the IBA looking at the ax instead of
IETV. Don’t get me wrong, IETV also suffers from the same lackluster ratings as
IBA, but from the financial perspective, it’s a bargain. IETV’s annual
budget is reportedly only about a tenth of IBA’s. The question is, why is it
In any event, the time has come to put this status quo gradually
to an end. Let’s start with the IBA. The powers that be must begin making
massive changes in the way the government-run stations are managed. They should
make bold programming decisions designed to draw in an audience, then wean the
station off of public funding and start making headway into selling ad time just
like everyone else. The government can pitch in by reducing IBA’s taxes for a
certain period or even to make it mandatory for ministries to spend a certain
percent of their advertising budgets at the IBA to make the transition easier.
But the end result must be a unit which is independent of taxpayer
As far as IETV is concerned, the same must apply, but only to a
point. They must also find alternate revenue streams to supplement their budget,
but if the idea of the channel is to contribute to education then it must prove
that it is doing so to maintain a certain percentage of public
In my last column, I wrote about the possible closure of Channel
10. I argued that it must be the market, especially creditors and the public,
who decide if the channel as a viable business venture. Politicians
should have very little say in the existence of a media outlet. There should be
minimal government interference and standard financial burdens instead of
If you want a recipe for trouble, mix media directly
with politicians. In the case of IBA and IETV, I can’t say for sure that this is
the case, but it sure looks like there are too many outside interests pulling
strings in an arena they have no business being in. To add insult to injury, we
the taxpayers are paying for all this mess and will likely to get nothing out of
it. Talk about chutzpah.
The writer is an independent media consultant
and a former producer at the Fox News Channel in New York.