After three years of being kicked around in a game of political football, the staff of the Israel Broadcasting Authority is still unsure of what the final score will be.
Likewise, the staff of the not yet nascent Israel Broadcasting Corporation is still unsure of whether the IBC will finally begin operations on April 30 as scheduled, whether it will be aborted or whether it will be merged with the IBA.
Either way, the political shenanigans have caused a lot of suffering to a lot of people in the communications industry and their families who have been subjected to false hopes and shattered dreams.
The zig-zagging of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the issue of public broadcasting has prompted speculation about his motives. There are politicians and journalists who have expressed the opinion that Netanyahu is attempting to create a scenario in which there will be no option other than an election, with which he will be too busy to make time for further interrogation by police on matters of his suspected corruption.
In the absence of Netanyahu who is currently in China, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev continued Netanyahu’s argument, saying that Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon had no right to close down the IBA if its budget was lower than that of the IBC. In separate interviews which she gave on Sunday morning to Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet and to Army Radio she reiterated her contention that the IBC should not be allowed to function if it has no oversight.
She had objected to the IBC when its establishment was initially proposed, but she was not yet a minister at the time, so her objection carried no weight.
She said that she and Ofir Akunis were the only Likud MKs to voice objections.
Regev also defended the meeting of Likud ministers at the Prime Minister’s Residence on Saturday, saying that it was a private meeting not a public violation of the Sabbath. The religious political parties and the media that reflect their views have meanwhile blasted Netanyahu for violating the Sabbath in this manner, saying that to do so broke all boundaries.
While Regev had a very civil interview on Reshet Bet, it was fortunate that she had a telephone interview with Niv Raskin on Army Radio, otherwise the two might have come to blows. Both Raskin and Regev raised their voices to near screaming pitch, and neither was prepared to accept what the other was saying.
Regev kept on insisting that the crisis was based on principle – namely Kahlon’s failure to honor the coalition agreement and his willingness to send a thousand workers out into the street just before Passover.
Raskin, who had checked budgetary expenses with the Finance Ministry, said that contrary to figures quoted by Netanyahu it would cost NIS 450 million more per annum to maintain the IBA, than it would to operate the IBC.
Regev then charged the IBC with lacking transparency and not being sufficiently diverse in the demographical representation of its management.
She also said that even though Netanyahu had previously supported the proposal to close down the IBA and to establish a different public broadcasting service in its place, he had realized his mistake and had taken responsibility.
At a press conference in Tel Aviv, Kahlon pledged that no IBA employee would be thrown into the street as a result of the closure of the IBA and its replacement by the IBC. The government would take care of the workers in the best possible manner, he promised.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Sunday sent a letter to Netanyahu, Kahlon and acting Communications Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, urging them to ensure that whatever the final outcome of the dispute, as many as possible IBA workers remain employed and under reasonable conditions. The mayor asked that they reach an instant arrangement with IBA workers, stating that it was indefensible that a thousand employees – most of them Jerusalemites – should be dismissed.
The city of Jerusalem and its inhabitants should not have to pay the price for political disagreements, wrote Barkat, adding that such mass dismissals would do great harm to the capital. He added that the people concerned are high quality, dedicated professionals who are not responsible for the current situation, and should not have to pay the price.
Barkat also reminded the recipients of the letter that, several months ago, he and a group of Knesset members had petitioned the High Court of Justice against the IBC’s intention to launch its broadcasts from Modi’in. Just as it will never occur to anyone that the Supreme Court and the Knesset should be transferred to Modi’in, the same is applicable to public broadcasting, he insisted. In response to the petition to the court, the law was amended and the date for transfer of broadcasts and transmitters to Jerusalem was determined, with the imposition of a fine for every overdue day.
If, in the final analysis Netanyahu and Kahlon fail to reach a compromise, and Kahlon has the final word, it will not bode well for the Jerusalem Journalists Association, whose membership is overwhelmingly made up of IBA journalists. Even so, according to Tzipi Yona, the secretary-general of the JJA, the organization will continue its activities. Some 200 of its members who will transfer to the IBC will remain members, she said.
The JJA on Friday launched a petition against the closure of the IBA, and by press time on Sunday night had well in excess of 1,200 signatures.
Asked by The Jerusalem Post whether what Netanyahu had said to a representative group of IBA workers on Friday and subsequently tweeted and posted on his Facebook was a “spin,” JJA chairman Hika Ginosar admitted that he didn’t know and had no idea one way or the other. The JJA supports the IBA workers in whatever way it can, and encourages their demonstrations, he said, but from his point of view no one should be fired – not from the IBA and not from the IBC. “The correct thing would be to merge the two,” Ginosar said.
When the same question was put to Mickey Klein, the head of the journalists union within the IBA, he was adamant that it was not a spin on Netanyahu’s part, and said that since the meeting with the prime minister, the mood at the IBA had improved dramatically.
This did not stop some 200 IBA workers from demonstrating on Sunday morning at the entrance to Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, it was business as usual for IBC, which took on two additional staff members, journalist Rinat Spivak from Channel 20, who immediately began working at her new job, which is to prepare and present news bulletins; and Nativ Robinson of Israel Radio’s Reshet Daled, who will present a magazine and musical programs on the new Reshet Daled, just as he has done to date – providing of course that Kahlon triumphs over Netanyahu.
The Histadrut labor federation on Sunday declared a work dispute at the IBA, the IBC and within the civil service against the backdrop of the decision to close down the IBA, and the absorption by the IBC of additional IBA workers on a freelance basis without job security or regular salaries. This means a strike could begin in two weeks’ time.
The government taxation offices were closed on Sunday morning, and on Monday no fines will be collected or other activities conducted by the Bailiff’s Office.
The first episode in a documentary series Today It’s Us, Tomorrow It’s You... will be screened on Monday night on Channel 1. The series covers the three years of torment to which IBA employees have been subjected, during which they have nonetheless continued to produce first-class programs.