The compromise agreement on public broadcasting that was reached last Thursday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has sown greater confusion and more discontent than before.
Initially hailed by Hanan Kristal, the political commentator of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, as a winwin solution, it instantly came in for heavy criticism from politicians in some of the opposition parties as well as from electronic and print media journalists – especially those in any way connected with the new Israel Broadcasting Corporation popularly known as Kan, which is the Hebrew word for “here.”
It was ironic that the compromise was the fulfillment – albeit not entirely – of the campaign slogan “Today it’s us, tomorrow it’s you” of the workers of the Israel Broadcasting Authority in their struggle against the closure of the IBA and the dismissal of well over a thousand people from their ranks.
While it is indeed tragic for any person to lose his means of livelihood, not much thought was given to the fate of long-serving IBA workers who were destined to find themselves jobless on April 30. As far as is known, under the compromise agreement reached by Netanyahu and Kahlon with the approval of Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, approximately 150 people hired by the IBC will lose jobs that technically they did not have, because the IBC had not yet been officially launched. The 150 people were working on what was to have been the Kan News Division, which under the terms of the compromise, no longer exists.
Israel Broadcasting Authority ( IBA ) staff in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv protest against closure, on March 19, 2017 (credit: REUTERS)
A new broadcasting entity focusing only on news and actuality is to be established and staffed by the news teams now working for the IBA. That is not to say that no one from the redundant Kan News Division will be employed in the yet to be created News Service that will be part of the IBC, and will probably use its facilities, but will be entirely independent of it.
As a significant number of IBA news people had signed contracts with IBC, the casualty rate at IBC is relatively small, as the IBA people will remain with the IBA news division that will be renamed.
With a couple of rare exceptions, the IBC tended to ignore the fact that it was walking on the grave of the IBA.
On the other hand, the IBA has been fair and generous in its coverage of IBC reactions to the compromise.
Early on Sunday morning, rain did not dampen the resolve of workers of both the IBA and the IBC to prove which of the two entities had rights to broadcast territory. Both held demonstrations.
IBC people congregated at their offices in Modi’in, while IBA workers demonstrated outside the Prime Minister’s Office in the capital.
IBC chairman Gil Omer, perhaps figuring that he has nothing to lose as his future is already in jeopardy, in interviews with various media outlets has made some extremely negative comments about the government and the prime minister.
It’s possible that he may have taken his cue from Israel Press Council president retired Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner, who in an interview with Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet news and current affairs station on Friday, said that the Netanyahu-Kahlon agreement put democracy in Israel at risk.
Speaking on Channel 2 on Saturday night, Omer said that with the sweep of a hand, the IBC had become Turkey or Russia with a black flag flying over democracy. The government has commandeered public broadcasting and hundreds of workers are being thrown into the street because three or four of them don’t meet with the approval of the prime minister.
At the IBC demonstration on Sunday morning, Omer said that the new arrangement does not take the public interest or the public purse into account, and does not serve any purpose, because in the final analysis the number of people who will lose their jobs will be the same as it was before.
He claimed that Kahlon has seen the figures and understands that there is no logic to the decision, as do other ministers.
A Likud statement in response characterized Omer’s remarks as defamatory and inappropriate, adding that this proved the logic behind the compromise agreement.
Although the IBA workers demonstrating outside the Prime Minister’s Office were for the most part appreciative of the fact that the prime minister had at least partially kept his promise to them and had ensured that they would be responsible for the beating heart of the public broadcasting enterprise, there were those who were angry that he had not been able to preserve the whole of Israel Radio, and that the other stations would not be operated by the IBA workers. In actual fact, quite a large number of IBA workers were recruited by IBC to work in the other stations, but those workers who were not are both angry and frightened.
The small team at IBA English News, bearing placards that stressed the importance of English language broadcasts, joined in the IBA demonstration.
The team has not been informed if the new arrangement will include English language news – possibly in an enlarged format.
Veteran Reshet Bet newsman Aryeh Golan, who hosts Good Morning Israel, has been in an uncomfortable position. While his loyalties were unmistakably with the IBA, and he participated in demonstrations and meetings with Knesset committees, he also acted as an adviser to the IBC with which he signed a contract more than six months ago, with the stipulation that was also part of the public broadcasting legislation, that for as long as the IBA remained in existence, he belonged to the IBA.
With the new development, he presented an emotional albeit slightly sarcastic monologue during his Sunday morning broadcast. “The Israel Broadcasting Corporation had an unprecedented success even before it went to air,” he said. “It became the bastion of democracy, the statue of liberty, and the icon of independence. There was great hope and many good people rose to the challenge. How unjust that at the very same time, scores of years of public broadcasting on radio and television in the corporation known as the Israel Broadcasting Authority were cast into the trash. The journalist achievements were erased, while the historic broadcasts, the satire, the documentaries and the entertainment evaporated.”
Golan questioned how Netanyahu could have given former communications minister Gilad Erdan a free hand to destroy the IBA.
Now that it seems that Reshet Bet will remain more or less intact, Golan allowed himself to say: “Reshet Bet is the most listened to news station and has been for years. The fact that television stations and print media almost unanimously called for its elimination is immaterial. We will continue to do as we have done under any banner, be it the Broadcasting Authority, the Public Broadcasting Corporation or the News Corporation. We will report on everything, ask everything we want, and cover everything possible. We will investigate everyone and everything that we think needs investigating. Israel Radio will continue to be The Voice of Israel, regardless of the studios from which we broadcast, and no politician or journalist will stop us.”
Meanwhile, IBC journalists continued to work as usual. Yaara Shapira, a member of the workers committee at IBC, confirmed to The Jerusalem Post that a petition would be made to the High Court of Justice to rule against the compromise decision and to restore what had been the status quo before last Thursday.
Most commentators could not accept Netanyahu’s admission that he’d made a mistake with regard to the closure of the IBA, and that he was trying to rectify it as best as possible.
Most have speculated that he tried to bring early election in order to avoid police investigations, and that his travels abroad are so frequent for the same reason. Others accused him of wanting to control the media.
Meanwhile, after yet another in a series of delays, IBC/Kan is expected to go to air on May 15, unless the Knesset votes for it to become operational on the previously scheduled date of April 30. The vote on the delay that was supposed to be held on Wednesday of this week has been postponed till April 19, after Passover.
The postponement will give the government additional time in which to finalize the amendment to the Public Broadcasting Law.
In the interim, both IBC and IBA workers will be in limbo throughout the Festival of Freedom.