DAVID BITAN seen at the Knesset last year.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
After years of debate and political wrangling, the public broadcast bill passed late Wednesday night, allowing for the Israel Broadcast Corporation to replace the Israel Broadcast Association next week.
The bill’s passage and the IBC’s planned launch bring to a close four years of work on the reform – including many cases of backtracking and changing and political crises – to close the IBA and replace it with a more efficient public broadcaster.
The legislation, the eight amendment to the public broadcast bill since it was passed in 2014, is the result of a political compromise between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who wanted the IBA to stay intact, and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who said too much money had already been spent on building the IBC, would have the IBC’s news division be separate from the rest of the corporation, have its own director, and run mostly by IBA alumni.
Coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) presented the bill in the plenum, explaining that it creates two corporations – a news one, and a general one for all other broadcasts, such as sports or entertainment.
“In the framework of this bill, we examined a number of things, like the connection between the two corporations, how they’ll work as two corporations on one TV channel and how the budget is divided,” he said. “According to this bill, activity will start on Monday, May 15 for both corporations. There will be problems in the beginning with quality. No one is saying it will be excellent from the beginning.”
As for IBA workers who lost their jobs, Bitan said they did all they could to help them find new ones: “A large part got special early retirement benefits, and some got jobs created for them in the civil service…If implemented by the bureacrats, most [dismissed] workers will get a response.”
The details of the broadcast bill were not finalized after 9 p.m. Wednesday, and it was officially submitted in the last minutes before the debate began. Bitan was given a final draft shortly after he began speaking in the plenum.
In the preceding days’ committee meetings, coalition parties began asking for resources to be allocated to their constituents, like a public haredi radio station at Shas’ request, and more hours of Russian radio for Yisrael Beytenu.
Throughout the day Wednesday, the Knesset was abuzz with talk about the sudden closure of the IBA and dismissal of most of its workers.
The evening before, not long before the 8 p.m. “Mabat” news broadcast, David Hahn, the bureaucrat responsible for dismantling the IBA, announced that it would be the last episode of the program, which had been on the air since 1968, and all other Channel 1 programming. Stunned IBA workers, who had expected to work until May 15, cried on the air.
The reaction to the way Channel 1 broadcasts came to the end was so unanimously negative, that government ministers made sure to distance themselves from it.
“The decision to close the IBA in the way it was done was disrespectful and undignified,” a message released by the Prime Minister’s Office Wednesday read. “The prime minister heard about it in the media. It was done without his knowledge, and he does not have the authority to make such a decision. The prime minister was the one who fought so that the channel’s news division would continue broadcasting and so as many workers as possible will be absorbed in the new media body.”
In a debate in the plenum unrelated to public broadcasting, MK Dov Henin (Joint List) accused the government of trampling workers: “This government does not see the workers in their goal to destroy public broadcast. Do you not see these people?” Acting Communications Minister Tzachi Hanegbi responded: “We were all surprised by what happened yesterday. It had no connection to politics.”