IBA EMPLOYEES protest outside the Knesset yesterday. The sign reads, ‘Democracy=Public Broadcasting’.
(photo credit: IBA)
The stormy three-hour meeting of the Knesset Economics committee repeatedly demonstrated the lack of foresight, professional know-how and sensitivity of ministers and MKs involved in legislating the new public broadcasting law.
The meeting was called to debate the joint decision taken by the Communications Ministry, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Histadrut Chairman Avi Nissenkorn, to yet again delay the launch of the Israel Broadcasting Corporation, which is meant to replace the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
Several of the MKs at the meeting said a further year’s delay was too long, and that the IBC should begin broadcasting within six months. Others MKs declined to set a time frame, insisting that the IBC get under way as quickly as possible to minimize pain both to IBA workers who will lose their jobs, and to IBC workers who left previous employment to join the new and oft-delayed broadcasting enterprise.
IBC Chairman Gil Omer and IBC Director-General Eldad Koblentz both stated that the service could begin broadcasting on October 1. But while public radio would be more or less on par with that Israel Radio today, they cautioned, television broadcasting would be of an inferior quality. Koblentz said that with a further extension, the whole IBC enterprise could be vastly improved. He reiterated, as he had done at previous meetings, that while he had initially stated that he wanted more time to launch the new broadcast company, he had been told to hurry it along.
Shas MK Yigal Guetta, who had not been part of the special committee chaired by Yesh Atid MK Karin Elharar that was established under the previous Netanyahu-led government, was horrified that prior to the latest delay, the IBC starting date was set for the day before Rosh Hashana.
“How can you do that to people when families are supposed to sit around the table and be happy?,” he asked. “How can you deprive people of their livelihoods just like that?” Guetta said that he had been repeatedly told by IBA employees who had applied for jobs at the IBC that they were interviewed in a perfunctory and unprofessional manner, and were subsequently sent an SMS saying that they were unsuitable.
With all the screaming and shouting between MKs, directors, producers and journalists, it was difficult for committee head Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) to maintain order, but he did an extraordinary job in controlling the meeting. His anger was reflected only in his eyes but not in his voice. Cabel repeatedly warned the IBA and IBC staffers that if they did not stop interjecting, he would have them removed. But out of sympathy for their anguish and grievances, he barely acted on the threat, and very few were escorted out.
One thing on which there was consensus was that the uncertainty hovering over both the IBA and the IBC must end in the shortest possible time because it is unhealthy for both, and is preventing the recruitment of IBC personnel.
In a closing statement, Cabel asked the non-legislators present to stop blaming the Knesset for the misfortunes of the IBA and the IBC. The decision to replace the IBA was a government decision, not a Knesset decision, he said, although it was debated by a Knesset committee and eventually voted on by the Knesset.
Oddly, Meretz MK Ilan Gilon and Likud faction head David Bitan found themselves agreeing that there was no logical reason for not turning back the wheel and going back to the previous IBA reforms that had been agreed upon between the Histadrut, the Finance Ministry and the National Union of Journalists prior to the advent of Gilad Erdan’s appointment as communications minister in the previous government.
Erdan, together with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, decided to close down the IBA.