A fight to remove politicians from public broadcasting

Screenwriters’ Guild chairman Amit Lior holds a traveling hunger strike against the bureaucracy.

November 13, 2016 00:10
3 minute read.
THE ISRAEL BROADCASTING AUTHORITY headquarters in Jerusalem are located in the historic former Shaar

THE ISRAEL BROADCASTING AUTHORITY headquarters in Jerusalem are located in the historic former Shaare Zedek hospital building on Jaffa Road.. (photo credit: SARAH LEVI)

Israel Screenwriters’ Guild chairman Amit Lior made headlines in the Hebrew media in early November, when at a meeting of the Knesset Economics Committee convened to discuss the latest developments in the Israel Broadcasting Corporation/ Israel Broadcasting Authority saga, publicly tore up his son’s discharge papers from the army.

The action was in response to a statement by Prime Minister and Communications Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the whole matter of the IBC had slipped through his fingers because he had been preoccupied with Operation Preventive Edge.

Lior, whose son fought in Gaza, did not accept this as an excuse and said that Netanyahu’s zig-zagging was a travesty and an insult to those who fought and more so to those who fell in battle in Gaza.

He has also charged Netanyahu with “stealing” from the public purse. The charge is not in the nature of regular theft. Netanyahu did not put the millions so far invested in IBC into his pocket, but by wanting to close down the proposed public broadcasting service at a time when its chairman, Gil Omer, says that it is ready to go on air, in Lior’s perception constitutes stealing from the public, because the money invested in the IBC was public money.

Even more than keeping the IBC afloat, Lior is determined to one day free all public broadcasting out of the political shackles which to him signify dictatorship.

It is a battle that he has been fighting for 10 years.

“Public broadcasting belongs to the public and not to the politicians,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “There should be no political interference in public broadcasting,” he insisted, and quoted Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, who had queried the point of having public broadcasting “if we can’t control it.” According to Lior, Regev does not understand that public broadcasting and propaganda are not the same.

Lior has gone on an intermittent hunger strike to get his point across, sitting one day outside the Knesset, another day near the Prime Minister’s Residence, another day by the Prime Minister’s Office. Although friends have offered to join him, Lior has asked them to desist.

It’s not that he’s on an ego trip and wants to have a one man show. It’s simply that he doesn’t want to battle bureaucracy. He had intended to put up a tent outside the Knesset and staying there until such time as he could persuade the legislature to supervise and uphold the laws that it passes, but he learned that he needs the permission of the Knesset Guard, the entity in charge of the rose garden opposite the Knesset, the police and the Jerusalem Municipality.

It just wasn’t worth the effort, especially as any one of them could renege without notice.

The previous public broadcasting law stipulated what percentage of the IBA budget should be used for original Israeli productions, but until Lior took the matter to court, the amount that was actually allocated fell far short of what it should have been, because no one was supervising the operations of the IBA, said Lior.

While he empathizes strongly with workers of both the IBC and the IBA, he pointed out that, as tough as things are for them, they have at least been getting a salary. Most of the people involved in productions – namely scriptwriters, producers, directors, actors, researchers, lighting and sound technicians – are freelancers who get paid per assignment, and if no one is checking to ensure that budgetary allocations are in accordance with the rules, the freelancers will be unable to support their families.

Lior is also a freelancer, and cannot afford to take time off from work indefinitely.

Therefore, he goes on his hunger strike for a couple of days, spends a day working, and then goes back on the strike. His strike action has been publicized on social media as well as radio, television and the print media, and people do come by to talk to him.

However the only MK who has bothered to do this is Meretz MK Esawi Frej, who Lior describes as “a really great guy.” Frej was among the MKs who spoke out against the closure of the IBA in the special Knesset committee appointed by former communications minister Gilad Erdan.

Lior has no idea how long he will continue with his hunger strike action.

He scorns every word that comes out of the mouth of coalition chairman David Bitan, saying “He’s nothing more than Netanyahu’s mouthpiece.”

It was Bitan who set the ball rolling for annulling the IBC and rehabilitating the IBA.

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