High Court orders government to justify not starting IBC by January 1

Naor: How long can you leave people in this situation of uncertainty?

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December 27, 2016 00:28
3 minute read.
STAFFERS WORK in the offices of the soon-to-debut Israel Broadcasting Corporation in Modi’in.

STAFFERS WORK in the offices of the soon-to-debut Israel Broadcasting Corporation in Modi’in.. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)

 
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The High Court of Justice on Monday issued an interim order requiring the government to explain by January 1 why the new Israel Broadcasting Authority should not start broadcasting as of that date.

In issuing the order, Supreme Court President Miriam Naor expressed frustration with the government’s treatment of the authority’s workers, who do not know when they can start working. “How long can you leave people in this situation of uncertainty?” she asked.

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MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union), who filed the petition to the High Court against the ongoing delay, said the “High Court gave the government a yellow card” for poor conduct on the issue.

He added that the court had declared that “[Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Moshe] Kahlon have acted illegally by not working to facilitate the broadcasting authority’s request to move up its start date for broadcasting.”

Following a declaration by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also holds the Communications portfolio, that he is giving serious thought to aborting the Israel Broadcasting Corporation and rehabilitating the Israel Broadcasting Authority which the IBC is supposed to replace, there was a huge outcry charging him with wanting to do away with public broadcasting altogether.

At the beginning of November, Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon announced that they were setting up a joint team to examine the pros and cons of IBC vs IBA to see which of the two it would cost the least to maintain.

Meanwhile, the IBC kept announcing that it would be ready to go on air on January 1, 2017.

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Three days after setting up the joint committee, Netanyahu dropped into its meeting and said that perhaps it would be a good idea to shut down both the IBC and the IBA and allocate the money saved to improving the lives of people living in the North of the country.

In mid-November, Cabel, who chairs the Knesset Economics Committee, and Labor Party activist Eldad Yaniv petitioned the High Court to order the communications minister to allow the IBC to begin operating on January 1.

In the interim, Netanyahu and Kahlon announced that the IBC would begin operating on April 30, following amendments to the Public Broadcasting Law.

On Sunday the cabinet approved an amendment to the law which effectively prevents the IBC, or KAN as it is known by its call sign, from going on air before April 30, regardless of how ready it purports to be. Treasury officials estimate that the cost of the delay would be around NIS 140 million. Further amendments to the law include taking on additional staff from the IBA. The fate of staff members has been one of the key issues in stalling the transition from IBA to IBC. However, Cabel insists that the delay is due to Netanyahu wanting to control the media.

Netanyahu denies this and says that he wants to open up the media to competition.

The High Court also said on Monday that if a new law passes and changes the start date, a new petition would need to be submitted if Cabel still wanted the authority to open earlier.

Meanwhile, the Knesset approved in a first reading the postponement of the IBC’s broadcasts until April 30 instead of January 1.

Opposition MKs came out against the change, saying the prime minister is trying to stifle public broadcasting.

“The government is wasting NIS 140m. on the prime minister’s whim, because suddenly he doesn’t want a public broadcasting corporation. The law has to be followed,” said MK Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid), who was chairwoman of the committee that drafted the public broadcast law.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, representing the cabinet, said that the debate about changes in public broadcasting have become populist and without meaning. He also echoed criticism by Netanyahu and others in the coalition, saying that the IBC has not hired a sufficiently “pluralistic” team of reporters.

“They hired people with foreign interests and agendas. What they’ve done is destined to fail,” he said.

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