The last episode of Mabat, Channel 1’s flagship evening news program that has been on the air since 1968, aired for the last time just before 8 p.m. Tuesday, as the public broadcast reform heads to a final vote in the Knesset on Wednesday.
Geula Even-Sa’ar, anchor of the 7 p.m. Hamusaf news program, began crying upon hearing the news from the Knesset Special Committee for Discussion on the Public Broadcast Bill, which she and other Israel Broadcasting Authority workers heard for the first time on Tuesday evening.
Wednesday’s morning news broadcast will be the last on Israel Radio after 81 years on the air.
“It could be that this is the last broadcast of this show, and I want to thank the people who worked with me over the years... many good people are going home,” said Even- Sa’ar – who has been hired by the nascent Israel Broadcasting Corporation, before the program switched to a prerecorded interview.
Mabat anchor Michal Rabinovich apologized at the top of the 8 p.m. hour for being visibly emotional, but promised “to give you trustworthy news reports, as we have for 50 years.” She thanked the crew and the cameras then panned to show them in the studio.
Nearly every reporter on the program had something to say about the broadcast being the last.
They closed the final broadcast by singing Hativka through tears.
The seemingly endless fouryear saga of the Israel Broadcasting Authority and Israel Broadcasting Corporation will likely come to an end on Wednesday. The vote came after marathon meetings of the special legislative committee on the public broadcast bill this week – Monday’s lasted until 4 a.m. Tuesday, and Tuesday’s continued for several more hours, until the committee authorized the bill for the final reading.
During the meeting, David Hahn, who is responsible for dismantling the IBA, announced that TV workers found out for the first time that all but 20 of the group of 200 would stop working as of Wednesday, and that Tuesday’s broadcast of the historic news program would be its last, so that the IBC can begin its transition into broadcasting a daily news program. And that meant Mabat would be airing its last episode. The remaining 20 workers will be present to ensure that the final program in the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest is broadcast on Saturday night. IBA radio employees will work for the IBC as of Wednesday and only music will be played on its various stations until the IBC is launched on May 15.
“Wow, wow, wow,” a stunned MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin (Zionist Union) said when she heard the news.
MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union), who is running to be head of the Histadrut labor federation and once hosted a talk show on the IBA’s Israel Radio, called the announcement insulting.
“There’s no limit to the torture [of IBA workers],” she said. “It’s shocking that workers are told at the last minute that it is their last day of work and they don’t even know whether to come to work tomorrow or not. Exemplary television and radio programs went extinct out of the blue. The treatment of public broadcast workers like objects that can be thrown away like old tools is horrible and shameful.”
The legislation heading to a final vote makes structural changes to the nascent IBC, following a political compromise between Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu separated the nascent IBC news division from the rest of the channel’s functions and put a different news director in place of the director-general of the IBC.
The IBC will replace the IBA on May 15.
A last-minute push by coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud), who helmed the Special Committee for Discussion on the Public Broadcast Bill to further postpone the launch date was thwarted by the Finance Ministry and Kulanu.
Several coalition parties demanded more resources be allocated to broadcasts targeting their constituents. For example, MK Yigal Guetta (Shas) demanded that there be a publicly funded haredi (ultra-Orthodox) radio station in addition to the existing “Tradition Radio,” which will continue in the IBC.
Yisrael Beytenu pushed to cancel cuts to Radio Reka, which is an acronym for “Radio Immigration Absorption” and airs in languages other than Hebrew, including Russian and – as many MKs were surprised to learn – in Aramaic for 15 minutes a day.
On Monday, Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman said, “There are two million people in Israel for whom Hebrew is not their first language. There are people whose first language is Russian, Amharic, French, Bukhari and others. There are two million people who it is important we communicate with, especially when there’s an emergency. There’s no reason to bury the radio broadcasts in foreign languages.”
As for Russian-speakers, Liberman added: “We don’t want any affirmative action.
We want the same budget as Arabic radio gets. There are the same amount of Russian speakers as Arabic speakers, so we should get the same budget.”
The committee decided that Radio Reka will broadcast in Russian two-thirds of the time.
However, no MKs of the committee fought for broadcasts in English, including the daily televised IBA News broadcast, which will go off the air when the IBA shuts down.
MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union), who advocated for IBA News to continue, lamented its imminent closure, saying “there was no will or interest” in keeping it open.
“Radio Reka has a giant lobby in the Knesset and we don’t have one,” Shai said.
One other issue that came up in the committee meetings was about IBA workers who did not get jobs at the IBC. The committee decided that the Civil Service Commission will come up with offers for 100 jobs within four months for IBA workers over 40 who do not qualify for early retirement.
Finance Ministry Director-General Shai Babad said he will make an effort so that more jobs will be created.
Still, IBA workers wrote a plea to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asking them to save their jobs, saying that the special committee is not taking them into consideration.
“Only you can change the harm to our ability to make a living, to our rights, to our families and what little dignity we have left,” Ronen Glick, representing the workers, wrote. “We are convinced that you will not allow this imbalanced process happen, in which the IBA workers found themselves embroiled without having done anything wrong.”