IBA EMPLOYEES protest outside the Knesset yesterday. The sign reads, ‘Democracy=Public Broadcasting’.
(photo credit: IBA)
President Reuven Rivlin frequently speaks out on the importance of freedom of speech which he says is the lifeblood of democracy.
He did so again on Tuesday when inadvertently drawn into the fracas between supporters of the yet to be established Kan (formerly known as the Israel Broadcasting Corporation) public broadcasting service and those of the destined to be replaced Israel Broadcasting Authority.
In the course of a visit to the Tel Hashomer army recruitment base, Rivlin was asked to comment on the situation which has evolved into a complex political wrangle.
It was not the first time that he was asked in recent days to comment on the subject. In an interview that he gave two weeks ago to investigative journalist Ilana Dayan at a law-oriented event at the President’s Residence, Rivlin said that without public broadcasting Israel would be a democratic state with a certain disability.
This was almost immediately after the announcement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the launch of the new public broadcasting enterprise which is set to replace the IBA would be postponed (from October 1, 2016) to early 2018. The date has since been brought forward to April 30 or May 1, 2017.
At the time that Dayan posed her question, the Hebrew media were rife with speculation that in the final analysis there would be no public broadcasting service. In addition there were and continue to be allegations that Netanyahu who is also communications minister is more interested in controlling the media than in encouraging a free press.
Rivlin said on Tuesday that there are a lot of politics in democracy, and that part of democracy is the ability to exercise freedom of expression while simultaneously respecting the dignity of others including one’s rivals.
Acknowledging that public broadcasting is fraught with great challenges, Rivlin said that everyone knows that public broadcasting belongs to all the people and is not the private domain of any one person or group.
“Public Broadcasting does not need a commissar to order it in one direction or another,” he said, alluding to purported remarks by Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, who has been widely reported as saying that it was unacceptable that the minister of communications has no control over who is hired and how the publicly funded broadcasting service is managed.
One of the key reasons for dismantling the IBA was the mismanagement that had been going on for years. Rivlin charged politicians on all sides with contributing to the sorry state in which public broadcasting in Israel now finds itself, but was confident that in the final analysis, public broadcasting would triumph over all its hurdles.
Meanwhile, the Knesset Economics Committee on Tuesday approved an amendment to the Public Broadcasting Law that would allow the new public broadcasting service to temporarily conduct operations outside Jerusalem, till June 2018 when it must move to the capital. However in view of objections by some committee members and by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who keeps pointing out that the law states that the public broadcasting service must be headquartered in the capital, it was decided that the committee would reconvene on Wednesday to discuss the matter further and possibly put it to the vote once more.
The committee also decided that if the new broadcasting enterprise begins to function before April 30, 2017, it must give one-and-a half months’ notice to the IBA so that the IBA can wind down in the proper manner.