Analysis: IBA crisis

Endgame looms in the battle for public broadcasting.

By
February 11, 2010 23:05
3 minute read.
IBA building in Romema

IBA building in Romema. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )

 
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Even before the advent of commercial television in Israel in November 1993, severe tensions prevailed between staff and management at the Israel Broadcasting Association, and between management and the Finance Ministry, which consistently threatened to put a spike in the IBA’s budget unless it implemented cost-cutting measures to significantly reduce the IBA’s ever-growing deficit.

During the 25-year period in which the station enjoyed a television monopoly, such pressure was little more than empty threats since, lacking competition, there was a much healthier respect for public broadcasting.

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The unions operating within the IBA were also much more powerful, sometimes stopping broadcasts at will. Hezy Koka, the late head of the Technicians Union at Channel One, then called Israel Television, literally pulled the plug, plunging the screen into darkness.

No one is pulling the plug at this stage, but sanctions by both radio and television technicians have created difficulties for news and current affairs anchors, who can no longer rely on telephone reports from reporters in the field, because the technicians will not enable them to be broadcast.

The sanctions follow a move by IBA management to introduce highly sophisticated, multi-task equipment that would considerably reduce the need for human resources. The technicians have barred the equipment from the IBA premises, but will not be able to do so indefinitely.

This week IBA journalists joined the sanctions, canceling some news bulletins following an announcement by the IBA management that late-night broadcasts would be curtailed to 11:00 p.m. to avoid paying overtime to production staff, technicians and broadcasters.

Despite the sanctions, there is a certain amount of flexibility. For instance, a telephone report of the funeral of St. Sgt.-Maj. Ihab Khatib of the Kfir Brigade, who had been killed by a Palestinian policeman, was reported, along with an interview with a member of his family.

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A spokesperson for the IBA said the unions are always flexible in the case of broadcasts on terrorism or a soldier’s funeral.

The spokesman also said that while efficiency measures are being taken at Israel Radio as well, there is no danger at this time of cutting down on late-night radio programming.

An attempt to cancel late-night radio talk shows two years ago met with such an impassioned public outcry, that the decision was reversed.

The union sent an angry letter to IBA director-general Moti Sklaar on Thursday, accusing him and the IBA management of acting like an elephant in a china shop, charging that management’s real aim was to close down the station.

The letter accuses management of inconveniencing viewers who have paid the IBA’s licensing fee by removing late-night news and cultural programming, calling the IBA management and executive board Philistines.

Four of the seven members of the executive board are little more than puppets, acceding to whatever management, especially Sklaar, wants, without understanding the fundamentals of public broadcasting, the letter continues.

The unions claim that after three years of negotiating the terms of the IBA reforms, they were on the verge of signing, but only on condition that they could be assured of real positive change. These aspirations, they claimed, had been cold-shouldered by management.

Copies of the letter were sent to Yuli Edelstein, the minister responsible for the implementation of the Broadcasting Authority Law, Ophir Akunis, chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, Hika Ginnosar, chairman of the Jerusalem Journalists Association, and Ophir Tal, the legal advisor to the Jerusalem Journalists Association.

The Journalists Association employs a permanent lobbyist in the Knesset, to ensuring the IBA continues to broadcast.

Prominent broadcasting industry figures and various dignitaries are also appearing on the air to promote public broadcasting.

Management claims it is taking emergency measures to ensure the Finance Ministry does not abandon the IBA, and that these measures follow careful thought and concerted efforts to cause as little damage as possible to program line-ups.

The new cuts will take effect on Sunday.

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