Comment: Public broadcasting – from 1936 to 2010?

Jerusalem Journalists Association asks PM to urgently appoint IBA minister and chairman.

By
February 22, 2010 03:51
3 minute read.

 
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In response to Yuli Edelstein’s resignation as minister responsible for implementing the Broadcasting Authority Law, the Jerusalem Journalists Association has written to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, urging him to immediately replace Edelstein and also name an Israel Broadcasting Authority chairman.

The IBA has been without a chairman since the resignation last June of Moshe Gavish. A dollar-a-year man, Gavish had commissioned a survey that led to recommendations for reforms that were largely accepted by the Olmert-led government, the IBA management, the employees, the in-house unions that represent them, the Journalists Association and the Histadrut labor federation.

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There were reservations about the terms of severance pay, conditions of employment and the number of employees whose services would be terminated, but in general there was consensus on the need for reform.

The problem is that the IBA is a Machiavellian institution in which groups and individuals are constantly plotting against each other, with the technicians currently holding the upper hand.

They are retaliating for management’s attempt to reduce their numbers via the introduction of state-of-the art equipment that would enable one person to do the work previously done by as many as half a dozen people, who used to be on call around the clock.

The journalists were not very happy about the hardships imposed on them by the technicians who, inter alia, prevented telephone interviews, but they, too, joined the sanctions when management abridged television news programs, dismissed a couple of news editors, and terminated late-night television programs, forcing Channel 1 to cease broadcasting at 11 p.m.

Initially it was thought that at least the musical programs broadcast in the loop would continue, but technicians decided to beat management at their own game, and all they would allow was recorded music without visuals.



In addition to the journalists union’s effort, the deteriorating situation has also prompted  independent initiatives.

Yaron Dekel, an IBA star who hosts the Israel Radio program It’s All Talk and is the political commentator for Channel 1, wrote an open letter to Netanyahu in Sunday’s Yediot Aharonot, reminding him of a pledge he had made during his election campaign to continue his support of public broadcasting.

In the politest of terms, Dekel more or less challenged the prime minister to put his money where his mouth was, and to appoint a suitable IBA chairman out of professional, rather than political considerations.

Dekel concluded the letter by telling Netanyahu that the solution to the IBA’s problems was in his hands.

Something of a similar nature was said later in the day after the government’s meeting in Tel Hai, by Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog, who is one of the ministers who was previously responsible for the implementation of the Broadcasting Authority Law.

Herzog, who believes that public broadcasting is an essential service in a democracy, is convinced that the whole issue of the reform can be settled between Netanyahu and Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini.

That isn’t quite true, because the Histadrut does not represent the journalists. However it does represent the technicians, so that hurdle at least, could be overcome.


There are other questions at stake.

Every day various public figures, including broadcasters from commercial channels, appear on the Channel 1 screen to tell viewers how important it is to maintain a public broadcasting service.

The problem is that they are seen by fewer and fewer people as the public gradually switches to other channels to get more information and more entertainment.

Unless the prime minister makes a rapid, dramatic decision, the IBA, which under the British Mandate Authority started out as the Palestine Broadcasting Service on March 30, 1936, may very close down on March 30, 2010.

A lot of people might shrug and say “so what?” But the closure of public broadcasting is not in the interests of the state, and could well be a loss that the state cannot afford, in more ways than one.

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