(photo credit: Courtesy)
Despite a public outcry earlier this year that appeared to stave off a cancellation of the Israel Broadcasting Authority's English News on the radio, the cash-strapped IBA is now proceeding with draconian cutbacks anyway, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Among these cuts, IBA sources said, is the cancelation of the English News's 10 p.m. 25-minute summary of the day's news, broadcast locally and abroad via the Internet, digital and shortwave radio and satellite on Reshet Heh - scheduled to go into effect at the end of July.
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"We're canceling the 10 p.m. show overseas," an IBA source told the Post, but said the nightly 8:30 p.m., 15-minute local news show will be broadcast overseas on shortwave instead.
"We still have our Internet broadcasts - the 6:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. [on the Reka network]" the source said. "These are available on Reshet Aleph and on our Web site as well."
In addition, staff overtime and studio hours used to prepare reports are also being cut.
Staff members have complained about a unilateral 10 percent reduction in their overtime hours, and the workers' union has asked them not to sign their end-of-the-month forms if the cut is enforced.
In response, IBA spokeswoman Linda Bar said there had been a reduction in overtime "not only in the English news but in all departments in the IBA. All over, the radio, the TV, all over. There has been a cut of 10% of the overall count of hours. For everyone."
Bar stressed that the IBA management's decision was not to harm the English News radio or television news "right now," and said she did not know of any plan to stop the overseas broadcasts.
Shmuel Ben-Tzvi, head of overseas radio, said: "We are making changes, not cuts. Everything on the radio is included."
Arye Shaked, who heads Reshet Bet's news division, said: "So far, I don't see any cuts that have affected the English news or programs. They are negotiating about the reforms and the programs, but they haven't implemented anything yet."
IBA sources said that all night-time studio hours had already been canceled earlier in the month, which means that no reports can be prepared after 8 p.m.
"The [IBA] budget cuts influence the studios as well," one source said. "So now we don't get any studio hours after eight in the evening. That's true for all the languages."
Sources in the French, Spanish and Ladino departments confirmed that their nightly studios from 9 to 10 p.m., which they had shared with the English News, had also been canceled. No such confirmation was received from Hebrew, Arabic and Russian news.
Steve Leibowitz, the head of IBA News on television, said the threatened cutbacks had not yet affected his department, which broadcasts on channels 1 and 33 at 4:50 p.m. and 5 p.m., respectively.
"There have been no cuts up to this point," Leibowitz said. "The basic issue is that the Broadcast Authority itself is going through a major financial crisis. And one of the possible areas that could be harmed was the English language news, but that is currently off the table. There is no current plan to change the English News. There could be a lot of firings in the IBA, and that could affect my staff. [But] my department is continuing as usual."
Leibowitz said he expected any cuts to be "very small, with the exception of less overtime for my staff." He noted that management had even asked him to prepare a proposal to "expand the English-language [television] news and give us an extra half hour every day" on Channel 33.
Though still in the planning stages, Leibowitz told the Post that IBA's Sheila Zucker was already working on a weekly "tourist-based talk show" targeting an audience of visitors to Israel.
"They're already actively in production. I'm hoping that it will be the first of five or maybe more half-hour programs that will eventually give us an extra half hour every day."
He said the topics covered by the new programming would range from politics to sports - "giving more to the English language consumers...than only news."
"For the time being, we're staying on the air," Leibowitz said. "The idea of taking us off has gone away. We had literally thousands and thousands of e-mails, people bombarding everyone that was making the decision. We may, in fact, get more time in the future," said Leibowitz.
"That's not to say that the IBA is in good shape," he added. "If the entire IBA goes under, we go with it. So clearly it's in our interest that the IBA survive. And we're trying to do our part to save money...so we can stay on the air."
The IBA's Management Committee and plenum earlier this month approved reforms that include severe budgetary cuts and staff layoffs.
The proposals, which will take two to three years to implement, were developed over a three-month period in conjunction with TASK, a strategic consulting firm. The company was reportedly paid NIS 600,000 for its services but did not visit most IBA departments.
The most significant recommendations included raising the annual IBA licensing fee paid by all television and radio owners, laying off more than one-third of the 1,915 employees at the IBA, cutting staff overtime hours, upgrading equipment and overhauling the entire company's infrastructure.
The total cost to implement the recommendations is estimated at NIS 800 million.
Isaac Herzog, appointed earlier this month to the post of minister of social affairs, which oversees the IBA, informed The Jerusalem Post that "The condition of the broadcasting network nowadays is either to be or not to be...In order to promise the existence of the IBA in the competitive modern world, we need to make a major effort to fix the situation...I am here to ensure [the IBA's] existence."
Herzog clarified his intention to stop the cutbacks. He also confirmed that he has instructed Moshe Gavish, the head of the IBA, to immediately form a partnership with Ariel Ya'akovi, head of the workers' union, to cooperate as issues arise from the implementation of the reforms.