(photo credit: Courtesy)
Negotiations between union representatives, the Israel Broadcasting Authority management and Finance Ministry representatives are due to begin on Wednesday after the cabinet approved a series of reforms in principle which call for cutting the work force by almost half, while investing in infrastructure to modernize its broadcasts.
Minister Isaac Herzog, who is responsible for the IBA in the government, was thus given a green light to go ahead with the reforms. The cabinet also approved granting the IBA NIS 800m. for its rehabilitation.
Reacting to the calls for mass dismissals of some 850 workers through early retirement or firings, Moshe Friedman, who is on the board of the Jerusalem Journalists Association and is both a former chairman of the National Union of Israel Journalists and a former Israel Television employee, declared that "nothing has changed in the past 20 years," taking management to task for not taking responsibility for the IBA's fiscal problems over that period.
"The workers are always to blame," he said. "It's never the director-general or the management committee. If you have a budget, you have to work within the framework of that budget, and it's the job of management to ensure that this happens."
While agreeing that the overtime payments to technicians reported in the media were excessive, Friedman wondered who approved them in the first place, and why so much money was allowed to be wasted for so long. He also decried the spending of millions of shekels on IBA productions prepared at the Herzliya Studios, when they could have been prepared for far less at the IBA's own facilities.
Friedman also criticized the mega-salaries paid to star anchors and performers, while others earned far less. He recalled that the late Uri Porat, during his first stint as IBA director-general, fought with everyone but got rid of the deficit, even though the IBA was producing an impressive array of documentaries and dramas. 'I didn't have time to breathe between one production and the next," Friedman recalled, "but we didn't have a deficit because Uri Porat knew the right way to manage the IBA's affairs."
Ahiya Genossar, chairman of the Jerusalem Journalists Association, which traditional is the major advocate for IBA journalists, said that the association agreed with IBA Chairman Moshe Gavish and IBA Director-General Moti Shklar that the authority is sorely in need of an overhaul. However, as a professional body the association doubted that cutting the work force by 850 people would solve its woes. "We don't believe that you can continue public broadcasting with such a reduced team," he said.
Genossar stressed that the unions would insist on proper compensation for those workers who would be asked to leave. "If the Treasury and the IBA management are clever, they will offer the most attractive severance terms," he said. "The Knesset Finance Committee declared that those who do leave have to do so with dignity, and we will have that as our guideline."
Genossar noted that the IBA's income had dropped by 40 percent as far back as 2003, and wondered why efficiency members had not been taken then.
Interviewed on Israel Radio, Gavish was asked how the IBA could fire so many people who had given it so much for so long. Gavish replied that if the IBA were to continue on the trace of reduced license fees, income, budget and productions, it would eventually wither and die. "The alternative to not firing people is that the IBA will close," he said.