IBA, J'lem Journalists Association sign historic agreement

Agreement has yet to be ratified by the Treasury, which time and again has threatened to withhold funds from the IBA.

December 6, 2010 05:18
4 minute read.
Israel Broadcasting Authority

IBA 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

For months now, Danny Zaken, chairman of the Jerusalem Journalists Association, had been telling the members of his board that an agreement on the reforms that would take the Israel Broadcasting Authority into a new era was on the verge of being signed.

After he had relayed this information again and again, it began to sound like the opposite extreme of the boy who cried wolf.

Zaken, who like his predecessors for more than 20 years have spent days and many sleepless nights at the negotiating table with IBA management, representatives of the Histadrut and the Treasury, continued to remain optimistic despite the history of failure in which the reforms were mired.

Even in the final days before the signing on Sunday night, the night of the fifth Hanukka candle, he had to contend with new arguments raised by union representatives of IBA employees.

At the IBA there was a sense of euphoria which may have been premature. Glasses were raised to toast what was termed an historic agreement.

But it has yet to be ratified by the Treasury, which time and again has threatened to withhold funds from the IBA.

Now, when the IBA management and the Jerusalem Journalists Association have finally reached a point of consensus to which Zaken and IBA director general Moti Sklaar put their signatures, the Treasury could suddenly decide that it cannot honor its previous commitments to the IBA because funds have to be diverted to the North of the country for rehabilitation projects following the devastation created by the fires in the Carmel.

Among those attending the signing ceremony were Moushon Matzliach, acting head of Channel One Television, Arye Shaked, acting manager of Israel Radio and head of the negotiating team for the reforms, Yoram Cohen, acting head of the Channel One news division and Moti Amir, the manager of Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet.

“This is an historic day for the IBA” declared Sklaar, who noted that now that an agreement had been signed with the Journalists Association, it could be safely anticipated that an agreement will also be signed with the Histadrut.

The signing of the two agreements he said, would guarantee the continuity of public broadcasting in Israel, and would enable it to take its rightful place in Israel’s field of communication.

With all the excitement surrounding the signing ceremony, Sklaar did not lose sight of the painful process that lies ahead – that of notifying hundreds of IBA employees that they are about to lose their jobs.

This was the integral issue of the reforms.

Neither the Journalists Association nor the Histadrut were willing to have people go out on early retirement or to be dismissed without fair compensation.

The whole structure of salaries at the IBA was such that no one earning a basic salary could live in dignity.

A perks system that allowed for overtime payments without absolute proof that people had indeed worked during the claimed time was criticized in several reports of the State Comptroller; but beyond threatening to put in a clock for journalists and other staff to punch in when entering and leaving the building, the IBA management did very little to rectify the situation.

The threat of the clock met with strong resistance, and in the final analysis was not implemented because it didn’t make sense for journalists on assignment to locations on the other side of town or beyond to come to the studio and punch a clock and then go out again.

It was nothing more than a waste of time.

The Journalists Association and the Histadrut each demanded a proper severance package for everyone going out on early retirement or being let go. The idea was that those who had to leave would do so in dignity, with the full knowledge that they had been adequately compensated for their loss of a place of work.

Yet for all the pain involved in parting with close to half of the IBA’s work force, the agreement represents a major turning point in the history of the IBA said Sklaar, who lauded all those who had put so much time and effort into bringing the agreement to fruition. In this context he did not overlook the importance of the contribution by Zaken’s predecessor Hika Ginosar, who was also lauded by Zaken.

Sklaar likewise had complimentary remarks for the Treasury representatives, whose efforts had enabled the negotiators to find a modus vivendi.

Shaked, a former chairman of the National Union of Israel Journalists, crossed the floor three years ago, as did Amnon Nadav many years before him.

However as head of the negotiating team, he did have the advantage of genuinely understanding both sides of the story. The signing of the agreement he said, was the answer to all those skeptics who said the reforms would never be implemented.

Zaken expressed pride in the fact the Journalists Association was the first to sign the agreement with the IBA.

“We are signing this agreement in the belief that the reforms can be carried out and we call on the Treasury and the government to guarantee the financial stability of the IBA and to desist from all interference in the work of journalists who will continue to operate in accordance with professional standards,” he said.

“We expect the management of the IBA to utilize the tools at its disposal to rehabilitate the IBA and to restore it to its former prestige,” he stated before going home to catch up on lost sleep.

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