Losing our voice

In this inherently crucial conflict Israel must not lose any outlet for its voice, especially not the IBA's voice in English.

June 5, 2007 18:45
3 minute read.
Losing our voice

iba 88. (photo credit: )


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There soon may be no Israeli-generated English news broadcasts on the air - not on the radio and not on television. This would be the upshot of an expected adoption of a package of emergency measures by the management committee of the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) next week. The IBA has grown increasingly insolvent over the years, as successive governments slashed their contributions to its budget, while the fee-paying public has been covering diminishing portions of the costs of keeping public broadcasting afloat and functioning. The threat to Israel's only English-language broadcasts didn't arise from specific insensitivity to this one branch of IBA operations, but from an overall near-collapse. In fact, the IBA may all but shut down. Gone, at least temporarily but possibly indefinitely, will be all of its radio stations apart from the single profitable division, Reshet B, the popular and money-making advertising powerhouse. All foreign language broadcasts, however, will be suspended, with the striking exception of news in Arabic. On TV, the debacle is no less significant. Channel 1 will discontinue all original programming. Only the news will survive, padded by reruns and imports. Even the weekend news magazines will disappear. As mentioned, so will the entire English news broadcasting division. IBA's full-blown crisis is a matter of grave concern and one which involves the controversial issue of public broadcasting. Israeli governments' attitudes have been too extreme - either maintaining a monopoly or starving public broadcasting by denying it commercial income and/or budgetary sustenance. At the same time it's disingenuous to ignore the featherbedding and other forms of waste that gradually destabilized the IBA. Whatever the cause, however, the IBA teeters on outright collapse. That acknowledged, an exception for English news broadcasts is nonetheless no less sensible and necessary than for Arabic news. Like Arabic, English news serves a special purpose. Moreover, English news most likely influences greater audiences than the Arabic. Keeping Israel's voice in Arabic on the airwaves remains indisputably rational, but the need for Israeli news in the language that most of the world, not to mention much of the Jewish world, speaks is no less vital. These are the broadcasts to which diplomats, visiting business people, foreign correspondents and tourists listen. Unlike many other IBA enterprises, English news also generate income through rebroadcasts, for payment, by a host of Christian channels abroad (including METV) as well as Internet sites. This offers yet another avenue for the Israeli viewpoint to be heard in a world that otherwise is exceedingly unsympathetic, if not altogether hostile. Israel gets too few opportunities to present its perspective overseas. For Israel to thus undercut its own obvious interest boggles the mind. If anything, IBA's English broadcasts ought to be expanded, not cancelled. Yet the IBA is hardly all Israel needs to get its word out. We need look no further for evidence of this than to last summer's Second Lebanon war. The Winograd Committee has exhaustively documented flaws in military and civilian leadership and decision making, yet it ignored one critical arena: the war of ideas. While the committee did clearly criticize the government's failure to include the Foreign Ministry, from Tzipi Livni on down, in its decision making, it did not take the next logical step and document the complete lack of a media strategy during the war. This egregious oversight in its own investigation should be corrected by the committee before releasing its final report. If it does so, we expect that the committee will conclude that, while tremendous attention is paid to shaping coverage in the domestic media, both the IDF and the government had, and have, no serious and systematic efforts to shape real-time international coverage of Israel's actions. Military contests are only one facet of the challenges Israel faces. Waging a convincing battle for hearts and minds overseas is essential. In this inherently crucial conflict Israel must not lose any outlet for its voice, especially not the IBA's voice in English.

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