Microphone crowd performance audience 521.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Israel Broadcasting Authority, the nation’s public broadcasting body that
operates Channel 1 television and Israel Radio, is struggling to stay relevant
in a highly competitive and dynamic media environment.
equipment, an anachronistic business model and a bloated workforce are just a
few of the ills afflicting the IBA.
Israeli taxpayers are rightly fed up
with a situation in which their public broadcaster receives an ample budget of
NIS 900 million a year – financed by TV and radio taxes – yet consistently
produces content that receives disappointingly low viewership
There is a broad consensus that the present situation cannot
continue. The only point of dissent is whether the IBA can still be saved by a
massive overhaul, or whether the public broadcaster has passed the point of no
return and must be closed down.
As Communications Minister Gilad Erdan,
who is responsible for the IBA, noted recently on his Facebook page, “I am aware
that the returns on investment in public TV are not satisfactory – and that is
the understatement of the year.”
For several years, wide-ranging reforms
have repeatedly been delayed. Politicians have been loath to give up their
control over the IBA (both the chairman and the director- general of the IBA are
picked by politicians); IBA workers, nearly all of whom are unionized, have
opposed structural changes such as separating the news production operations and
outsourcing production of the vast majority of content; and few ministers
responsible for the IBA have been willing to devote the time and energy needed
to complete the revamping.
At the beginning of the month, a watered down
version of a reform first proposed in 2007 by TASC Consulting and Capital, an
international financial advisory firm, was supposed to be implemented after
being delayed repeatedly.
The reform plan, which includes firing 700
employees, generous benefits and pensions for those who leave and hefty wage
increases for those who stay, does not include the structural changes
recommended by TASC. Even if the proposed reform were to be implemented, the IBA
would continue to employ in-house directors, screenwriters and photographers – a
model that has been outdated for decades – instead of outsourcing the production
of all content except news to Israel’s dynamic, creative and chronically
underemployed entertainment industry.
Erdan, who has the backing of
Finance Minister Yair Lapid, has decided once again to delay the reforms, in
part in the wake of critical reports by the state comptroller and the
attorney-general that focused on the IBA.
The timing is ripe for a
radical rethinking of the mission of public broadcasting in the Jewish state of
the 21st century. A unique opportunity has presented itself to Erdan and he
should take advantage of it.
Prominent figures in Israeli media – such as
Uri Shinar, former CEO and president of Keshet Broadcasting and Guy Rolnik, the
founding editor of The Marker – have urged Erdan to seize the opportunity and
create a dynamic, creative, intelligent public television station.
Israel, big business interests are hopelessly intertwined with both TV and print
journalism. There is a real need for hard-hitting news media that can serve the
role of watchdog without fear or intimidation. A high-quality public broadcaster
could also devote more resources to programming that educates, stimulates and
promotes values central to the State of Israel.
A totally revamped IBA
would also be able to tap into the tremendous reservoirs of talented directors,
screenwriters, documentary film makers and photographers who have received
And by providing a platform for less
commercially viable content such as public affairs shows, television
documentaries and educational programs, a new and improved IBA could raise the
standards of commercial Israeli television, which relies too much on reality TV
and game shows for its revenues and produces documentaries and original dramas
only because the regulator forces it to.
Erdan now has the chance to
raise the level and sophistication of public discourse, to provide an outlet for
a wellspring of Israeli creativity and to restore public trust in the state
broadcasting system. If he grabs this opportunity, the Israeli public will be
forever grateful. If he does not, the IBA could end up in the garbage can of