(photo credit: COURTESY OF IBA)
In black-and-white ads normally reserved for death notices, the Israel Broadcast Authority’s daily English-language news announced its demise this week.
“We are heartbroken to announce the untimely death of IBA English News,” read the notice. “Our condolences to all the devoted viewers in Israel and abroad...”
For some time now the fate of IBA English-language news has been uncertain. Communications officials and politicians have sent out conflicting messages, if they have bothered to comment on the issue of state-sponsored English-language TV news at all.
Yona Wiesenthal, former senior VP for content at Hot Satellite TV, who was appointed acting director-general after IBA went into receivership, made it clear to IBA English News editor Steve Leibowitz that he sees no future for state-funded English-language TV news. Hebrew-language news is IBA’s core business, said Wiesenthal, and he intends to stick to that along with limited Arabic-language news.
In contrast, Ophir Akunis, who until recently held a “ministerial post” in the Communications Ministry while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu served as communications minister, expressed support for the continued broadcasting of English-language TV news.
Netanyahu has so far refrained from publicly weighing in on the matter.
In the end, however, it seems the demise of the IBA English News was brought on not as a result of a conscious decision by the political or managerial echelon, but due to general indifference and a lack of appreciation for the potential of producing homegrown TV news coverage for foreign consumption.
Many might legitimately ask who needs state-funded news production? Isn’t state-run media a fixture of regimes like Russia or Iran? Perhaps if Israel were covered by the foreign media in a fair and honest way, skeptics of state-run news media would be on to something. The problem is that this is not the case.
Foreign news media outlets regularly distort perspectives, not just in print and online media, but also on TV and video.
We would argue that Wiesenthal’s thinking about Hebrew and English-language news is backward: Today with Channel 2 and Channel 10 each running their own Hebrew-language news operations and with other outlets such as the Knesset Channel and Ynet providing news coverage of their own on cable TV or on the Internet, a state-run Hebrew-language news station makes little sense.
In contrast, maintaining a robust, well-funded, high quality, around-the-clock English-language news channel that is unabashedly pro-Israel is precisely what is needed, particularly in times of crisis like the one presently gripping the nation.
IBA English News has tremendous potential that was not fully realized during the 25 years it has been on the air. IBA provided English-language news from an Israeli perspective for people around the world in a language widely spoken. But if more resources had been invested in developing it, IBA news could have provided more in-depth coverage of a wide range of subjects, from hi-tech and culture to politics and religion.
Its 24/7 coverage would have articulated a unique voice not heard on CNN, BBC, or even Fox News.
Instead, foreign coverage of Israel is dominated by the agendas of states and entities that tend to view the Israeli- Palestinian conflict through a distorted lens. By closing down IBA English News the present government – and acting Communication Minister Netanyahu – is abandoning the international news media arena to actors such as Russia Today or Al Jazeera.
But it is not too late to reverse course. Instead of closing down IBA English News for good, this government – and Netanyahu in particular, who knows a thing or two about the importance of making the case for Israel articulately and in English – should revamp it altogether and launch a new and improved version with better coverage.
In the present media climate, and especially in these trying times, IBA English News has the potential for providing an invaluable service – news coverage that gives viewers the broader context, the background information, and the details that are so often missing or distorted in foreign news outlets.
If the present government wants to save money. Let it shut down IBA’s Hebrew-language news. But IBA English News should not be closed down. It should be built up beyond recognition.