ARIEH O’SULLIVAN, ‘IBA English News’ anchor, plays the blues as the Israel Broadcasting Authority is shut down, in front of the IBA building in the capital’s Romema neighborhood.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
‘With the burial of a donkey he shall be buried, dragged and dumped beyond the gates of Jerusalem.”
So Jeremiah warns will be done to Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah who “built his houses by unrighteousness” with money gotten unjustly, and defrauded his workmen of their wages.
A donkey’s burial has been adopted in modern Hebrew to mean getting rid of someone unceremoniously and was how the Hebrew media described the abrupt closure of the news programs on Channel 1 on Tuesday night, when an hour before going on air the team was informed that evening’s broadcasts would be its last.
Anchor Geula Even read out the notice on air and burst into tears. Even, by pure chance, or perhaps not, is married to Gideon Sa’ar, a former Likud minister and a potential rival who could challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the party leadership.
The Israel Broadcasting Authority has been on its way to closure for some time as part of a reform that brought into being the Israel Broadcasting Corporation which will finally go on the air this coming Monday. The reform was initially launched by then-communications minister Gilad Erdan in 2014 with the support of Netanyahu.
The prime minister, who until recently held the Communications portfolio in the present government, changed his tune, moving against the IBC, claiming it was a waste of public funds, leading to charges that he wanted to control public broadcasting and was against the IBC because its directors held political positions not to his liking. When he failed to stop the IBC and to rehabilitate the IBA, mostly as a result of pushback from Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Netanyahu then moved, via the latest amendment to the Public Broadcasting Law, to have the IBC split into two corporations – one for programming and the other for news. What he hopes to gain is unclear. Perhaps he hopes to weaken the public broadcaster and be able to gain political influence.
The suspicion that Netanyahu wants a politically pliant public broadcaster were given added impetus a few months ago when Likud party whip David Bitan, who introduced the failed bill to shut Kan (as the IBC is referred to in Hebrew) down, revealed that he had followed the Facebook postings of its chief executives and accused them of left-wing leanings.
The battle over the future of public broadcasting has also taken place against a backdrop of outright hostility between the prime minister and parts of the media that deteriorated to ad hominem attacks by the Prime Minister’s Office against certain journalists.
That atmosphere, the financial crisis in the media, and the fact that Netanyahu was also the communications minister – before giving over the portfolio temporarily to Tzachi Hanegbi because of his legal battles, among them the alleged quid pro quo with the publisher of the Hebrew daily Yediot Aharono
t in which the prime minister is said to have agreed to a deal that would limit circulation of the newspaper’s main rival, the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom, in exchange for more favorable coverage for the prime minister – have led to charges that he “wants to control the media and make it dependent on government.”
The IBA it must be said, however, was not without sin. It’s programming was often archaic and unprofessional and its unions overly powerful.
The rights and wrongs of closing down the IBA have been widely debated, but the way in which the news programming was abruptly taken off air is beyond contempt.
Why was the news department not given adequate notice and the possibility to produce a gala farewell evening after 49 years on air? Netanyahu denied involvement, even calling the manner in which the broadcast authority was closed “disrespectful and dishonorable,” yet as an avid Bible student he should take note that the lesson from Jeremiah is that those who abuse their power face eternal disgrace.
Political meddling in the media must end.