T he latest brouhaha surrounding the decision of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to stop the establishment of the new Israeli Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) and leave the old Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) as is, has been humongous. It did not come from the public, but from the media itself. The amount of harangues against the PM and coalition head MK David Bitan has been unprecedented. How dare these two rethink the process initiated by former Finance Minister and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Likud Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan? One might think that the decision really threatens Israeli democracy and moves Israel towards fascism.
The truth is far from it.
Let’s put things in perspective and proportion. In February 2016, England’s BBC came under criticism.
The Commons Media select committee had said the BBC’s Trust, its management body, has a culture that is considered “bureaucratic, arrogant and introspective” and called for the abolition of the public broadcaster’s governing body.
The committee’s 65-page report said the BBC’s “lack of transparency” about the pay of stars and senior executives “must be addressed.” It called for the BBC to have a unitary board with an independent chair. There are echoes here of criticism voiced in Israel, both in regard to inherent bias in a so-called public broadcaster (the “public” being a small elitist unrepresentative clique) and atrocious management style regarding personnel and the authority’s budget.
There is nothing outlandish in critically reviewing a public broadcaster’s performance. Democracy is not being threatened – at least no more than an unsupervised public media outlet that demands complete freedom from public control.
As readers of this column know, we were and continue to be highly critical of Erdan and his formation of the IBC.
His legislation suffered from major drawbacks. The IBC was formed on a post-Zionist basis. It disconnected the public corporation paid for by the taxpayers from any public influence on it. The facts speak for themselves. The new IBC, just like the old IBA, does not give a hoot about public opinion.
It makes the decisions for us, and in the old Bolshevik bosses-know-it-all style.
Bitan claims that the new IBC is left of center. The problem is that the old IBA is not exactly right of center. Why then does he support either one of them? The mantra is that Israel needs a public broadcaster. But why? For more than 20 years, Israel Media Watch’s monitoring of the IBA showed unequivocally that it was a fiefdom that abrogated power unto itself, avoiding oversight of its activities. It did not represent the public interest and worse, it sought to manage the news rather than report it.
According to the Landes commission set up by Erdan, the IBC does not need to broadcast to the Jewish Diaspora, is not committed to Jewish values, does not need to cater to minorities (for example to the Israeli English speaking public), there is no need for it to produce Jewish-oriented drama and Jewish values take a back seat. Landes’ center of attention was news. In this day and age do we really need to spend taxpayer money to get news? Many years ago, the old IBA provided an important service. It lived up to its mandate, as a Jewish Israeli broadcaster.
But during the past 20 years, it has moved away from its ethos. Even the Hebrew language is no longer respected by the IBA and its new cadre of hyperactive journalists. Advertisement is the name of the game, the more ads the more money for the personnel. The public suffers silently, but the IBA couldn’t care less.
It freely spends our money. Was it necessary to send Kol Yisrael’s Arye Golan to America to cover the elections, when the IBA already has a correspondent (Natan Gutman) there? Yes, if you ask Golan, he is having a great time there, on our account.
Do we really need a public broadcaster that competes unfairly with private stations? It receives public funding and so can afford to take less for advertising.
One can understand Netanyahu’s frustration with the media. In July, Haaretz attacked Netanyahu in defense of Yedioth Ahronot. “Netanyahu Declares War on Israel’s Media” was the title of Yossi Verter’s July 23 column in which he claimed that “the prime minister has shamelessly set out to annihilate free press”.
A week earlier, another rabble-rousing piece, an “analysis” no less, was titled “Netanyahu runs amok in his attack on freedom of the press.” Ilana Dayan, who has a weekly radio program on the publicly funded Galatz radio station, had the gall to warn that everything necessary must be done to prevent Netanyahu from closing the IBC.
True to her word, this past Monday, Dayan devoted her Channel 2 TV program Uvda (Fact) to a rehash of charges made against Netanyahu in the past, none of which have been proven in a court of law. Even Haaretz admitted that “the general gist of the report was already known to Israelis who have been following these affairs closely in recent years, but the package created by Dayan and her team was both compelling and disturbing.”
Dayan read out a six-minute long response from the Prime Minister’s office and then, added a droopy, if even snide smile, another silent-butdeadly tactic media people employ, similar to the infamous Haim Yavin raised eyebrow. They don’t even need to say anything biased. The PM’s office reaction which Dayan read out was a list of cases accusing Dayan of partiality and belonging to Israel’s left.
The media, instead of considering any of the points raised by the PM continued the attack. The “political correspondents forum” of Israel published a manifest signed by notable public broadcasting correspondents such as Ilil Shachar from Galatz and Shimon Aran and Yair Weinreb from the IBA. The letter noted that “in a democracy the government cannot threaten journalists. A situation in which the PM… paints journalists politically undermines Israeli democracy.”
The truth is that the PM’s critics, as well as those of MK Bitan, have one interest: to continue to control and undermine Israel’s public media.
Dayan does not understand that she has to make one of two choices, either to publicly defend the IBC, or to host a documentary program. Doing both puts her in a conflict of interest and the public loses its trust in her veracity.
For more than 20 years, we thought that the good outweighs the bad. Israel could benefit from public broadcasting, but only if it is truly public and caring of the public. Sadly, this is a pipe dream.
Israel’s public broadcasters are incapable of providing us with fair, pluralistic, Zionist and Jewish-oriented programming. They are not willing to internalize that they are public servants.
Who knows, perhaps Trump’s victory in the USA is a sign that also here the old elites should start counting their days of hegemony. It is high time to close down the public broadcasters – all of them, including Galatz.
The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch. (www.imediaw.org.il).