Media Comment: The ‘new’ Public Broadcasting Authority?

Are we getting a new broadcasting authority or is it only an exterior change of clothes?

By ELI POLLAK
September 17, 2014 22:56
Radio

A broadcasting room at Israel Radio. (photo credit: COURTESY IBA)

 
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We have been critical of some of the aspects involved in the creation of the new Public Broadcasting Authority which is to replace the old Israel Broadcasting Authority. Nevertheless, we also are hoping that the new entity will improve, be more open to the public and its needs, fair-minded, balanced and pluralistic. Are these expectations too far-reaching? Thus far, there has not been much change in the programming. Keren Neubach, with her personal social agenda, is still there from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Kol Israel’s Reshet Bet. The size of the defense budget is one of her favorite subjects. She leaves no doubt as to her opinion that too much money flows into defense, at the expense of social services and needs. But a week ago Sunday, she went overboard.

The Iron Dome missile defense system irrefutably saved many lives during the past few years and especially during Operation Protective Edge. The system is the baby of a special unit, the Defense Directorate for Research and Development, known in Hebrew as MAFAT. It operates under the aegis of the Defense Ministry and the IDF. Its job is to prepare the IDF for future challenges. Developing the Iron Dome was no small feat and the cost ran into the billions of shekels. As anyone who has ever dealt with development of new equipment knows, the risks are great and the guarantee of success nonexistent.

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In fact, at the start among a few alternatives two major strategies were considered.

One was the missile strategy that was adopted, and the other was a laser defense strategy, which was being developed in the US. One of the central figures that tried to persuade MAFAT that the laser system was the better option was Col. (res.) Yossi Langozky.

He was not successful, but the story does not end there.

Langozky, an engineer, claims that for years he has warned that the Gaza tunnels are a strategic threat, but no one listened to him, including the people in MAFAT. Relating to the defense budget, Neubach “interviewed” a fortnight ago General (res.) Maharan Prosenfer. As usual, she did most of the talking while the general mostly listened. This is how it went: Neubach: “I have to read to you in this context of research and development a citation from Yossi Langozky in an interview with Giddi Weitz of Haaretz. ...In MAFAT he [Langozky] says, they work like Histadrut clerks. They come to work at 8:15 a.m., pick up two phones to the bank, have a meeting, at 10:30 coffee break, they work another hour or so, noon break, another three hours of work and at four or five they go home. This is the way to solve operational challenges? Is he correct? Is Langozky’s description accurate?” Prosenfer: “Look, I don’t know the officers and civilians who work in MAFAT, but... they don’t call the bank, I am not aware of those who contact the bank.”

Neubach: “So I will tell you about someone I know who has an 18-year-old daughter who serves in a software unit, an excellent computer student. She sat next to the officers every day, wrote the software while they checked on what was happening, what’s new with their stocks, then went out for a walk, arrived at 10 a.m., left at 4 p.m. – officers that you and I pay the salaries of, including their lucrative pensions.”

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Neubach here did not limit herself to citing Langozky but added a fairly fanciful tale about, for all intents and purposes, an unhappy girl doing a job she did not like, and used it to defame the IDF, and in an anonymous fashion at that. The implications of her statement were clear: the IDF is wasting our money and we should not increase its funding.

Neubach was unprofessional. As an informed journalist, she should have known that Langozky had axes to grind with respect to MAFAT. Neubach knew beforehand that she was going to accuse MAFAT on the show, so why didn’t she do the professional thing and have a MAFAT representative, or someone familiar with all sides of the story on the show, so that the public would have a chance to hear something besides what Neubach wanted them to hear? At Israel’s Media Watch, we heard, listened – and acted. On September 8, a letter was sent to Yona Wiesenthal, the present acting head of the broadcasting authority. We are still waiting for an answer. Is this the new authority or the old one? Communications Minister Gilad Erdan is rightly proud of having abolished the TV tax, saving Israel’s citizens hundreds of millions of shekels per year. But are we getting better radio? The previous chair of the IBA, Dr. Amir Gilat, ordered that Israel radio would limit itself to at most nine minutes of advertising per hour. We checked this and found that nowadays, the norm is 10 to 12 minutes. Here, too, we wrote a letter to Wiesenthal. This was passed on to the IBA’s complaints commissioner David Markowitz who justified the complaint and noted that for the past year he has been raising this issue, to no avail. Is this then the new authority or the old one? The Gatekeepers is a one-sided, biased “documentary” produced by extreme leftist Dror Moreh. It was severely criticized when first shown in cinemas abroad. Last year, the IBA found it necessary to broadcast his series and the outcry was vociferous. As a result, the IBA had each program followed with a short discussion enabling the viewers to obtain some balance and perspective.

Now, the IBA is again airing the series, but without any discussion. We complained to Wiesenthal who again passed our letter on to Markowitz. This time, Markowitz did not justify us, claiming it is standard practice to rerun a series paid for by the IBA. He also claimed that the series was valuable and precisely the kind of production that the IBA should support. No, he did not point out that the IBA would be running a similar series with a different viewpoint in the near future, because such a thing does not exist, so is this the new or the old broadcasting authority? On Monday, Haaretz and other left-wing news purveyors were happy to inform us that finally the IBA’s satirical program The Jews are Coming would be aired on Channel 1 TV after Succot.

This is the program whose promo was a song by characters portraying Yigal Amir, Yona Avrushmi and Baruch Goldstein: “I always remain myself – a right-wing murderer.”

The former director of the IBA, Yonni Ben-Menachem, decided that it would not be aired. Now we will be getting this type of drivel for 11 weeks in a row. Balance? The Authority claims that yes, it would be followed by a satirical program produced by Latma.

Our sources tell us that this is only spin as a contract has not been signed with Latma. So, are we getting a new broadcasting authority or is it only an exterior change of clothes? Time will tell. We hope for the best but expect very little.

The authors are vice chairman and chairman respectively of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il).

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