Crossing the channels

It would be an unmitigated disaster for the country if two out of the three television channels close down.

By JEREMY RUDEN
December 18, 2011 21:57
3 minute read.
Channel 10 logo

Channel 10 logo_311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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In previous columns I wrote about the perversion of government policy dictating the fates of two key media outlets, Channel 10 and the Israel Broadcasting Authority. The former is under threat of closure due an outstanding debt to the government of up to NIS 60 million, while the latter, professionals claim, has fallen victim to a process of politicization.

The reactions I received to the aforementioned articles were quite frankly surprising. The overwhelming majority of e-mails said simply “to hell with them” and suggested that both Channel 10 and the IBA should just shut their doors. That is simply unacceptable, in my opinion.

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First of all, we’re talking about a lot jobs. Sending people to the unemployment line should always be a last resort.

Secondly, it would be an unmitigated disaster for the country if two out of the three television channels close down. Simply put, we need more voices at minimal cost to the taxpayers.Yes, it’s wrong that Channel 10 owes the government such a large sum of money – but at the end of the day, they are a private enterprise and shouldn’t be taxed to death. I would be more appalled if they owed that money to their employees and suppliers.

Now, however, it seems now that matters have gone from bad to absurd.

As it turns out, the IBA, which is funded directly via the “TV tax,” is legally obligated to pump 36 percent of its NIS 800m. annual budget into the local production industry, or about NIS 290m. In theory, people who work in the various branches of the independent media should have the opportunity to compete for a piece of that money each year.

The problem is that the IBA does not spend anywhere near that figure, and reportedly only disbursed about NIS 24m. in 2011. That’s not even 10 percent of their own mandate. This of course raises another key question, which has so far gone unanswered: what happened to all of that money?



PEOPLE IN the media industry are outraged and rightly so. It’s a double blow to the industry – not only does the government appear more than ready to shut down Channel 10, which employs hundreds of professionals, but it also looks the other way when the IBA fails to meet its budget obligations to the local market. With this complaint in mind, the Prime Minister’s Office, which is directly responsible for the IBA, issued a statement saying that the IBA does not owe any money and that its commitment to purchase original programming is going to be reviewed.

Perhaps the government’s willingness to overlook the IBA’s infractions is an indicator of politicization of the public airways. That could certainly be deduced from the recently uncovered tapes of a speech given by Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon last April. Speaking at a Young Likud meeting in Tel Aviv, Kahlon said the IBA should reflect the government in power, that he wasn’t afraid of politicization and that “our people” should populate the IBA.

“When the Left come to power, let them put in whomever they want,” said Kahlon.

It should be noted that the chairman of the IBA, Amir Gilat, who took over the position earlier this year, is a former spokesman for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Recently the Tel Aviv Journalists Association filed a request for an injunction with the Supreme Court over the appointment of Yoni Ben-Menachem as the IBA’s CEO, noting his close ties with Netanyahu. The court threw out the request, saying there was no evidence of any political machinations in Ben- Menachem’s appointment.

It seems evident that it is the goal of the Likud to morph the IBA into its mouthpiece and that we the Israeli taxpayers will continue to pay hundreds of millions of shekels to keep it afloat. All this while the government refuses to extend the deadline for Channel 10’s NIS 60m. shekel debt repayment. Not only will it likely have to forfeit on the debt the channel owes, it will lose out on the income taxes & VAT and dole out unemployment benefits. What’s wrong with this picture? Seems like some of the folks in Jerusalem need to tune in to the best interests of the country.

Jeremy Ruden is an independent media consultant and a former producer at the Fox News Channel in New York.

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