New chief looks to whip IBA into shape [pg. 15]

Moti Sklar took over as director-general of the Israel Broadcasting Authority on Sunday determined to make the organization more competitive and efficient. "We need to change the concept of the IBA to allow it to compete with the commercial stations," Sklar said at a press conference in Jerusalem. "If we want to be relevant in five years we have to redefine what it means to be a public broadcasting authority." Sklar, who will head the IBA for the next five years, said he plans to sit with his management to build a vision for the IBA, which will take into account the nature of the content presented and new technologies available for broadcasting. "This all presents us with a window of opportunity to identify ourselves," Sklar said. The appointment comes shortly after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert threatened to close the authority altogether when he was minister responsible for the Broadcasting Authority. Olmert was subsequently replaced by current Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and then by Eitan Cabel, who presently holds the position and has embarked on a program to revive the authority. First on Sklar's agenda will be to do something about the IBA's reported NIS 200 million deficit. As a result, Sklar will implement massive job cuts at the cash strapped authority. The IBA has been ordered to cut 500 jobs over the next three years as part of the economic arrangements bill that was passed recently. The IBA currently has some 1,700 workers spread across its radio and television units. The first stage, Sklar said, will be to implement the layoffs through voluntary pension scheme programs, after which further layoffs are expected. The IBA is also looking to Sklar, who in previous positions served as director-general at the Second Broadcasting Authority and as CEO of Channel 2, to bring stability to the organization, which has not had a permanent appointee at its head for some five years. He takes over from Yair Aloni who served as interim director general for the last 14 months after Olmert forced Yosef Barel out of the position. With a budget of approximately NIS 700m., and having had to cut its fees by 12% over each of the last three years, the IBA is responsible for broadcasting eight radio and two television channels - 1 and 33. Sklar said he plans to focus on bringing deeper and more serious coverage to the IBA's news coverage and that Channel 1 will focus on actuality programs, documentary and drama. "We cannot afford to view the news in the same sense as we did 20 years ago," he said. "There needs to be an emphasis on being more creative to document and describe all conflicts in our society, be they the secular-religious, Arab-Israeli etc. and issues facing all segments of our society." He added that the IBA would also focus on its use of technology to keep up with its competitors, including taking advantage of broadcasting over the Internet, cellular phones and video on demand.