After 49 years, broadcast authority closes

When the Palestine Broadcast Service was founded in 1936, It broadcast in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

David Bitan (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
David Bitan
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Protests at the manner in which staff members of the Israel Broadcasting Authority were notified of its termination were fast, furious and emotional on Wednesday. A statement released by the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu questioned who had authorized the premature and abrupt closure of the IBA, which according to law, was supposed to continue broadcasting until a seamless transition next Monday, when it fades out and the Israel Broadcasting Corporation takes over.
There will be hourly news bulletins till Monday morning when IBC begins to broadcast. All eight Israel Radio stations will maintain their names and remain on the same frequency as before. Channel 1 television will become KAN11TV.
The notification of the closure came at around 7 p.m. on Tuesday night, while the Channel 1 news team was in the final stages of preparing the Mabat News. They had planned a proper farewell program for Sunday, and were caught completely unawares. The sudden change hit them like a bombshell.
According to Netanyahu’s office, the stoppage was done without his approval and without his knowledge and in the most dishonorable fashion.
Netanyahu learned of it only when watching television. He was the one who fought for the IBA News Department to continue to broadcast, and also urged that as many IBA staff as possible be absorbed into the new public broadcasting service, the release from his office stated.
President Reuven Rivlin, a staunch fan of both Channel 1 and Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, said that the situation was “heart-breaking’ and that the manner in which employees were told that this was the end was entirely inappropriate.
The Israel Press Council issued a statement in which it expressed “pain and protest” at the manner in which employees of the Israel Broadcasting Authority were notified of “the end of their road and their professional mission.” The Press Council saw this as further evidence of the increasing disconnect in relations between the government and Israeli communications media. “Even in the process of reformation and change it is imperative to maintain respect for good public broadcasting journalists – something that was not done,” according to the statement.
Ever since the beginning of efforts to establish the IBC, the Jerusalem Municipality, together with the Jerusalem Development Authority and the Knesset Caucus for Jerusalem, has labored to keep it in the capital, and even went so far as to petition the High Court of Justice to issue an injunction ordering the IBC not to inaugurate its broadcasts from outside Jerusalem. But the IBC has come up with seemingly plausible reasons to carry out its initial broadcasts from Modi’in, despite the fact that the original public broadcasting legislation stipulated they must emanate from the capital.
Last week, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat wrote a sharply worded letter to Netanyahu asking him to prevent the IBC from locating itself outside the city. “It’s very difficult to explain in words how important this is, especially in such challenging times, for the IBC to broadcast from Jerusalem,” wrote Barkat.
“There is a growing need to strengthen Jerusalem, and this is not the time to be lax in the implementation of clearly stated legislation enacted by the Knesset.”
The Jerusalem Journalists Association is protesting the exclusion of everyone working in the IBA’s documentary department from working for IBC. Jerusalem Journalists Association chairman Hika Ginsoar has written a letter of complaint to Eldad Koblentz, the CEO of IBC, stating that the documentary department is one of the most esteemed in the IBA, within the organization and outside of it. Many of its programs have been widely admired as has the professionalism of every member of the documentary team, wrote Ginosar.
Each had applied for employment with IBC, and had been laconically dismissed as “unsuitable.”
Prof. David Hahn, the liquidator officer for the IBA, said the decision to cease broadcasting was taken with a heavy heart, but it was necessary in order to facilitate Monday’s start of operations of the IBC, and of the new News Corporation, he told the Jerusalem District Court. He said that he recognizes and appreciates the loyalty and dedication of IBA workers and the professionalism of their journalism even while they were uncertain about their future. He thanked all the generations of devoted IBA employees for their contributions to public broadcasting.
IBC spokeswoman Gili Shem Tov when asked why there had been no IBC press release on Wednesday, when everything was chaotic and people didn’t know if they were working for the IBC or for the News Corporation, or perhaps not at all, and the public didn’t know what programs there would be, said that there was nothing new to release until the public broadcasting legislation is completed and passes second and third (final) Knesset readings. Until then IBC knows no more than anyone else, she said.
Politicians who were being roundly attacked for their indifference to the suffering of IBA employees who for more than three years had lived a traumatic existence, not knowing if and when they would lose their jobs, suddenly realized that they were dealing with people and not with robots and began texting messages to broadcasters absolving themselves of responsibility. But many representatives of IBA workers had sat in Knesset committee meetings dealing with the issue and knew very well who had been against them and who had tried to prevent the dismantling of the IBA.
No denying of complicity could help at this stage.
Even to the last minute on Wednesday evening, IBA staff members did their best to present news, actuality, foreign affairs, business and sport programs, but it was tough going because the day was filled with nostalgia as program anchors thanked the research, editorial and technical staff who worked with them, interviewed each other and reminisced about things they had done together and scoops that they had gleaned, and spoke about quality programs that commercial outlets would have shunned. Over and over again people repeated that the IBA was the best school of journalism in the world.
It was impossible to ignore voices that were not as clear as usual due to lumps in the throat, or to be immune to tears in people’s voices.
Military reporter Carmella Menashe, who has seen some gory sights over the years and has interviewed countless bereaved parents whose sons and daughters have died in the line of duty, has steeled herself never to cry when reporting. But she cried on Wednesday as she bade farewell to the IBA.
It may sound trite to hear so many people say they were like family and that the studios and offices of the IBA were like home to them – but some had been working there for 20, 30, 40 and even more years. There were those who had started out in children’s programs or who had known each other as teenage soldiers in Army Radio and had progressed to Israel Radio and sometimes Channel 1 as well, and had maintained a friendship that was on a level of family.
Veteran broadcasters, long retired, such as Eitan Almog, Shalom Kittal and Amikam Rotman, came into the studios to say goodbye, as did MK Shelly Yacimovich who was for several years a program anchor. She also came in to chat with Menashe and Keren Neubach who have remained personal friends. Neubach is among the 500 IBA employees who have been taken on by IBC. Neubach will be broadcasting from 10 a.m. instead of from 8 a.m. and it won’t be her usual Agenda program.
Current anchors of various programs called their predecessors to get them to share on the air their best memories of the IBA, and a couple of times during the day, there was a roll call of sorts in which scores of wellknown broadcasters and backroom personnel gave their names and titles.
Snippets of various important broadcasts such as Ben-Gurion declaring the establishment of the state in 1948; Maccabi Tel Aviv defeating CSKA Moscow–the Red Army team in the European Cup basketball semifinal in 1977; and Eitan Haber announcing the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 were played, as was the first-ever Hebrew broadcast in which Hemda Feigenbaum Zinder introduced actress Hanna Rovina reading Bialik’s “Scroll of Fire” poem.
Feigenbaum Zinder’s daughter-inlaw Leah Zinder was the longtime chief broadcaster on the IBA English News, but retired a couple of years back, before the show was retired this week.
When the Palestine Broadcast Service was founded in 1936, It broadcast in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Yet in a country in which the most commonly understood foreign language is English which is also the most understood language by Diaspora Jews, English has been abandoned by the News Corporation, although Radio Reka for Russian and Ethiopian immigrants and a haredi station have been included, and naturally an Arabic station.
A two-hour program anchored by Ran Binyamini concluded with a sad passing of the torch and the hope that IBC would maintain the legacy of Israel Radio This was followed by a news bulletin with a brief timeline of the history of the radio, followed by the announcement that there would be hourly news bulletins till Monday morning when IBC begins to broadcast.