Knesset panel debates IBA future

Multiple flaws in the public broadcasting bill, the preliminary reading of which was passed last week by the Knesset, are preventing the IBC from getting off the ground.

IBA logo (photo credit: COURTESY OF IBA)
IBA logo
(photo credit: COURTESY OF IBA)
On April Fools’ Day the Israel Broadcasting Corporation was supposed to go on air replacing the Israel Broadcasting Authority, according to legislation enacted in July 2014 and subsequently amended. But multiple flaws in the public broadcasting bill, the preliminary reading of which was passed last week by the Knesset, are preventing the IBC from getting off the ground, says media expert Dr. Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler.
The bill calls for a six-month to one-year extension for the establishment of the IBC, which is designed to replace the unwieldy IBA currently in liquidation.
Shwartz Altshuler – who heads the Israel Democracy Institute’s Media Reform Project, is a member of the Board of the Jerusalem Press Club and serves as a public representative on the National Press Council – blames the delay on the absence of an IBC public council. She was invited to Sunday’s meeting of the Knesset Economics Committee chaired by Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel, who is a former minister responsible for the Broadcasting Authority. The committee convened for the purpose of examining the amended broadcasting law prior to its second and third readings.
According to the law, she said, only that council may decide when the new public broadcasting service becomes operational.
The repeated extensions with deadlines not being met are a “farce,” she declared, giving rise to the suspicion that Communications Ministry views that broadcast news in Israel must have the ministry’s involvement. This also applies to Army Radio and the Knesset television channel, she said.
“This makes for an intolerable situation,” she said.
Public broadcasting must be permitted to criticize the administration even though it is funded by the administration, she insisted. “That is the essence of public broadcasting which serves the needs of the public.”
Zionist Union MK Yossi Yona said that last week’s latest IBA reprieve “is a compromise which we were painfully forced to accept.”
The most crucial aspect of the legislation as it currently stands, he said, is to protect workers’ rights, and to ensure that there will be no outsourcing of news and actuality shows. In other words, he clarified, employees must be directly connected to their work. There is no such thing as public broadcasting without defending workers and without a vehicle that guarantees the permanent employment of journalists.
A person who does not have job security is subject to pressure, said Yona. “A journalist standing beneath the sword of dismissal is afraid to criticize the administration.”
In an agreement reached with the Histadrut labor federation, 450 IBA staff will be employed by IBC.
Cabel noted that he had worked with the Histadrut, the IBA employees, the Communications Ministry’s director-general, and the Finance Ministry in getting the new public broadcasting service established.
He claimed that there had been a misunderstanding with regard to outsourcing news. The proposal for outsourcing had come from Eldad Koblentz, who has been tasked with preparing the new public broadcasting service, and was not politically motivated, said Cabel.
Nonetheless, Meretz MK Ilan Gilon who has been fighting for the survival of the IBA, recalled that there had been other proposals by commercial interests to privatize the news.
Communications Ministry director-general Shlomo Filber responded that the law does not allow for the two entrepreneurs mentioned by Gilon to receive privatization contracts.
Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn said that the Histadrut had given permission for actuality programs to be outsourced for a limited period. He stipulated that employment terms be uniform in order to facilitate management.
Despite the intention to avoid a further extension, Koblentz said that it would take at least two years to get the IBC to function at full steam.
Discussion on the IBC will resume later this week.