Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said on Tuesday that he would not allow any injury to be done to the freedom of the press, but that a new law giving greater authority to the government over broadcasting regulation would be advanced.Kahlon was speaking at a conference of The Marker financial newspaper, against the background of severe coalition strains regarding the new public broadcaster the Israel Broadcasting Cooperation. The finance minister said that despite various reports, he was unaware of any new deal between himself and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who is seeking to shutter the IBC before it even starts operations on April 30, a step Kahlon opposes on budgetary grounds. “I spoke with Netanyahu on Thursday and we agreed to establish the cooperation and advance the communications law, since then I don’t know about anything else,” said Kahlon at the conference.
“We stand by what we committed to, there is an agreement and legislation will arrive. We won’t allow any harm to be done to democracy, to freedom of expression, or freedom of the press.”One of Netanyahu’s main claims against the IBC is that it would not have sufficient regulatory oversight, so he has insisted that the coalition advance legislation to create a unified state regulatory body for news broadcasting which would come under the authority of the Communications Ministry.Concerns have been raised by opposition parties that the law would politicize the regulation of news broadcasting and harm the freedom of the press. Since the Thursday agreement mentioned by Kahlon however, Netanyahu subsequently said he had changed his mind and was totally against the IBC beginning operations. Efforts are underway between various Likud ministers, MKs and advisors with Kahlon’s aides to find a compromise, variously reported to include merging the old Israel Broadcasting Authority with the IBC, and firing IBC director Eldad Koblentz and chairman Gil Omer who Netanyahu opposes. Kahlon said however he was unaware of any demand to fire the pair. Another spanner thrown into the works of any possible agreement was the announcement by the IBC on Monday that the journalist Geula Even-Saar would present its main nightly news broadcast. Even-Saar is the wife of former Likud minister, MK, party darling, and potential Netanyahu rival Gideon Saar. Saar stepped away from politics back in 2014 but has not left the Likud party and is frequently mentioned by Likud officials as a possible replacement for Netanyahu at some point in the future. “I have no doubt that the heads of the IBC sat for several months, checked, examined, and arrived at the conclusion that yesterday they needed to make this appointment,” said Kahlon sardonically. “A totally professional decision, I can’t intervene on professional decisions,” he added with a large smile on his face. Channel 10 reported that close associations of Netanyahu have objected strongly to Even-Saar’s appointment, and said that the timing had been deliberate so as to further raise the ire of the prime minister.
Israel Broadcasting Authority ( IBA ) staff in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv protest against closure, on March 19, 2017 (credit: REUTERS)