Resolution of public broadcaster controversy to wait till PM returns

Despite numerous reports, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said on Tuesday he was unaware of any new deal between himself and prime minister.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU and finance minister Moshe Kahlon. (photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU and finance minister Moshe Kahlon.
(photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
The resolution of the ongoing crisis over the fate of the new Israel Broadcasting Corporation, and perhaps that of the current government, will likely be decided by the end of the week, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returns from his visit to China late Wednesday or Thursday morning.
Despite numerous reports, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said on Tuesday he is unaware of any deal between himself and the prime minister, who is seeking to shutter the IBC before it even begins broadcasting as scheduled on April 30, a step Kahlon opposes on budgetary grounds.
The finance minister also insisted that he would not allow any injury to the freedom of the press, but that a bill giving greater authority to the government over broadcasting regulations would be advanced.
Kahlon was speaking at a conference of The Marker financial newspaper, against the background of severe coalition strains regarding the future surviving broadcaster of the battle between the venerable Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Israel Broadcasting Corporation that has been legislated to replace it.
“I spoke with Netanyahu on Thursday and we agreed to establish the corporation 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, freedom of expression or freedom of the press,” he stressed.
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, in particular over a clause that the law would allow the communications minister to appoint the chairman of the regulatory body.
On Tuesday, the Attorney-General’s Office said that it had declined a request by the “political echelon” to reduce the period of time allowed for government ministries to review and provide suggestions for the Communications Law.
According to a statement, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has made clear that “due to the importance to the public of the law,” a significant period of time is needed to receive notes and recommendations for the relevant officials.
Following the Thursday agreement mentioned by Kahlon, Netanyahu subsequently said he had changed his mind and was now totally opposed to the IBC beginning operations.
Efforts are under way among various Likud ministers, MKs and advisers with Kahlon’s aides to find a compromise, which is reported to include merging the old Israel Broadcasting Authority with the IBC, and firing IBC director Eldad Koblentz and chairman Gil Omer, whom Netanyahu opposes.
Kahlon said, however, that he is unaware of any demand to fire the pair.
Another wrench thrown into the works of a possible agreement was the announcement by the IBC on Monday that 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 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 big smile.
Channel 10 reported that close associates of Netanyahu have objected strongly to Even-Saar’s appointment, and said that the timing had been deliberate so as to further raise the prime minister’s ire.