Broadcasters to gather in TA to speak up for public radio

A last-ditch advocacy conference on behalf of public radio is due to take place Thursday at Beit Sokolov, the headquarters of the Tel Aviv Journalists Association. Both veteran and newer broadcasters are expected to speak up on behalf of what appears to be a dying cause. The conference, a joint venture of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, the Tel Aviv Journalists Association and the University of Haifa, is intended to stress the need to maintain public radio. This is not just a struggle for ratings in a bid to pit quality content against drivel, but a battle for survival. Immediately after the conference, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On, Minister Isaac Herzog- whose portfolio includes responsibility for the IBA, IBA chairman Moshe Gavish and IBI director general Moti Sklar are scheduled to meet in Tel Aviv to determine the future of the IBA. Talks have made little headway since the IBA's management entered into negotiations with union authorities approximately six months ago. The only real progress that has been made from the unionists' standpoint is that those IBA employees who agree to take early retirement will be able to retire in dignity and with some measure of financial security. It is still not certain how many employees will be given early retirement or fired, but it looks as if some 300 to 350 employees will be let go, about half the original figure projected. Negotiations on new collective agreements for IBA employees and the introduction of new technologies have not yet begun. Gavish has more than once threatened that if the proposed reforms for the IBA are not implemented, the IBA will have no choice but to close down. Yet while Gavish has been issuing doomsday calls, the IBA has been introducing new programs - more television than radio, but new programs nonetheless - and has found ways to involve the public in its recent nostalgia programs. It has also published a 70th anniversary book about Israel Radio, which was founded in 1936 as the Palestine Broadcasting Service. Ahead of Thursday's public radio conference, the Tel Aviv Journalists Association has issued a booklet that includes several articles about the significance of public radio, while the IBA has been running extensive promos on air.