Dire financial straits spell bleak future for workers at IBA's Channel 1

Due to the Israeli Broadcasting Authority's increasingly dire financial state, long-time workers there are worried about the imminent demise of their careers in television. "The whole IBA is collapsing because of bad management," one source at the IBA told The Jerusalem Post. "The budget for next year is non-existent, and there is massive cutting back on programming except for the news." As a result, Channel 1 may cancel its annual production of the pre-Eurovision competition, which is scheduled for March 15. The production, whose estimated cost last year was NIS 1.5 million, remains one of Channel 1's few surviving independent productions. Cutting back on programming has also virtually eliminated overtime payments, upon which a large portion of the salary of Channel 1 employees depends. "People here are scared about the future," the same source added. "While older workers with tenure will probably reach an agreement for early retirement, the middle and younger generation are very worried. Other than Channel 1, all other TV channels outsource to private studios, and it will be very hard for us to find another job on the Israeli market." The probability of Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert standing at the head of a new government following the elections in March is another factor with which Channel 1 workers are preoccupied, the source said. Last October, the Social-Economic Cabinet, headed by Olmert, approved the recommendations of the Dinur Committee for a sweeping reform of the Broadcasting Authority. The committee's recommendations included outsourcing all Channel 1 productions other than the news and sports programs, which would continue to operate within the IBA - thus significantly reducing the number of workers employed there. "Everyone is concerned that Olmert will demand Channel 1 to downsize and outsource and eliminate in-house facilities, and people are afraid of him really cutting us to pieces a few months down the road," said the Channel 1 source. "Lots of people here are sitting around with nothing to do, feeling like it is going to be a very gloomy year." According to IBA spokeswoman Linda Bar, the budget cuts stemming from the IBA's complex set of administrative and financial problems have indeed resulted in an overall cut in Channel 1's broadcasting schedule. Bar said the fact that approval of the country's television tax for 2005 was delayed until last June was a major reason for Channel 1's budgetary deficit, as was the fact that the tax itself has decreased by 12 percent each year for the past three years. She also cited two additional developments that have further burdened the IBA's budget: the first is a Labor court ruling following which former freelance workers became staffers at the IBA, resulting in major additional expenses. The second development, which is the result of an agreement between IBA journalists, the Finance Ministry, and the National Labor court, is a 12% increase in journalists' salaries, which must also be paid retroactively for a period of several years. A decision about the broadcasting of the pre-Eurovision, Bar said, will be made following forthcoming discussions of Channel 1's budget.