Knesset panel tackles static over Army Radio ads

Army Radio is expected to begin competing for advertising minutes with its civilian radio counterparts if a temporary order approved for second and third readings in the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee on Monday passes. From its inception, Army Radio was not permitted to broadcast commercials. In May 2005, a temporary order was approved allowing the station to broadcast commercials for payment because of economic problems at the station. The temporary order was legislated following a petition filed with the High Court of Justice in 2002 by several local radio stations against the commander of the station at the time, Avi Bnayahu, recently appointed IDF spokesman. The petition accused Army Radio of invading the commercial market via ads for non-profit organizations, like Mifal Hapayis. The court sought to regulate the matter, asking whether it was right that an army radio station funded by the state be able to compete with local and national radio stations, which derive their incomes from the advertising market. Legislation was then proposed to the Knesset to authorize a trial period of two years to examine how the market would react to allowing Army Radio to broadcast paid commercials. This trial period expired a month ago, while Army Radio continues to broadcast the ads. On Monday, an attempt was made to extend the trial period for another three years, with the committee approving the move and passing it on for second and third readings during the week. Despite the fact that the majority of the committee members opposed the idea of the paid commercials on Army Radio, they approved it anyway. Committee Chairman Moshe Kahlon (Likud) said that "the justice minister has to examine carefully and immediately the non-enforcement of the law by government offices. Army Radio broadcasts commercials and advertisements that were not authorized by law, and in doing so breaks the law. Unfortunately, other government offices often break the law as well. The main problem is that even if we don't approve the temporary order for further readings, it will continue the illegal broadcasting." Uri Yisraeli of the Finance Ministry's budgets department said the ministry opposed the extension of the order. "Mixing advertisements and the IDF is wrong," he said. Nachman Shai, former Army Radio commander and the Chief Executive Officer of the United Jewish Communities, told The Jerusalem Post Monday that he was also against the commercialization of the station. "Army Radio should fight for more resources within the security budget and shouldn't be sent to the advertising market. This market is bad for the station and eventually it will damage the station's quality and its unique independent style," said Shai.