Why does Shas want the Communications portfolio?

Internet, 3G technology and cable TV are the last things that come to mind when one thinks of haredim. Nevertheless, Shas, a party that represents Sephardi haredi interests, wants the Communications portfolio. Why? Regulating TV broadcasts does not seem to be the reason. If any of Shas's constituents bothered to ask Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Shas's spiritual leader and the most important living halachic authority among Sephardi Jewry, what his opinion is about TV he would undoubtedly reiterate statements he has made in his books of halachic responsa: the box is an anathema that must be removed from the house the sooner the better. The problem of pornographic content offered by cellular phone operators has already been solved. In the next few days Orange will be the last cellphone company to sign an agreement with the Committee of Rabbis for Communications, a group of haredi rabbis who fought, with the help of former holder of the Communications portfolio, Ehud Olmert, to eliminate the abomination. Internet is not a particularly haredi arena either. Most rabbis oppose surfing unless it is essential to one's livelihood. Many haredim do not even have a PC in their home. If they do it is not something they brag about. So why does Shas want the Communications portfolio? "It was the only portfolio that was left over," said one Shas source jokingly. That might be the reason former Shas MK Rafael Pinhasi accepted the portfolio in Yitzhak Shamir's government between 1990 and 1992. But a United Torah Judaism source had another explanation. "Shas wants to legalize all those pirate radio stations." Kol Ha'emet, Radio 10, Arutz 2000 and Kol Haneshama are some of the illegal radio stations that serve the haredi Sephardi community. "But they do not understand that the last person who will be allowed to legalize them is a haredi communications minister," said the UTJ source. "The self-interest is too blatant to the public." Amnon Cohen, No. 3 on the Shas list and the praised former chairman of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee, said Shas had a specific agenda. Cohen, who wants to "clean up" Israeli TV, sees himself as a natural candidate for the position, although sources in Shas say Ariel Attias will probably be chosen. Similar to evangelist Christians in the US, Shas wants to promote "family values" and protect our children from sex and violence. "Kids are more violent than ever and I think it is because of the messages they get on TV," said Cohen. "When a commercial turns a woman into a sex object it encourages men to act disrespectfully." Cohen was quick to add that he was "no Khomeini." "Any regulatory changes will be made with the full cooperation of all who are affected," promised Cohen. Another Shas MK said, "Don't expect tremendous upheavals." Technically, the Communications Ministry was transformed into a Communications Authority under the auspices of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry. However, in reality whoever holds the portfolio will function as a minister. Sources within the Second Authority for TV and Radio, which regulates certain TV channels and dictates content, say that whoever receives the portfolio can indirectly influence content and commercials on Channel 2 and Channel 10 and on cable TV by changing regulatory directives and the organizational structure of the Communications Authority. "But any minister will have to strike the right balance between business interests and social or religious values," said a Second Authority spokesman. "Business wants to maximize ratings as cheaply as possible and does not really care about anything else. The sad fact is that sometimes the most crass, cultureless content and commercials are also the most lucrative," the spokesman said.