The elusiveness of reforms

Although on the agenda, lack of quorum keeps IBA plenum from voting on long-awaited restructuring.

IBA 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
IBA 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
After months – or, more accurately, years – of negotiations, with major changes in the identities of negotiators on all sides, the Israel Broadcasting Authority plenum failed to vote on major and long-awaited reforms Monday at a meeting of the IBA plenum.
The reforms were on the agenda, but they were barely discussed because there was no quorum, perhaps due to last minute pressures prior to the Rosh Hashana holiday.
Last July, representatives of the IBA management and the Jerusalem Journalists Association issued a joint statement to the effect that they had completed an initial draft agreement on a new wage structure and employment conditions. The drawn-out and painfully reached agreement had the blessing of both the Treasury and the Histadrut, and there was general optimism at the time that the final draft would be forthcoming within a few days – maybe a week or two or three – but not longer.
At the Jerusalem Journalists Association, there was a sense of euphoria that the long journey was finally over, and that more attention could now be given to the print media, which had been sitting on the sidelines for years simply because the overwhelming majority of members were IBA employees.
But the optimism that the final document would be signed before Rosh Hashana was, of course, premature.
When the IBA’s new chairman, Amir Gilat, took office in the second half of July, he announced that implementation of the reforms would be his top priority. But he, too, was under the impression that things were moving faster than they actually were.
One might well ask what will come first – peace with the Palestinians or the IBA reforms. The chances are about equal.
Although some of the reforms can already be implemented, the overall agreement cannot go into effect until the final draft is signed and approved by the Knesset, in accordance with the Broadcasting Authority Law. The Knesset also has to approve the increase in the levy that everyone who owns a broadcast receiver has to pay; the additional revenue will be used to finance the cost of the reforms.
There have been protests in the past about maintaining the levy. Many people who never tune in to Israel Radio or Channel 1 argue that since they have to pay for satellite and cable broadcasts, they should not have to pay the levy as well.
Considering how he’s cracked down on charges by cellular phone companies, it’s quite possible that Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon, though not responsible for implementing the Broadcasting Authority Law, may try to intercede on behalf of the public and have the levy repealed, so that instead of having to pay a higher fee, the public would pay nothing.
Only after the Reform Bill gains Knesset approval will the process of downsizing the IBA staff begin, with some 600 people gradually being let go. That part of the agreement was settled well over a year ago with the kind of severance pay calculations that would sweeten the bitter pill of becoming jobless. However, employees designated for early retirement have in the interim been living in limbo knowing that the axe will fall, but not knowing when. The way things are going, they may well last the distance until they reach the legal retirement age.