Analysis: IBA struggling to change

Months after signing agreement with Finance Ministry, IBA has yet to implement reform.

IBA logo311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
IBA logo311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Just like in the story of the boy who cried wolf, the tale of the Israel Broadcasting Authority has been told so often that few people believe it any more.
The plot concerns the IBA and its perennially increasing deficit. The authority has a huge surplus of employees, and although most of them are paid very low salaries, the payroll is one of the primary reasons for the ongoing deficit.
There is consensus that the IBA needs a managerial overhaul, or what it calls “reform,” a word that has been bandied around at the IBA for over 30 years. A series of government ministers who were tasked with introducing and implementing reforms began their work with enthusiasm, but each one failed miserably in their efforts for widespread changes.
Last year, however, it finally seemed that reforms were becoming a reality. The main problem had always been getting rid of the approximately 700 surplus staff members, who must be given severance pay and whose pensions must be favorably adjusted in order to dissuade them from protesting the decision.
The IBA cannot make such arrangements without the agreement and support of the Finance Ministry, which has been bailing it out for years.
A solution to the financing problem was found in which the IBA would sell most of its properties in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and relocate to Lod, where real estate is infinitely cheaper.
The Finance Ministry had agreed to make funds available to the IBA during the interim period between the sale of the properties and the completion of construction in Lod, but it also required the authority to begin the dismissals process.
About a year ago, all the relevant documents were signed by the IBA’s management, and Finance Ministry and union representatives as well as representatives of the Prime Minister’s Office. The agreement also stipulated that the IBA reduce its outsourcing and have more in-house productions.
Many months have passed, and other than the acquisition of some new state-of-the-art equipment, little has changed.
On Wednesday, IBA chairman Amir Gilat sent a letter to the staff in which he referred to the agreement signed on August 5, 2012, with the Finance Ministry, the Prime Minister’s Office, and the Israel Lands Administration. The IBA, wrote Gilat, did everything in its power to speed things along, including the reintroduction of the levy imposed on owners of television sets.
A bill to this effect passed its first second and third readings in the Knesset and was approved by the Knesset Finance Committee a day prior to the recess of the previous Knesset, he noted.
Several dates for the start of the reform process have been announced, but they came and went without incident.
“We preferred to give common sense on the part of all sides an extra chance instead of instantly announcing the demise of the IBA,” wrote Gilat.
The budget for 2013, which was approved by the institutions of the IBA and forwarded to the Finance Ministry, is entirely dependent on the implementation of the reforms. However, as this has yet to occur, Gilat instructed management to formulate an alternate budget in the event that the reforms will again be suspended. The executive committee has in principle approved the alternate budget, which has been cut back from the original by NIS 140 million.
A cutback of such severity will have dire consequences for IBA employees. Perks will be virtually nonexistent. The quality of programs will be affected, which will be a bitter blow for public broadcasting, which does not enjoy a high rating in comparison to commercial broadcasts.
According to the forecasts of the IBA’s finance division, if things continue this way, the authority will not be able to meet its payment for more than another two months.
According to Gilat, if the original budget is not put into effect by May 1, the alternate budget will automatically replace it.
“Whoever has eyes in his head understands the significance of such measures with regard to the continued existence of the IBA,” wrote Gilat, emphasizing that without the immediate implementation of the reforms that will enable the dismissal of 700 employees, the restructuring of the organization and a technological upgrade to the tune of NIS 330 million, the days of the IBA and public broadcasting are numbered.
Similar warnings have been issued by Gilat’s predecessors, yet there was always a last minute bailout by the Finance Ministry.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s late father Yosef “Tommy” Lapid was a director-general of the IBA and the finance minister used to host a talk show on the IBA’s Channel 1.
Whether Lapid will be swayed by sentiment or decide that public broadcasting is one of his less important priorities remains anyone’s guess.