IBA’s ‘Radio REKA’ marks 20th anniversary

Radio REKA, Israel Radio’s foreign language station, was established so Israeli immigrants could hear news and broadcasts in their native languages.

Ethiopian olim (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Ethiopian olim
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
When Radio REKA, Israel Radio’s foreign language station, a Hebrew acronym for Immigrant Absorption Network and the Hebrew word for background, was established 20 years ago, it was met with mixed reactions.
Many new immigrants who found it difficult to grasp the essentials of Hebrew were thrilled to be able to hear news and other broadcasts in their native languages. Others complained about the time allocations for each language, or the fact that certain languages were omitted.
Some Hebrew language broadcasters were unhappy that a broadcast frequency was given to foreign language transmissions, when there were so many subjects that did not have a platform in regular Hebrew broadcasts.
Others said that immigrants from around the globe would continue to come to Israel and they needed to have the foreign language broadcasts at their disposal until they mastered Hebrew – which some of them have still not.
In view of the fact that Israel Radio’s shortwave foreign language service was being eased out at the time, some predicted a short shelf life for the radio frequency.
But REKA is still here, and on Thursday will celebrate its 20th anniversary, broadcasting neither from Tel Aviv nor Jerusalem, but from a special studio to be set up in the Rami Naim Auditorium in Ashdod, where it will broadcast from noon to 6 p.m. in Russian, Amharic, English, French, Mugrabian and Georgian.
Between 9 and 11 p.m., there will be an entertainment program, with immigrant entertainers and greetings delivered by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver, in the presence of Minister for Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein and Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, who are all immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
Greetings will also be delivered by the leader of the opposition, Tzipi Livni, who, though a Sabra, in the second year of her political career was appointed minister for immigrant absorption.
Aryeh Shaked, the head of Israel Radio, and Yehiel Lasri, the mayor of Ashdod, will also be at the event.
Foreign language broadcasts have been heard on Israel Radio since its inception in 1936 as The Palestine Broadcasting Service, at which time it broadcast in Hebrew, English and Arabic. The late Ruth Connell- Robertson, a long time staff member of The Jerusalem Post, was the first English language broadcaster on PBS.
In 1948, following the establishment of the state, Israel Radio broadcast in English and French over Kol Zion LaGola (The Voice of Zion to the Diaspora). The Broadcasting Authority Law, enacted in 1965, obligated broadcasts to be provided to Diaspora Jewry in additional languages, and also provided for the inclusion of the interests of Israel’s multicultural society in radio broadcasts.
Today, Radio REKA (www.intkolisrael.com) broadcasts in 14 languages. In addition to the abovementioned, the other languages are Tigre, Spanish, Ladino, Romanian, Yiddish, Hungarian, Bukhori and Farsi.
Acknowledging the influence of the media in general in Israel, REKA CEO Shmuel Ben-Zvi asserts that REKA has an even greater influence because it is the most important source of information to those immigrants who don’t understand Hebrew and have no other access to local news. REKA is the bridge between immigrants and Sabras, he said, as well as between residents of Israel and Jewish communities abroad.
And ratings are extremely high. If the IBA, in general, did only half as well as it does with its Russian broadcasts, commercial broadcasting outlets would be out of business. Russian broadcasts have a rating of 75 percent and Amharic and Tigre, which are both Ethiopian languages, have a combined rating of 90%.
REKA symbolizes the essence of public broadcasting, Shaked said. Only a strong public broadcasting network can supply high quality foreign language broadcasts in the languages that radio listeners best understand. This is an area in which the commercial market