MKs come to defense of ousted TV host Keren Neubach

Did Channel 1 drop her from show because of politics or looks?

TV television off air static_311 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
TV television off air static_311
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Former journalists who are now members of Knesset representing political parties from the far Left to the far Right, on Wednesday banded together in defense of former colleague Keren Neubach, who until recently anchored the Mabat Sheni (“Second Look”) program on Channel 1.
Neubach was replaced on the grounds that she is not telegenic, but among her past and present colleagues, there is consensus that the real reason was political. Her replacement, Noa Barak, has anchored the program for several weeks now.
Labor Party chief MK Shelly Yacimovich was a radio and television personality for a much longer period than she’s been a politician. In the latter capacity, she is inter alia a member of the Knesset Education Committee that on Wednesday discussed Neubach’s ouster from Mabat Sheni.
Yacimovich, who was employed by the Israel Broadcasting Authority during Binyamin Netanyahu’s previous term (1996-99) as prime minister, said she had a feeling of déjà vu. She had been the anchor for It’s all Talk on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet until Netanyahu appointed the Uri Porat as IBA director-general.
After that, Yacimovich’s world turned topsy-turvy. It wasn’t just her world that turned upside down but that of all editors and department heads as talk of major changes wafted through the corridors.
Nothing will help Neubach at this stage, said Yacimovich.
“She’s been marked.”
Yacimovich said Neubach’s outspokenness on social issues and her criticism of economic policy angered the prime minister just as he had been angered by Channel 10’s Raviv Drucker, and Ma’ariv’s Ben Caspit who used to co-anchor Channel 1’s Friday night news program with Ayala Hasson.
Neubach is not alone, said Yacimovich who still has many connections within the IBA. There is an atmosphere of threat and fear in the corridors, she said – “And we all know that.” This aura of fear she added, derives from the Prime Minister’s Office.
Yacimovich said she was not prepared to allow this air of fear to continue. Ethical journalists should not have to live under the threat of dismissal.
Israel Beiteinu’s MK Orly Levy-Abecassis who had initiated the discussion, and who also worked in television before entering into politics, said that Neubach had been working for the IBA for 18 years, and the sudden decision that she was not telegenic was simply a form of sexism. No one would dare say the same thing about a male presenter, said Levy, listing some of the male stars of the small screen whose looks leave a lot to be desired.
When news of Neubach’s ouster was first published in the print media, it was accompanied by speculation that her days at the IBA were numbered.
Neubach also hosts the controversial morning show Agenda in which she virulently attacks those aspects government policy that hurt the weaker sectors of society. She is also critical of what she says is the government’s pandering to tycoons.
Yacimovich surmised that the main reason that Neubach was still at her post in the radio was because there would be a huge media outcry if she was dismissed entirely.
The IBA had not bothered to issue an official statement on the matter, she said.
This prompted IBA directorgeneral Yoni Ben-Menachem, who is himself the subject of controversy, to insist that there was no discrimination against women in the IBA and that all the hullaballoo surrounding Neubach was simply spin.
Itai Landsberg, head of Channel 1’s documentary department and editor of Mabat Sheni, said that when he was ousted as presenter in 2007, just after winning the prestigious Sokolow Prize for journalism, no one had come to his defense in the same way that the media was rallying around Neubach.
Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz is also a former journalist. He said that if there had not been a hue and cry over Neubach’s removal from the TV program, chances are high that she would have also been removed from Agenda.
He suggested that the IBA issue a statement admitting that the real reason for replacing her had been because of her opinions and not because she was not telegenic. It was essential that public broadcasting reflect a broad spectrum of views, Horowitz said.
“I would rather be in a country in which the media overthrows the government than one in which the government overthrows the media,” declared MK Uri Orbach of Habayit Hayehudi. Orbach is also a former journalist.
Journalist Nili Ben-Gigi, the CEO of the Association of the Public’s Right to Know, pronounced the Keren Neubach issue to be both political and sexist.
Knesset Education Committee chairman Alex Miller of Israel Beiteinu, while cautioning MKs against interference in professional considerations, said that in making its decisions the IBA should relate only to a person’s professional abilities and not to his or her looks.