Parliamentarians slam no-women policy at radio station

MK Uri Orbach: No one has the right to conduct such blatant discrimination; Kol Berama station institutes new guideline to interview women for positions.

Haredim 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredim 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The Knesset Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women held a stormy hearing on Monday on a policy of the independent haredi radio station Kol Berama that prevents women from working as radio broadcasters and from being interviewed on the station’s programs.
The session, held at the request of MK Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi), was attended by a number of MKs, including committee chairwoman MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), MK Yisrael Eichler (United Torah Judaism) and Orbach, as well as Kol Berama broadcaster Avi Mimran and Shai Ben-Maor, a representative of the station’s owners.
“The voice of our matriarch Rachel, after whom Kol Berama is named, would not be able to be heard on this station,” Orbach declared.
“No one has the right to conduct such blatant discrimination, [which] is seeping into public life and is quickly becoming the norm. It’s creeping into the buses, and official ceremonies; this is a new Judaism,” he said.
But Ben-Maor argued that the station’s audience did not want women on its airwaves and has the right to decide who they want to listen to.
“If I go to a synagogue, my wife and daughter can’t sit with me, and some people will say that this is discrimination,” Ben-Maor said.
Pointing out that he was “totally secular,” he continued, “But when I go to synagogue, I respect this, and if I disagree, then I won’t go. This station is for a specific segment of the population and this issue is different from that of the buses, because they serve the general public.”
Eichler stated that there is no halachic prohibition to listen to a woman but expressed his opposition to what he called “government interference” into the affairs of a private radio station.
“I completely reject the principle that the state can interfere with the freedom of the press in any way,” he said.
“State-funded broadcasters need to adhere to any policy the government determines but private radio stations should be treated like private newspapers. Just like I have no control over what gets written in Yediot Aharonot, so to the government shouldn’t have any control of the internal policies of a private radio station.”
Mimran added that, according to a survey conducted for the station, 55 percent of Kol Berama’s listeners would stop listening to the station if women were employed as broadcasters.
“Equality comes before ratings,” Hotovely argued however.
“There are rights in the State of Israel that are protected by legislation and these laws also apply to sectarian radio stations, whether they’re aimed at specific sectors or not,” she said.
“You’re describing reality as if, when the haredi public hears a woman on the radio, he’ll start listening to Army Radio instead, where he’ll also hear women, so then he’ll flee into the streets where he’ll discover that there are women walking about, and then he’ll rush home and discover that his mother is a woman.”
The lobbying arm of the Reform movement in Israel was also involved in the campaign against Kol Berama, and argued that the station’s policy infringes on women’s employment rights and the law of equal opportunities in the work place.
Despite the station’s opposition, Mimran stated during the hearing that Kol Berama has taken upon itself to institute an hour every week in which women will be able to be interviewed and will also consider whether or not to appoint a female broadcaster.
A legal adviser for the Second Authority for Television and Radio regulator, which was heavily criticized by Hotovely for having failed to deal with the issue until now, confirmed this arrangement and added that the authority would ensure that new guidelines, issued to Kol Berama in October, would be adhered to.