Once again, public broadcasting, a bedrock of our democracy, is under threat from a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu with budget cuts and closure.
Amid the protests that have come out against judicial reforms, artists also came out recently in support of the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation (KAN). We should listen to the words of those musicians such as Shalom Hanoch, Ninet Taib, Ravid Plotnik and Hadag Nahash.
The new government has threatened major budget cuts at KAN, the broadcaster that came into being in 2017 to replace the previous and anachronistic Israel Broadcasting Authority. After having suffered through the long debate and trauma of the closure of the IBA, it appears the Likud and the ruling parties in government are now determined to do the same to KAN.
State of chaos
Rumors of this have been percolating since late last year. It is a shame that Israel continues in this state of chaos, which has become part and parcel of the kind of leadership we have seen in the current government and its previous incarnations.
Instead of creating stability and strengthening state institutions that do good like KAN – which creates high-quality productions – it prefers to govern through chaos, making the public have to run every week from one new controversy to the next.
One week it is the judicial reform, then it is the closing of KAN – and now a proposed bill to jail Women of the Wall. Just wait for what the government will create next week to keep the public running trying to juggle all the new challenges.
The global TV industry recognizes Israel as a breeding ground for quality television and KAN plays an important role in that. The public broadcaster produces world-class programming, as is evidenced by the adaptation and distribution worldwide of such locally originated series as Tehran, Valley of Tears, Dismissed and The Lesson (aka Zero Hour.)
President Isaac Herzog came out Wednesday in support of KAN and against the agenda of Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi to clip the broadcaster’s wings. At a recent staff meeting, KAN Director-General Golan Yochpaz said there was concern over proposed cuts. He said the threats come at a time when the broadcaster has “become a true symbol of Israeli quality and creativity.” Artists who support the broadcaster have been more critical, saying that this is part of the “regime change” that is designed to erode Israel’s democracy.
A key to democracy
KAN and its previous incarnations are part of the state and have existed since before Israel was founded. The idea of public broadcasting is a key to democracy, so that we are not just at the whim of the private market. Public broadcasting enables non-profitable ventures to take place that can foster artistic independence and not force everything to go to the abattoir of populism. There is also public support for the public broadcaster.
There is some good news. Likud lawmaker David Bitan and others appear to be against the proposal to close KAN, but that doesn’t mean this government will not move forward with budget cuts and other methods of cutting down what exists. This is part of the slow struggle to strangle content and weaken the broadcaster, to create a cycle in which smaller budgets lead to less success and then less success is used as a reason to say the broadcaster should be shuttered. We’ve seen this before with IBA.
Will the hundreds of artists and protesters be enough, along with solidarity from other media to prevent the targeting of KAN? We hope so.
Our democracy needs a diversity of programming. We endorse the president’s support for the broadcaster. We believe that having a multiplicity of media helps democracy and also gives the public options of where it wants to get its news, its entertainment and its content.
What we need is more programming and investment in media, not less. The tragedy of the threats to KAN is that we are already seeing tech firms and investors consider leaving Israel over this government’s controversial judicial reforms.
Our state is strengthened by public investment in the arts and media. That must go along with a robust private sector. With threats to cut KAN’s budget, and concerns about investors fleeing, we are seeing clouds gather on various fronts. It is important to struggle against both of these disturbing phenomena.