Media comment: The new IBA?

IBA has been running self-advertising campaign stating that “We have programs for you at the IBA." Is there truth in this advertising?

IBA 58 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
IBA 58
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Israel Broadcasting Authority has been running a self-advertising campaign stating that “We have programs for you at the IBA. Listen to Kol Yisrael, watch TV Channel 1.
The public broadcasting is yours and is for you.” Is there truth in this advertising? The IBA has undergone significant changes during the past two years. Dr. Amir Gilat has been chairman since July 18, 2010. The new plenum of the IBA was installed over a year ago, on March 13, 2011. Miki Miro is acting head of Kol Yisrael since July 2011 and permanent head since February 6, 2012. Yoni Ben-Menachem has been the executive director and chief editor of the IBA since September 18, 2011. Both secured their positions only after legal battles initiated by various journalists’ unions and others to prevent their appointment.
Additional milestones achieved during this period include a new IBA law, ratified by the Knesset on March 21 this year, that redefines the ethos of the IBA. It mandates that the IBA must strengthen and enhance the Zionist identity of the state and, for example, reflect the struggle for independence.
It should reflect all parts of Israeli society, strengthen ties with Judaism, Jewish heritage and values and enhance the public’s knowledge of the Hebrew language in accordance with the guidance of the Israeli Academy for the Hebrew Language.
Our parliament has defined a Zionist-oriented IBA law, which is in accord with democratic principles of equality and pluralism, but does the IBA abide by it? Is the public broadcasting really “yours”? At times, it would seem that the IBA is more “of the journalists, by the journalists and for the journalists.” Nowadays, they have complete freedom to express their opinion on anything. The IBA, it seems, furthers more a freedom of the press than a freedom of speech.
Air time is limited and, if most of the philosophizing, admonishing, political and cultural opinion is provided by employees of the IBA, does the IBA truly reflect all parts of Israeli society? Miro, realizing this problem, tried to limit the expression of personal opinions by some of the IBA’s stars. In fact, he abolished the personal column features, relegated to journalists only on the Yoman Kol Yisrael noon program on Friday.
But his efforts were met by stiff opposition. He was severely criticized for attempting to stop people such as Arieh Golan and Keren Neubach giving their personal opinions on air. As a compromise, he agreed that they are allowed to ask questions but not to make statements, but before long things reverted to the previous practice.
Golan continues informing us of his personal opinion on his 7 a.m. radio program. For example, on Jerusalem Day, Golan said: “Here is a sentence written by the Swedish author, Nobel Prize laureate Selma Lagerlaf after visiting the city: ‘Here, envy lingers at night, here the dreamer is suspicious of the miracle maker, here the believer wars against the atheist, here there is no mercy, here they hate everyone in honor of the lord,’” and added, “well, ok, this was written a very long time ago, in the year 1900.”
Golan could not bring himself to rejoice or at least leave his listeners with a good feeling on this historic day. His respect for the law which demands that the IBA reflect Israel’s struggle for existence seems to be somewhat limited.
Another painful topic is the Hebrew language. English reigns, and not only in the advertisements. Even respected journalists such as Yaakov Achimeir use English words such as “primaries” and “promo.” No wonder that some of the other IBA journalists routinely use English terminology, especially when dealing with sports. Terms such as “debate” or “wishful thinking” are but some examples of the daily abuse of Hebrew. Yet the IBA has done nothing in the past years to uphold the law.
Not all is dark. TV programming, especially of documentaries, has changed, leaning more toward Zionism. Perhaps the best example is the documentary “Ben Zion” on the life of Professor Benzion Netanyahu, father of Yoni Netanyahu, who fell in action in the Entebbe rescue, and father of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Dr. Iddo Netanyahu.
The film, which was presented for the first time this past Monday, the 30th day after Prof. Netanyahu’s death, at the Begin Center, explores the life of one of the great Zionists who helped establish the state in the past century.
Radio programming is also changing. The IBA TV prime-time news has been shifted to 7:52 p.m., bringing with it also changes in the evening radio programs.
The 7 p.m. Reshet Bet program on foreign affairs has been rescheduled and instead we have various public service programs that deal with social values issues, such as health. Yet these changes are at best incremental as they do not create a new paradigm of pluralism. Minority groups remain under-represented both in content and as journalists.
Moshe Negbi remains the sole legal commentator of the IBA. Programs seem to “belong” to certain persons for years, even though they are not permanent employees of the IBA. These include Judy Nir-Moses-Shalom’s (wife of Minister Silvan Shalom) program Fridays at 11 a.m.; former MK Geula Cohen’s and author Eli Amir’s program on Thursdays at 7 p.m.; the Friday afternoon program of Yaron Enosh, that of Shlomo Nitzan for the past 20 years or so, the Arab-oriented program of former Labor minister Ra’anan Cohen, and more.
Creating change is not simple, especially when it means moving people who have been in their positions for years. But openings exist. For example, Yaron Dekel left the IBA to become the head of the army radio station. As a result there is an opening for a new anchor for Kol Yisrael’s Hakol Dibburim program, which airs weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon.
One might hope that the IBA would try to take someone who does not belong to the post-Zionist liberal camp, which receives ample airtime through the likes of Mr. Golan, Ms. Neubach, Ms.
Davidov, Mr. Enosh, Mr. Negbi and others.
For example, they might take Ms. Emily Amrousi, former spokesperson of the Yesha council and current Israel Hayom columnist, to provide some balance. Or Yedidya Meir of Yediot Aharonot, who also has had ample experience as an anchor at the Kol Chai and Galatz radio stations.
All in all, the IBA’s record during the past few years is mixed.
There have been some positive changes and certainly the present leadership of the IBA is much more open and receptive to the public and its desires. Yet the proof of media pudding is in the viewing and listening. At present, there is still much to be desired.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch.