Media Comment: The (post-Zionist) Public Broadcasting Corporation

Public broadcasting that denies its Israeli roots undermines two millennia of Jewish aspirations for a vibrant Jewish culture in our homeland.

IBA logo 311 (photo credit: Courtesy of IBA)
IBA logo 311
(photo credit: Courtesy of IBA)
One of Communications Minister Gilad Erdan’s (Likud) pet projects is the dissolution of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, the abolishment of the TV tax and the creation of a Public Broadcasting Corporation, a new public entity which is to replace the IBA. Instead of the wasteful IBA and Educational TV, with their close to 2,000 employees, the new PBC will have at most 750 or so employees, and is to be run by competent management. Its NIS 700 million budget is to come from a variety of sources, mainly the car license tax and advertisements. The public broadcaster will not generate its own TV programs but is to outsource them. Israel’s post-Zionist film industry is already frothing at the mouth in anticipation of all the public money to be thrown at it.
The Knesset debate revolving around the proposed legislation is intense but lopsided.
Minister Erdan is steamrolling it through a special committee, which meets four times a week for hours without end, to make sure that all is done before the Knesset adjourns for its summer vacation. Erdan is demonstrating once again that Likudniks know how to use power for the sake of carrying out a post-Zionist agenda.
On the first day of the consideration of the specifics of the bill, one of us (EP) noted that the new entity is titled The Public Broadcasting Corporation and requested that one word be added and the name revised to The Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation. The minister did not agree and in the committee vote only four MKs supported the proposed change – Issawi Freij (Meretz), Nissim Ze’ev (Shas), Mickey Rosenthal (Labor) and Yoni Shetbon (Bayit Yehudi). Committee chairperson Karen Elharar (Yesh Atid) and three other coalition MKs voted against and so the amendment did not pass.
One wonders why. Almost all public broadcasters in the world are named after their country. The standard examples are the British Broadcasting Corporation, France Television, Germany’s ARD (Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland) and ZDF (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen). Also in the Far East, for example in Japan, the main public broadcaster is the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK). Even tiny countries are proud enough to use their names; in Iceland, the public broadcaster is The Icelandic National Broadcasting Service.
Why is Minister Erdan so insistent that our Public Broadcasting Corporation remain anonymous? Well, one might say, what’s in a name? After all, the broadcaster is operating in Israel and in Hebrew. However, even this argument, as we shall see, is not precise.
The bill originally submitted to the Knesset was a piece of unadulterated post-Zionism.
Any mention of Zionism, Jewish heritage, the Hebrew language or Diaspora Jewry, all of which are part of the ethos underlying the IBA and part of the original 1965 IBA legislation, were cast out. Only the pressure of Minister Uri Orbach of Bayit Yehudi, who conditioned his support for the new legislation as a government- backed law, forced Erdan to soften up a bit. With the help of Bayit Yehudi MKs Yoni Shetbon and Ayelet Shaked, the present legislation does state in paragraph 7b that the “Public Broadcasting Corporation’s broadcasts will be independent, will be aimed at all citizens of the State of Israel and will reflect the Jewish democratic State of Israel, its values and its Jewish heritage.”
Compare this one sentence with the existing IBA law, which states that the IBA will “reflect life in Israel, the struggle for independence, and Israel’s achievements; the IBA will foster good citizenship and equality; it will strengthen the connection with Judaism and the Jewish heritage and will deepen knowledge in these spheres.” There’s much more in that vein. For example, the IBA is to “Promote Hebrew and Israeli creativity; foster knowledge of the Hebrew language and promote its use, taking into consideration the decisions of the National Academy for the Hebrew Language.”
The present version of the proposed PBC legislation, also inserted only after heated discussion – and a personal request from Dr.
Tali Ben-Yehuda, director-general of the academy – is: “The PBC will ‘promote and care for the Hebrew language.’” This is only the beginning. The new chair of the public broadcaster cannot be an intellectual; he/she must be a good business person.
This is the new ethos. Good management, competitiveness and high ratings. Education is mentioned only in passing with respect to youth, and only because the new law liquidates the educational television service. The understanding that the public broadcaster is arguably the most influential educator in Israel has obviously not reached Minister Erdan.
Another one of the casualties of the proposed law is the concept that Israel’s public broadcaster should serve as a bridge to the Diaspora. The readers of this article in The Jerusalem Post, many of whom are avid followers of the IBA’s news in English, should be concerned. One may expect that this will be one of the first victims of the new public broadcaster.
The proponents of the bill stress on every occasion that the new law will prevent any political interference with the public broadcaster’s operations. All appointments to the board of the new broadcaster will be made by a panel of three. Its head, a supreme or district court judge emeritus, is appointed by the minister.
But the other two co-panelists are appointed by the judge. This does not imply the de-politicization of the public broadcaster but rather assures that no matter what the Israeli public thinks, the public broadcaster will be ruled by an elitist minority. The broadcaster will be public in name only, while overtly political in practice, its politics dominated by a controlling minority.
Minister Uri Orbach has often stated that real change in the Israeli media can come about only if more Zionist-oriented people enter the profession. If the public broadcaster materializes according to Minister Erdan’s vision, there will be no place in it for Zionists.
Even if more people do want to enter the profession – and there are many such people – they will hit a wall, with the law justifying lack of recognition of Zionist-oriented programming.
We do not understand Minister Erdan. In the past, he has made very clear statements about the post-Zionist bias of the Israeli media, so why is he now creating such an entity? We call upon all those with the power to do so to please stop this lunacy. A post-Zionist Public Broadcasting Corporation which denies its Israeli roots is not merely a waste of the taxpayers’ money, it undermines two millennia of Jewish aspirations to establish a vibrant Jewish culture in our homeland. This article was written prior to the sad news about the murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah. At this point in time we can only ask and pray that the Almighty will send his condolences to the bereaved families and that they will find consolation in Jerusalem.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (