Media Comment: The unreformable IBA

Dr. Amir Gilat was appointed chairman of the Israel Broadcasting Authority by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his government in July 2010.

IBA protests Israel Broadcasting Authority 370 (photo credit: Arieh O’Sullivan)
IBA protests Israel Broadcasting Authority 370
(photo credit: Arieh O’Sullivan)
Dr. Amir Gilat was appointed chairman of the Israel Broadcasting Authority by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his government in July 2010. He has had over three years to reform the IBA, and from the outset Gilat made it clear that his foremost challenge was to do just that.
Many hoped that the reform would transform the IBA, known for its bloated budget, its huge workforce with a minimal output, its inefficiency, the refusal of the unions to allow any streamlining and, finally for its deep-seated political and cultural biases, especially in its news programs, into a real leader of Israel’s media.
But after many years of haggling, Dr. Gilat had to show for his efforts an agreement between the IBA and its many unions which would cost the government over NIS 700 million and which would mainly serve to reduce the workforce by perhaps 500 people, or about 25 percent.
No wonder the unions were willing to sign on to Gilat’s offer: Those workers leaving the IBA would mainly be approaching retirement age and their pension conditions would be vastly improved under the agreement.
The deal did little to facilitate streamlining the IBA, and thus how the IBA would balance its budget in the future remained an open question.
But perhaps the most distressing aspect of this story is how normal Dr. Gilat’s performance over the past three years has been. He followed the footsteps of his predecessors in fighting with his director- general, Yoni Ben-Menachem, rather than working with him. As a result, under his leadership, the IBA is not able to take significant action in any direction.
Consider the Latma tragicomedy of errors. For two years, the IBA “negotiated” with Caroline Glick (senior contributing editor of The Jerusalem Post) to air The Tribal Update, the satirical news program she launched four years ago on the Internet through her Hebrew-language, satirical media criticism website Latma.
What distinguishes Latma from “regular” Israeli satire in that it is pro-Israel and unabashedly Zionist. The show regularly mocks leftist icons from the PLO to Peace Now while skewering the Israeli media for its radical left-wing biases. Latma’s flagship television-on-Internet program is the antithesis of Channel 2’s flagship satire program Eretz Nehederet, which is openly and unabashedly post-Zionist.
Mordechai Shaklar, the previous director-general of the IBA, was the first to push for Latma’s show to be broadcast on Channel 1. He argued that it would balance Channel 2’s program, and judging by its star status on the net, (many of its programs were seen by millions of people worldwide), Latma’s show would likely enjoy high ratings, something sorely needed by the IBA.
Dr. Gilat on many occasions expressed his support for the idea. However, contrary to Channel 2’s airing of Eretz Nehederet, Gilat fretted that it would be wrong to allow a patriotic show like Latma to go on air with no post-Zionist show to balance it. So he decided that the IBA would support two satirical programs.
Then, more than three years after Shaklar asked Latma to produce a pilot half-hour show, and more than two years after the pilot passed the test, the IBA decided that actually, it had no intention of airing Latma’s show.
The official reason was the financial straits the IBA was in.
It wasn’t a question of quality, as Latma’s show was approved by IBA committees four separate times. Latma was presented with a contract a year ago, and then the IBA broke off talks with no explanation.
Over the entire period, IBA personnel told Glick that she would be sent a broadcasting contract within days, but this never materialized.
Then, last week, Latma received a laconic, one-sentence letter informing them the IBA had decided not to air their show.
Why? The IBA, notorious for burning public money, was suddenly concerned that Latma’s budget – funded entirely by private donors – would not be sufficient to produce the program. Unlike the IBA, Latma is in the black and never spent a shekel it did not have, but the IBA’s legal department – the same department responsible for hundreds of millions of shekels of public money lost in litigation – was concerned that Latma was not in good financial health.
For those of us with short memories, we note that in June 2013, after years of negotiation and frustration, Glick was in fact running out of funds. Glick had told Channel 1 executives for more than a year that it was likely she would suspend the show and restart it after a contract was signed, for just this reason.
But nevertheless, the financial issue was all a pose.
When a groundbreaking Zionist initiative was poised to go mainstream, all the creative ingenuity that somehow never makes its way onto the television screen is brought to bear to torpedo it. The final decision was actually made by the content committee of the IBA, chaired by Gilat.
Latma was not invited to present its case.
This is not reform, but cultural repression. And this was not the only fiasco during Gilat’s reign.
Consider the programming content. Nothing has changed during these past three years of negotiations with Latma.
The post-Zionist biases remain as they always were. Moshe Negbi remains the IBA’s sole legal commentator. Arie Golan continues with his left-wing morning news program on the IBA’s Reshet Bet radio station.
Shlomo Nitzan retains his spot on Reshet Bet where he has been propagating his views for two decades. Keren Neubach has her progressive socialist radio program 8 a.m.
Gilat is directly responsible for formulating programming policy. Is this all that he managed to accomplish? Actually, no – there’s worse.
Under his auspices, the Hebrew language suffers daily. The IBA’s reporters do not know how to speak Hebrew correctly, the advertisers use English and the commentators consider it beneath them to use Hebrew words, preferring English slang. Did we mention post- Zionism? Our conclusion is that at the IBA, “reform” means finding better ways to waste public money. No wonder, then, that Communications Minister Gilad Erdan, who is responsible for the IBA, along with Finance Minister Yair Lapid, has decided to freeze the reform. Erdan intends to close the IBA and start it again from scratch, because he sees no other way to reform it in a meaningful way.
Gilat could well do to learn from our sage Hillel who, upon seeing a head floating by on a river exclaimed, “that because you killed, you were also killed, but your murderers will also come to justice.”
For someone who had the gall to string Latma along all these years, it is perhaps only fitting that his baby, the “reform” of the IBA, is also being put on hold.
We will only hope fervently that Erdan will not bow to pressure. Sadly, after all these years we have also become convinced that only major surgery will reform the IBA.The authors are, respectively, vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (