Public broadcasting

Outdated equipment, an anachronistic business model and a bloated workforce are just a few of the ills afflicting the IBA.

Microphone crowd performance audience 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Microphone crowd performance audience 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Israel Broadcasting Authority, the nation’s public broadcasting body that operates Channel 1 television and Israel Radio, is struggling to stay relevant in a highly competitive and dynamic media environment.
Outdated equipment, an anachronistic business model and a bloated workforce are just a few of the ills afflicting the IBA.
Israeli taxpayers are rightly fed up with a situation in which their public broadcaster receives an ample budget of NIS 900 million a year – financed by TV and radio taxes – yet consistently produces content that receives disappointingly low viewership ratings.
There is a broad consensus that the present situation cannot continue. The only point of dissent is whether the IBA can still be saved by a massive overhaul, or whether the public broadcaster has passed the point of no return and must be closed down.
As Communications Minister Gilad Erdan, who is responsible for the IBA, noted recently on his Facebook page, “I am aware that the returns on investment in public TV are not satisfactory – and that is the understatement of the year.”
For several years, wide-ranging reforms have repeatedly been delayed. Politicians have been loath to give up their control over the IBA (both the chairman and the director- general of the IBA are picked by politicians); IBA workers, nearly all of whom are unionized, have opposed structural changes such as separating the news production operations and outsourcing production of the vast majority of content; and few ministers responsible for the IBA have been willing to devote the time and energy needed to complete the revamping.
At the beginning of the month, a watered down version of a reform first proposed in 2007 by TASC Consulting and Capital, an international financial advisory firm, was supposed to be implemented after being delayed repeatedly.
The reform plan, which includes firing 700 employees, generous benefits and pensions for those who leave and hefty wage increases for those who stay, does not include the structural changes recommended by TASC. Even if the proposed reform were to be implemented, the IBA would continue to employ in-house directors, screenwriters and photographers – a model that has been outdated for decades – instead of outsourcing the production of all content except news to Israel’s dynamic, creative and chronically underemployed entertainment industry.
Erdan, who has the backing of Finance Minister Yair Lapid, has decided once again to delay the reforms, in part in the wake of critical reports by the state comptroller and the attorney-general that focused on the IBA.
The timing is ripe for a radical rethinking of the mission of public broadcasting in the Jewish state of the 21st century. A unique opportunity has presented itself to Erdan and he should take advantage of it.
Prominent figures in Israeli media – such as Uri Shinar, former CEO and president of Keshet Broadcasting and Guy Rolnik, the founding editor of The Marker – have urged Erdan to seize the opportunity and create a dynamic, creative, intelligent public television station.
In Israel, big business interests are hopelessly intertwined with both TV and print journalism. There is a real need for hard-hitting news media that can serve the role of watchdog without fear or intimidation. A high-quality public broadcaster could also devote more resources to programming that educates, stimulates and promotes values central to the State of Israel.
A totally revamped IBA would also be able to tap into the tremendous reservoirs of talented directors, screenwriters, documentary film makers and photographers who have received international recognition.
And by providing a platform for less commercially viable content such as public affairs shows, television documentaries and educational programs, a new and improved IBA could raise the standards of commercial Israeli television, which relies too much on reality TV and game shows for its revenues and produces documentaries and original dramas only because the regulator forces it to.
Erdan now has the chance to raise the level and sophistication of public discourse, to provide an outlet for a wellspring of Israeli creativity and to restore public trust in the state broadcasting system. If he grabs this opportunity, the Israeli public will be forever grateful. If he does not, the IBA could end up in the garbage can of history.