Time to take Army out of Radio

What does endless current-event news and talk shows have to do with defending the homeland?

A SOLDIER from Army Radio at the station in 2013. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A SOLDIER from Army Radio at the station in 2013.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The supreme role of the Israel Defense Forces is to do what its name says: defend the State of Israel.
Considering our rather inhospitable neighborhood, that is a big and challenging enough job as it is. The IDF’s role is to protect and defend the nation. Its primary role is not to educate troubled youth, perform conversions or supply the country with 24/7 radio programming.
Now, if educating troubled youth and performing conversions helps soldiers better carry out their primary soldiering tasks, then an argument can be made to continue with those programs in the name of building a better and more cohesive army.
But radio programming? Should the army in 2020 be in the public broadcasting business, having two radio stations – Army Radio (Galei Tzahal) and the music-centered Galgalatz – under its wings? What does endless current-event news and talk shows have to do with defending the homeland?
Is it seemly in a democratic society to have an army-controlled radio station? And since some of the bosses at the station are civilians, is it fitting to have them not under direct IDF command?
Furthermore, should the army be essentially running an elite hands-on journalism school, with soldiers fortunate enough to land a job there during their service often going on to lucrative media jobs afterward?
Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi doesn’t think so, and in late June recommended to Defense Minister Benny Gantz that Army Radio be taken out of the army. His predecessor, Gadi Eisenkot, made a similar recommendation to then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman, who rejected it.
Interestingly, Kochavi’s arguments are not budgetary, even though the issue has reportedly come up when discussing the IDF’s new multi-year budget. With an eager and cheap pool of manpower, the radio station’s budget is estimated at only some NIS 50 million a year, compared to the nearly NIS 850 million annual budget for the KAN public broadcaster.
No, this is not an issue about money, though the IDF could certainly find something else to do with a savings of more than NIS 50 million a year.
Rather, Kochavi has reportedly said there is simply no “value” in the army running the station, and that he spends way too much time dealing with ricochets from its programming. This is about the army – the army of all the people – not needing to wade into divisive political commentary.
It is not the IDF’s place to give Yaakov Bardugo on the Right a daily platform from which to rip into MKs, judges and ministers with whom he does not agree, while making the “etrog protection” that the media wrapped around Ariel Sharon before disengagement from Gaza look like an eggshell compared to the defense he provides Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Nor does the army have to give a daily platform to Rino Tzror, whose voice drips with cynicism and contempt when interviewing ministers from the government, settlement figures or those on the Right. Nor, as it happened during Operation Protective Edge, should an IDF radio station be interviewing Hamas operatives even as IDF soldiers were fighting Hamas terrorists inside Gaza.
Both Bardugo and Tzror are entitled to their opinions, and might be welcomed on any of the other radio stations or social media platforms that now exist in abundance. But their musings do not have to come under the IDF’s auspices.
Army Radio, established in 1950, played an important role in forging Israeli culture in the first three decades of the new state. It led the way in innovating programming over the years, with programs such as the popular “Kola shel Ima” (“A Mother’s Voice”) on Friday mornings, where parents send Shabbat greetings to their children in the army, and vice versa, and the highly informative “University on the Air.”
But, as evidenced by the decline of the kibbutz movement, merely because an institution has played an important and even crucial role in the early days of the state, and has numerous achievements listed under its name, does not mean it needs to – or should – live forever.
It is time to take the army out of the radio.

Tags radio media