JPost Editorial: The English imperative

24/7 coverage produced locally could articulate a unique voice not heard elsewhere.

IBA EMPLOYEES protest outside the Knesset yesterday. The sign reads, ‘Democracy=Public Broadcasting’ (photo credit: IBA)
IBA EMPLOYEES protest outside the Knesset yesterday. The sign reads, ‘Democracy=Public Broadcasting’
(photo credit: IBA)
A little-known fact in the ongoing drama surrounding the future of public broadcasting is that no matter what happens, the demise of English-language television news is almost certain.
Eldad Koblenz, director-general of the new Public Broadcast Corporation, known in Hebrew as Kan, is not interested in continuing IBA News in English, which has been broadcasting for 25 years. Yona Wiesenthal, the temporary director-general who proceeded Koblenz, was of the same opinion. The only English-language programming that Kan will offer – if Kan is indeed launched at the end of April, which is not at all certain – will be a single hour of English-language radio a day.
But it is difficult to escape the feeling that the demise of English-language TV news was less about a conscious decision and more a result of general indifference and lack of appreciation for its potential.
It is legitimate to question the logic of devoting taxpayers’ money to the production of English-language news for external consumption. After all, shouldn’t state funds be used to serve the nation’s citizens? And wouldn’t a state-funded media outlet lose its impact on world opinion precisely because it is state-funded? Admittedly, if Kan turns out to be a body that is controlled by the political echelon and loses its editorial autonomy, it would be an ineffective media source.
But if Kan is created with full press freedom and produces original content locally in a fully independent framework, it could make an important contribution to the war against inaccurate and dishonest coverage of Israel.
Israel is not covered by the foreign media in a fair and honest way. Foreign media outlets regularly present a distorted perspective, not just in print and online, but also on TV and video. The best way to combat this situation is to provide balanced and fair coverage. The Jerusalem Post strives to do this every day in the print and online media.
In fact, we would argue that the production of high-quality news in English is just as pressing as in Hebrew.
Today with Channel 2 and Channel 10 each running its own Hebrew-language news operations and with other outlets such as the Knesset Channel and Ynet providing news coverage of their own on cable TV or on the Internet, a state-run Hebrew-language news station doesn’t bring a lot of new ideas to the table.
In contrast, maintaining a robust, well-funded, high quality, around-the-clock English-language news channel is precisely what is needed, particularly in times of crisis, when Israel is forced to use military force to protect itself.
English news has tremendous potential that was not fully realized during the 25 years IBA News has been on the air. If more resources had been invested, IBA News could have provided more in-depth coverage of a wide range of subjects, from hi-tech and culture to politics and religion.
24/7 coverage produced locally could articulate a unique voice not heard elsewhere.
Instead, foreign coverage of Israel is dominated by news outlets with agendas that tend to view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a distorted lens. By closing down IBA English News the government is abandoning the international news media arena to actors such as RT (formerly Russia Today) and Al Jazeera.
Production of high-quality English-language news produced locally could even be profitable. Content could be sold to cable TV providers in the US and other English-speaking nations. Instead of being a drag on the state coffers, English news might bring in revenue.
It is not too late to reverse course. Instead of closing down English news for good, this government should revamp it altogether and launch a new and improved version with better coverage.
In the present media climate, English-language TV news has the potential to provide an invaluable service – news coverage that gives viewers the broader context, the background information and the details that are so often missing or distorted in foreign news outlets.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows a thing or two about the importance of making the case for Israel articulately and in English. If he were to give it some thought, Netanyahu would agree that English news should not be closed down. It should be built up.