Media Comment: Necessary media legislation

"One of the major flaws of the present legislation is that it threw out the previous clause in the law which laid down the principle that the IBA has to broadcast to the Jewish Diaspora."

IBA logo (photo credit: COURTESY OF IBA)
IBA logo
(photo credit: COURTESY OF IBA)
Minister Gilad Erdan, responsible for the Strategic Affairs Ministry, is now receiving NIS 100 million to lead Israel’s struggle against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Perhaps we should be thankful that after years of inaction, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu understands that the BDS movement poses a strategic threat to Israel and should be considered very seriously. But is Minister Erdan the right person to lead this struggle?
We recall that it was Minister Erdan who, in his capacity as communications minister in the previous Netanyahu government, steamrolled legislation which is leading to the closure of the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and creating the new Israel Broadcasting Corporation (IBC). Erdan’s legislation was post-Zionist. It needed prodding and political pressure to improve it a bit. It needed the conviction of Minister Ofir Akunis to rename it the Israel Broadcasting Corporation; Erdan was against the usage of the word “Israel” in the title.
But this is only a minor quibble. One of the major flaws of the present legislation is that it threw out the previous clause in the law which laid down the principle that the IBA has to broadcast to the Jewish Diaspora.
This paragraph was not left out by mistake.
We pointed out repeatedly, during the legislative process’ committee deliberations, how wrong this was. We noted that Israel is under an anti-Israel/Zionist onslaught abroad and the front-line soldiers who have to combat it are our Jewish sisters and brothers. We pleaded with Erdan to reinstate the paragraph, but to no avail.
The results were quick to come, as the readers of this paper know. The present management of the IBA in its last months of operation understood that the new law implies that there is no need to continue various broadcasts in foreign languages, and the English news was one of the first to be cut. Thankfully, the English-speaking public raised an outcry and the news was reinstated, but is this the minister with whom we are entrusting a struggle which necessarily involves Diaspora Jewry? Is his staff also post-Zionist? The Knesset has returned from its summer recess and we have already approached several Knesset members, calling upon them to take the initiative and reinstall into the Israel Broadcasting Corporation law the clause which directs the IBC to keep contact with the Diaspora and to prepare the necessary programming for this purpose. It was three years ago that the IBA on Hanukka had a series called Communities’ Lighting, produced by Moshe Alafi, which portrayed a different community in the Diaspora on each Hanukka night: its successes, hardships and goals.
It was an illuminating series for the average Israeli, who for once could get to know what it really means to keep up Jewish life in the Diaspora. But it was also a source of pride for these communities to know that here in Israel we care, and want to know more about them. Why was this discontinued? This is but one example of many of what could and should be done – but will not be under the present legislation. Does Minister Erdan hope that the IBC will produce TV series depicting the struggles of students on campuses worldwide against the BDS movement and its supporters? Will he perhaps admit his error and lead the change in legislation? Necessary media legislation is not limited to this issue alone. There is also the resurrection of the Hebrew language. At the time, all the experts were doubtful and predicted failure.
Yet the Hebrew language thrived, for a century.
Today, it is faltering. Teachers no longer know the grammatical rules and English is replacing it everywhere. The feeble attempts of the Hebrew Language Academy to provide new terminology for concepts such as “Internet,” “application,” “SMS,” “spin” and many more are leading nowhere. Probably most responsible are our media stars, who seem to prefer English terms in their reports.
The central purveyor of the Hebrew language is the media. It is especially the duty of the national public broadcaster to safeguard national values, Hebrew being one of the more important ones. Yet Minister Erdan did not want this and the present legislation does nothing to assure that in fact the IBC will be Israeli in the sense that it will promote the Hebrew language.
Anyone listening to the advertisements on Kol Yisrael will note to what extent English has dominated our airwaves. Language on the airwaves is controlled nowadays by the advertising agencies, whose main interest is to promote their wares, not to safeguard our national heritage. The ideal situation would be to abolish advertisements altogether from the public broadcasters, but at the least, those MKs who profess to be the guardians of Zionism should take this to heart and reintroduce the legislation that existed until last year, namely, that it is the duty of the IBS to strengthen the ties of the population with the Hebrew language and abide by the principles laid down by the Hebrew Language Academy.
It is not a secret that the best school for media studies in Israel is the army radio station (Galatz). Any aspiring journalist has an enormous head start on the competition if she or he served for three years at Galatz. Yet what is being done to assure that the soldiers chosen are committed to the Jewish Zionist state? Not much.
For example, a combat soldier is not allowed to serve at Galatz, since it is not a combat unit. The result is that those who are willing to volunteer for combat duty, who consider it a special honor to be able to serve the Jewish state in the army to the best of their capacity, cannot serve at Galatz. Isn’t it about time that this situation be remedied? Don’t we all understand that the quality of our future media stars and their commitment to Zionism and the Jewish state are crucial for the future generations? If the answer is yes, then our MKs should initiate the necessary legislation. Indeed, Galatz operates under a legal lacuna, since there is no law that delineates what the station should or should not be doing. Moreover, there is no public oversight of Galatz – a strange situation for a public broadcasting station. Which MK will assume the legislative challenge? When trying to convince various legislators, the invariable answer we are faced with is that “yes, this is important, but there are much more burning issues, after all aren’t we suffering from continuous terrorist attacks?” They’ll mention the need to consider the threat from Iran, etc.
Yes, there will always be burning issues, but it was once said that the wise man does not enter pitfalls from which the smart person must later extricate her or himself. Israel’s battle with BDS is, among other things, the result of decades of neglect regarding the need to explain to the world what the Jewish state is about.
Our legislators, can, if only they had the wisdom, take some small steps today whose fruits will be appreciated by the generations to come.
The authors are vice chairman and chairman respectively of Israel’s Media Watch (