Media comment: Respect for the Law? Not Kan

Under good management the IBC should have no difficulty in providing the necessary, not the irresponsible, budget needed for covering the Eurovision expense.

"Kan," the new public broadcaster's logo. (photo credit: FACEBOOK)
"Kan," the new public broadcaster's logo.
(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
The fifth paragraph of the second chapter of the Israel Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) law reads as follows: “The place of residence of the Board and Management of the IBC is in Jerusalem; the main part of its broadcasts will be from Jerusalem, not later than June 1, 2018.” It is today mid- August 2018, and Kan still operates from Modi’in. There isn’t even a target date for its return to Israel’s capital.
The Jerusalem paragraph was part of the give-and-take during the formulation of the law and was included due to the insistence of the Bayit Yehudi party’s members of Knesset in the committee that legislated the law. The heads of the IBC, chair Gil Omer and CEO Eldad Koblenz, are well aware of this but could not care less. It is much more convenient to get to Modi’in than to travel all the way to Jerusalem from the coast or what is referred to as “North Tel Aviv, Israel Media Land.” Convenience and personal gain are seemingly all that matters. The law? Not at the so-called Kan (“here” in Hebrew) public broadcaster.
Paragraph 2 of the 13th chapter of the law states that “the budget of the IBC will come from its income as stipulated in this law.” This was essential. For many years, the former Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA), which preceded the Kan conglomerate, had to go to the Knesset finance committee every year to obtain approval for its budget. This meant that politicians could have some say on the operating plans and polices of the public broadcaster. According to our democracy gurus, such as the Israel Democracy Institute, it was wrong to have a mix between politics and media.
But theory, the law and practice are different things. Any psychologist knows that a criminal for one offense, say a thief, has the potential of committing other offenses. The same is true for white-collar violations. Koblenz and Omer seem to believe that Israeli law is at best a recommendation. So why respect it?
It was on July 5 that we warned in this column that one should expect that production of the Eurovision Song Contest in Israel next year would cost around NIS 150 million. We also noted the machinations of Messrs. Koblenz and Omer, whose hollow threats frightened the government into retracting the separation of the IBC into two entities, a news corporation and an entertainment company. This week their game continued. They publicly threatened the government that the Eurovision would not take place in Israel unless the government would take upon itself the expense. Immediately, this meant that the first installment of a guarantee for the sum of NIS 50m. to the European Broadcasting Union would be covered by the government. Omer’s letter noted that if the government would not cough up the funds by August 14, the game would be over and they would not produce the Eurovision. It most probably would not take place in Israel as a result. We are delighted to note that in this case, the government did not budge and the IBC had to secure a bank guarantee on its own.
Omer’s letter was not only misleading, it also exemplified a lack of respect for the law. Omer knows that the IBC’s budget cannot come from the state. It must be covered by its own income. Even if the government wanted to provide the IBC with an extra budget, this would need legislation and Knesset agreement, a process that cannot be implemented within a day, especially when the Knesset is on vacation.
But beyond these niceties, let us remember that at the time of the formation of the IBC, communications minister Gilad Erdan and finance minister Yair Lapid claimed that the new public broadcaster would be characterized by financial responsibility and prudence. The heads of the PBS were chosen based upon their supposed experience in managing large organizations to ensure careful fiscal management. Indeed, this was the main message of the new IBC. Erdan threw to the wind practically any other responsibility and it was only due to political pressure of other political parties such as Bayit Yehudi and others from within the Likud that the law was somewhat modified to pay lip service to the conglomerate’s responsibility as an Israeli and Jewish broadcaster.
Now we see that even this financial cornerstone is a very shaky one. Under good management the IBC should have no difficulty in providing the necessary, not the irresponsible, budget needed for covering the Eurovision expense. The mainstay of the IBC’s income is the car-radio tax, which is NIS 170 per car. The number of vehicles added to Israel’s road each year is more than 5%. Given that the number of vehicles in 2017 on Israel’s roads was over 3.3 million, this means that in 2018 the IBC’s budget will automatically increase by close to NIS 30m. Considering that the Eurovision will take place in 2019, this implies that the IBC will have an extra NIS 90m.
compared to today to cover the expense. In addition, its advertising income should increase due to the event. In other words, without exertion the IBC should be able to dedicate a budget of NIS 100m. to the event. Why then is the government needed? Why the noise and the pressure?
Yair Stern, a former director of the old IBA’s television unit, was responsible for the production of the Eurovision in Israel in 1999. His response to the present “crisis,” as he published this past Monday on Facebook, was “we also at the IBA produced a Eurovision. It cost at the time USD 7 million. We did not request an agora from the government. I brought half of the funding from Europe, the other from advertisement and government ministries such as the Tourism Ministry who had an interest in paying for ads. And yes, a bit from the IBA’s budget. No one was a cry-baby and we even overcame the threats of the religious in Jerusalem.”
Ya’akov Bardugo, a political commentator on Army Radio, has commented a few times in the past days that the IBC’s demands are irresponsible. But apart from him, Israel’s media have not called Omer and Koblenz out or challenged their maneuverings. No one has undertaken a public opinion poll on the question: Are you willing to pay NIS 20 per person in your family to assure that the Eurovision Song Contest will take place in Israel?
What Omer and Koblenz want is to add a tax of NIS 100 for the average family in Israel to cover their extravaganza.
We doubt that the majority of the public would want this and urge the politicians not to give in. It is high time that the IBC learns that the law must be respected even at Kan.
The writers are members of Israel’s Media Watch (