Media comment: Do we need public broadcasting?

Israel surely does not need a post-Zionist public broadcaster. It needs a Zionist, public-service oriented broadcaster, one that understands and caters to the needs of the public and the state.

IBA logo311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
IBA logo311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In the spirit of Passover- come-early, Communications Minister Gilad Erdan is cleaning up the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA).
Erdan declared on March 6 that he would implement the recommendations of the Landes Committee which he appointed. A central part of these recommendations is that the IBA as well as Educational Television be closed and replaced with a new structure, much reduced, and with a smaller budget.
Such drastic measures were recommended in the wake of huge costs – NIS 1 billion per annum – to the tax payer as well as much dissatisfaction with the quality of programming and the professional level of the employees.
Erdan’s suggested policy has come under fire, most notably from within the IBA. The employees have understandably attacked the minister, fearing that their comfortable and inefficient work habits will have to change. They have not yet absorbed the fact that the public is no longer willing to foot the bill for their wasteful work habits.
They have consistently opposed steps aimed at streamlining and modernizing the IBA in this technological age.
But the true question is: does Israel need an IBA at all? Could there be better models to follow? We have consistently supported the demand for a public broadcasting authority. Our reasoning has been that Israel, which is a melting pot for people coming from vastly different backgrounds, needs a public-interest broadcaster. The broadcasts in English, Russian, Amharic, French, Yiddish and more are highly appreciated by many. Whenever there is a threat to the English IBA news broadcasts, Israel’s Media Watch is probably the first to receive requests from the public to help prevent the closure.
Israel is also a unique country, embattled, facing many who do not recognize its right to exist.
Its Arab-language broadcasts are an important tool in defending Israel and putting those who hate us on the defensive. Israel radio programming in Persian is also part of Israel’s line of defense against the Iranian threat.
But there are other aspects of the public broadcaster which need to be discussed. Moshe Negbi, a tenured commentator of the IBA (the only one, we should note), wrote a very informative defense of the IBA in the April 8 issue of the Israel Democracy Institute’s Seventh Eye media review Internet publication.
His article is subtitled “The Holyland Affair serves as a reminder that a dedicated and honest journalist in public broadcasting has an easier time facing corruption as compared to his counterpart in the private media.”
As we reported in this column, the Holyland affair was not brought to light by IBA journalists, but rather by Yoav Yitzchak, an independent journalist.
Negbi’s thesis is of a more general nature. He claims that although IBA journalists can sometimes find themselves facing pressure as well, they have the means to fight against it since “we are dealing with a public body, whose employees are unionized; its bosses cannot arbitrarily fire a journalist. ...The Supreme Court more than once nixed the directives of a CEO or board of directors when they tried to censor criticism of the government. I myself successfully went to the courts against a decision of a radio director who wanted to stop broadcasting my program.”
It is precisely this spirit which has convinced many in Israel that it is high time to close down the Authority, without reopening it. Negbi has been presenting for over 30 years a program called “Din Udvarim” (Law and Issues) which affords him a unique platform, paid for by Israel’s citizens, to promulgate his personal views. Only at IMW’s prodding was an editor appointed to oversee Negbi’s fiefdom. Monopolies are not tolerated in the commercial world, but they are an IBA staple. Negbi is not alone. For the past six years, Keren Neubach has used her morning radio program “Seder Yom” (The Day’s Agenda) to proselytize for her socialist worldview.
Judy Nir Moses Shalom, Minister Silvan Shalom’s wife, has been presenting a Friday radio program, “This Week According to Judy,” for 15 years. Shlomo Nitzan has had a Friday literary corner for over 20 years. Geula Cohen and Eli Amir have been the co-hosts of “From Left and Right” every Thursday for over a dozen years. The defense affairs correspondent and commentator Carmela Menashe, who is proud of her hijacking of the public airwaves, who admitted she “helped” Israel evacuate Lebanon, is immovable.
The situation is not much different on the IBA’s TV programs.
The commentators don’t change. For example, every Friday evening, the left-of-center Ari Shavit, a Ha’aretz journalist, is the sole panelist and there is no one who balances his views.
Oded Shachar has been the moderator of the Politika weekly program for too many years. At the same time, the IBA displayed callous disregard for new and also female faces when, in 1998, Geula Even was dismissed to permit the return of veteran and elderly broadcaster Haim Yavin.
In the commercial world, a personality could last so long only through public support and interest. In the IBA it is not the public interest that matters but rather the self-interest of the employees of the IBA and their perception of their mandate.
A public broadcasting authority, paid for by the state’s citizens, but which considers itself beyond reproach, an authority whose most influential journalists believe that they can with impunity disobey the public’s representatives, should not be allowed to exist.
The fact that Negbi, who prides himself as a defender of democracy, does not understand that in the name of democracy he should have made an effort to assure that his voice would be balanced by other voices is another indication of the depths reached by the IBA as we know it today.
For too many years, the IBA’s employees have been operating under the motto “ask not what you can do for the people, but what the people can be made to do for you.”
One of the reasons Israel’s Media Watch was established almost 20 years ago was to try and rectify this attitude and situation.
Our work has contributed significantly to the public awareness of the lack of professionalism at the IBA and the outcry against the various authorities’ ways.
We believed that the IBA is a Zionist entity and has an incredibly important job in contributing to the Zionist ethos of this country. We believed that one should not “get rid of the baby with the bathwater.” Our optimism was based on the Zionist charter of the IBA. The present law, delineating the IBA’s tasks, reads, in part: “to reinforce the Zionist identity of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state... reflect the struggle for Jewish revival...
foster good citizenship and values of equality; strengthen the connection with Judaism and the Jewish heritage and values and deepen knowledge in these areas; foster the knowledge of the Hebrew language,” and more.
However, all of these goals, astoundingly, have been omitted in the IBA law recommended by the Landes committee.
Israel surely does not need a post-Zionist public broadcaster.
It needs a Zionist, public-service oriented broadcaster, one that understands and caters to the needs of the public and the state.
Anything else is a waste of money and should be closed down, permanently.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (