What's 'public' about their broadcasting?

Channel 1 - tell the truth about the economy.

haim yavin 88 (photo credit: )
haim yavin 88
(photo credit: )
At long last our politicians have decided to address the perpetual crisis afflicting Channel 1 television. The station, long mismanaged, has a budget deficit approaching NIS 100 million. Proposed reforms include some "restructuring" and a cut in the 1,900 workers, many superfluous, whose salaries consume much of the channel's NIS 800,000,000 budget, while fomenting Byzantine political struggles among its various components. To defend themselves against such cuts, Channel 1 personalities, during a recent primetime Friday night news program, presented a dramatized skit featuring David Witztum, Ayala Hasson and Geula Even. Dressed in battle fatigues, they valiantly repelled assaults by a formidable enemy, the commercial channels, who were determined "to destroy public broadcasting." In contrast with commercial channels that have only profit in mind, Channel 1 would have us believe it represents the public interest: the taxpayers, who generously fund it, and the not so modest salaries of its stars. Reality, however, is somewhat different. True, public broadcasting, say in America, while liberal-left like most university derived enterprises, tries at least to be pluralistic and fair-minded because it is funded mostly by contributions. Our "public channel," funded by a compulsive tax, does not need to be pluralistic or even- handed, nor does it provide services not available elsewhere. The public has nothing to say about the way it is managed or what contents it offers. Like other public institutions that lack well-defined ownership, Channel 1 has consequently been taken over by bureaucrats and by undemocratic workers' unions, who, in cahoots with the politicians who provide them with their profligate budgets, follow their own political agenda. They constantly struggle for power, resources, jobs, influence and control of our public discourse, promoting mediocrity. They force out independent-minded creative talent. Their power struggles, based on featherbedding, cause waste and dysfunction. This has caused Channel 1 to disintegrate from within. Outside competition only aggravated this process by applying added pressure on an organization that is already disorganized and losing its credibility and its audience (ratings), its ostensible raison d'etre. CHANNEL 1 has become the mouthpiece of an ideological cabal that prevents a plurality of views. Take, for example, its coverage of economics, a system that has great impact on our lives. You would expect a public station to present a full, multi-dimensional picture. Instead it mostly promotes the views of commentators hostile to market economics and favoring government intervention. It has featured - an astounding 73 times - Prof. Danny Gutwein (a historian, self-described socialist and enemy of privatization) and Momi Dahan, Arie Arnon and Shlomo Svirski, all economists who essentially share Gutwein's attitudes. They were never once challenged or asked any difficult questions. Their leftist opinions obviously pleased the Channel 1 journalists. Compare the wide exposure given to these academics to the near-zero times Israel's leading economists have been asked to comment on economic matters - top, internationally recognized economists like Prof. David Levhari, or the late professors Marshall Sarnat and Haim Barkai. Clearly, those who support a market economy and less government involvement, even if top in their field, have no chance of airing their views on Channel 1. Their position is obviously anathema to the leftist clique that has taken over public broadcasting and exploits it to promote its regressive agenda, inflicting great damage on Israel by undermining support for badly needed reforms and by promoting wasteful policies that cost billions while harming the very poor they were supposed to help. CHANNEL 1's economic desk has focused for years now on the shrill repetition of mantras about how the poor are being exploited and the rich pampered by a capitalist, "Thatcherite," cruel economy ostensibly created in Israel by the reforms designed to liberalize the Israeli economy and reduce excessive government interference that strangles growth. Its reporters know better. They are not so ignorant of economics not to realize that the economic system prevalent in Israel is anything but capitalist: namely, a competitive, open-market economy. They know full well that it is rife with anti-competitive monopolies controlled by oligarchs, bureaucrats and unions. They have come to dominate our economy because the great concentration of economic power created by Israel's 50 years of socialism and statism facilitated the transfer of such concentrated assets into their hands via a fake process of "privatization." STILL, THEY keep repeating their incendiary populist nonsense, rejecting from public broadcasting anyone who does not support their pro-government-intervention propaganda. When politically weak reformers were struggling against our politically powerful monopolies, especially the banks, public TV never gave them a voice. It never once devoted a program to expose the exploitation of consumers, especially the poorer ones, by monopolies, depriving them of about a third of their measly income. They actually helped undermine policies meant to break monopolies and promote growth, the chief way to help the poor. The same un-pluralistic approach that governs TV's presentation of economics is maintained in its treatment of politics and culture. Public TV is monolithic. But that was not mentioned in that Friday night skit defending our putative "public broadcasting." The writer is director of The Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress. www.icsep.org.il