Strong broadcaster

What is truly worrying, however, is the ease with which Netanyahu’s cronies, such as coalition chairman David Bitan, can launch a smear campaign against journalists.

IBA logo (photo credit: COURTESY OF IBA)
IBA logo
(photo credit: COURTESY OF IBA)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decisions surrounding the creation of a new and revamped public broadcasting body – the Israel Broadcasting Corporation – appear to be full of contradictions.
What is truly worrying, however, is the ease with which Netanyahu’s cronies, such as coalition chairman David Bitan, can launch a smear campaign against journalists for their purported political leanings. Meanwhile, many of the Likud’s constituency and others on the Right not only lack an appreciation of the need for a strong and independent media body, but are downright antagonistic toward journalism and those who practice the profession.
In May 2014, the Knesset, with the backing of the prime minister, approved legislation to close the Israel Broadcast Authority and to create instead a new broadcasting corporation. The law was advanced by then-communications minister Gilad Erdan (who is now public security minister) in cooperation with Netanyahu. The legislation passed in the Knesset and gave significant independence to the new corporation, exempting it from oversight rules that apply to most other public corporations and severely curtailing the ability of politicians to intervene in content and staff appointments.
In July, however, Netanyahu, who voted in favor of the new corporation, suddenly backtracked. He decided to extend the life of the IBA and delay the completion of the new broadcasting corporation. Sources close to the prime minister claimed that the corporation was not yet ready to launch, but critics claimed Netanyahu was having regrets about agreeing to the creation of a corporation that would be immune to political influence.
At the end of July, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev (Likud) reportedly asked at a tempestuous cabinet meeting what the point of the new corporation would be “if we don’t control it.”
In August, Haaretz reported on a meeting Netanyahu had with IBA workers during which he reportedly expressed regret over the creation of the new corporation and asked, “What if everyone in the corporation were people from Breaking the Silence?” In recent days, Bitan, working as Netanyahu’s righthand- man, claimed that a number of left-wing journalists had been hired by the IBC, transforming it into a partisan body that would, if given the chance, work against the government.
According to some reports, the decision to use the supposed left-wing leanings of journalists hired by the IBC as an excuse to oppose its creation was based on public opinion surveys that have found a high level of distrust for journalists among Likud supporters. The present political climate facilitates intimidating journalists by “outing” them as “left-wing.” Much like the red scare in the US in the 1950s – when it was enough to accuse a person of identifying with communisim – all one needs to do to disparage a journalist (or the head of an NGO or a politician, for that matter) is to attach to them the label “leftist.”
There is also the economic factor. Establishment of the IBC has cost hundreds of millions of shekels. Dismantling it now and rehabilitating the IBA would cost us taxpayers even more.
The creation of a vibrant, professional and independent broadcasting corporation is essential to the continued health of Israel’s democracy and cannot be delayed.
Democracy – and capitalism – rest on the assumption that citizens, voters, consumers and business owners have access to information. Without such information voters would be unable to make an educated decision on whom to vote for; business people would be unable to make decisions on how to run their firms.
If the free market is left to its own devices, the sort of independent journalism that uncovers the connections between politics and big business, that analyzes regulations and legislations and determines their impact on the individual citizen, that ranks the level of services provided by the government, will cease to exist.
That’s why it is so important that the State of Israel, for the sake of democracy, allocate taxpayers’ money to the creation of a professional, independent and free public broadcaster.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, one of the few politicians to refuse to back down to Netanyahu, should remain steadfast. True, Kahlon’s mandate is to fight housing prices and the cost of living, but salvaging the IBC is no less important.