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IDF RESERVISTS watch television in a Kiryat Gat community center as they wait for orders..(Photo by: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Public broadcasting imperative
There is a real need for a truly objective, hard-hitting TV and radio news that can serve the role of watchdog without fear or intimidation.
After years of delay, it seemed the creation of a new public broadcasting corporation modeled along the lines of the BBC that would replace the Israel Broadcasting Authority would finally happen.

Journalists and editors were recruited, organizational systems were set up, and plans were made for the new corporation to be ready for operation by October 1.

But just as it seemed that Israel’s news media – which is heavily influenced by big business interests – would receive a much-needed boost, Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister who also serves as communications minister, reached an agreement with Avi Nissenkorn, the head of the Histadrut labor federation, and Shlomo Filber, the director-general of the Communications Ministry, to postpone the launch of the new corporation until 2018.

Though the decision received some attention, the wider public largely received the news of the delay with indifference.

For many, particularly those who see themselves as proponents of capitalism and free competition, the importance of a state-funded public broadcaster was superfluous.

Why create a media body lacking a viable business model that needs the constant injection of taxpayer money to keep it afloat? Perhaps this is also the thinking of the prime minister.

It is, therefore, important to explain why the creation of a vibrant, professional and independent news media is essential to the continued health of Israel’s democracy and cannot be delayed.

Indeed, public broadcasting’s importance has grown in the wake of the revolutionary changes that have taken place in the past few decades thanks to the Internet.

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 educated decisions on whom to vote for, and business people would be unable to make decisions on how to run their firms.

No single person can invest the requisite time, energy and resources to educate themselves on the issues facing politicians; to analyze information; to distinguish between what is important and what isn’t. That is the role of journalists.

Until the advent of the Internet, journalism – particularly print journalism, but also TV and radio – was supported by advertisements and classified ads.

But over the past two decades, news has become a public good that is available to all citizens free of charge.

Why buy a newspaper if you can get the news for free on the Internet? TV and radio news outlets were forced to receive lower fees from advertisers for air time, as they faced competition from online outlets.

As Guy Rolnik, founder of TheMarker, noted in his weekly column, 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 taxpayer money to the creation of a professional, independent and free public broadcaster.

In Israel, as in other countries, big business interests are hopelessly intertwined with both TV and print journalism.

There is a real need for a truly objective, hard-hitting TV and radio news that can serve the role of watchdog without fear or intimidation.

A high-quality public broadcaster could also devote more resources to programming that educates, stimulates and promotes values central to the State of Israel.

A totally revamped IBA would also be able to tap into the tremendous reservoir of talented directors, screenwriters, documentary filmmakers and photographers who have received international recognition.

By providing a platform for less commercially viable content, such as public affairs shows, television documentaries and educational programs, a new and improved IBA could raise the standards of commercial Israeli television, which relies too much on reality TV and game shows for its revenues and produces documentaries and original dramas only because it is forced to do so by the regulator.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett have expressed their opposition to delaying the creation of the new public broadcasting corporation. Doing so, they say, would hurt Israel’s democracy. They are right.
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