Cabinet Approves Delayed Launch of Public Broadcaster, at Cost of $36.6 Million

Netanyahu makes clear the delay is intended is to buy time as he attempts to kill off the new corporation.

Finance Minister and Kulanu party head Moshe Kahlon, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, August 2016.
Finance Minister and Kulanu party head Moshe Kahlon, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, August 2016. Emil Salman

The cabinet approved an amendment to the public broadcasting law on Sunday mandating that Kan – the newly formed public broadcasting corporation – cannot go on the air before April 30, even though Kan says it is ready to launch next month.

The cost of the government-mandated delay is expected to run to about 140 million shekels ($36.6 million), treasury officials estimate. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been seeking to delay, if not kill off, the new corporation and keep alive the Israel Broadcasting Authority it is due to replace.

At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu – who also serves as communications minster – made clear that he still preferred to bury Kan but would settle for a delay for now. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has been leading the fight to preserve Kan inside the government.

“The entire goal of the amendment is to buy time,” Netanyahu said during the short discussion on the matter on Sunday. “It’s no secret that I don’t want the corporation to launch, while the finance minster does. We will find a solution, This amendment buys us time, nothing more than that. “

Kan is supposed to take over operation of the IBA’s television and radio assets, with the promise of proving better quality programming at a lower cost. But the prime minster is reportedly loath to give up political control of government news and broadcasting, which he now enjoys under IBA’s structure.

By law Kan could have gone on the air as early as January. The government has been under pressure from the High Court of Justice to explain the delay, in response to a suit filed by MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) and the journalist union, among others.

The extra 140 million shekels of spending is due to the fact that Kan and IBA will be operating in parallel for four months longer than was needed or planned.

The amended law will go to the Knesset for approval on Monday. Normally, it would be debated by the Knesset Economics Committee, but since Cabel chairs that panel, Knesset sources said the coalition would ensure it goes instead to a special committee. The High Court is also due to hear arguments on Monday against the delay.