The Israel Broadcasting Authority building in Jerusalem.
The Israel Broadcasting Authority building in Jerusalem. Photo by Yael Engelhart
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The dismantling of the Israel Broadcasting Authority began this week, some 40 years after it was established by law. Authority for running the IBA has been transferred to the state’s official receiver, David Hahn, who has appointed Yona Wiesenthal, formerly the vice president of content for the Yes satellite broadcaster, to be editor in chief during the liquidation period.

Talk of reform at the IBA has been going on for more than 20 years, but a professional committee headed by producer Ram Landes determined that there was no choice but to take the exceptional and aggressive step of shutting down the organization, dismissing its 1,500 employees and establishing a new, more efficient entity. This new broadcaster is meant to be freer from politics, since government ministers will no longer have direct influence on the appointments to its management.

In an era in which there are so many media outlets and huge quantities of information flow through new platforms like the social networks, public broadcasting’s raison d’être is to respond to market failures and produce content that the commercial networks won’t touch. A cornerstone of future public broadcasting, as determined by the Landes Committee, is, among other things, to encourage Israeli productions, relevance, pluralism and innovation. But along with dramas and documentaries, as important as they are, the real challenge of the new broadcasting authority will be in the realm of news and investigative reporting.

Israel’s media market is saturated with newspapers, television news companies and websites. But most of the popular media organizations are directly influenced by the business interests of their owners, which prevents them from engaging in investigative journalism and undermines freedom of the press. This is especially true in commercial television, which is controlled by wealthy Israeli businessmen like Muzi Wertheim, the Tshuva family, Idan Ofer and Yossi Maiman.

Research shows that despite the high penetration of the Internet and other new media, the rate of exposure to television content is still very high and TV has the strongest effect on people’s perception of reality. So the real test of the new public broadcaster will be news and current affairs broadcasting, which must be independent and free of any influence by tycoons or politicians. The new broadcast entity will have to invest substantial budgetary resources in investigative and documentary programming in an effort to create an alternative public agenda that is not reflected in the commercial media outlets. Public broadcasting’s purpose is to fulfill this role.