IBA building in Jerusalem - Tomer Appelbaum / BauBau
The IBA building in Jerusalem. If public broadcasting is closed, we will be left with a diet of reality shows. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum / BauBau
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Channel 33 will become a 24-hour news and culture channel and Channel 1 will show programming not influenced by news events, according to a major structural change to public broadcasting announced by the Israel Broadcasting Authority plenum yesterday. Test broadcasts of the new format would begin by the end of the year, IBA sources said.

Channel 33 currently broadcasts Arabic language programs and the English-language "IBA News," while much of Channel 1's programming has been news and current-events related.

Yesterday's decision echoes previous statements by IBA chairman Dr. Amir Gilat that he was planning substantial changes to Channel 33.

Channel 33 was launched in 1994 and was originally earmarked to present Israel's side of the news to viewers in Arab states and new immigrants. Over the years, it has suffered numerous ups and downs, and was even slated to be shut down in 2007. Today, it broadcasts original Arabic-language programming by both cable and satellite, and garners very low ratings (around 0.2 percent ).

According to the IBA statement, the decision to turn Channel 33 into an all-news station will free up Channel 1 from the obligation to respond to breaking news. While the IBA's flagship news report, "Mabat," will continue to be aired on Channel 1, the core of its news and news-feature programming will be moved to Channel 33. To this will be added programs from Israel Radio's Reshet Bet, which will be filmed and broadcast, as well as news reports in Arabic and English.

The channels will also be renamed, with Channel 1 to be called "Israel 1" and Channel 33, "Israel 2." Many observers, however, have questioned whether such changes are feasible, certainly in the time frame given. For years, Channel 1, chronically short of funds, has been unable to mount a schedule of programming that earns ratings. It is unclear how the IBA will be able to produce enough new content for two channels.

Another problem concerns the IBA's ability to rearrange its personnel to implement the change. IBA workers are organized in 11 different unions, and any change in work arrangements would have to get their cooperation.

"We're aware of the plan," Jerusalem Journalists Association chairman Danny Zaken told Haaretz. "No changes to work arrangements will be made without discussing them and getting our approval."