Israel Communications Minister Seeks to Overhaul Public Broadcasting

Minister Gilad Erdan wants to see the television license fee reduced substantially and possibly collected according to a different model.

Frustrated with the pace of reform at the Israel Broadcasting Authority, Communications Minister Gilad Erdan on Monay named a panel to make recommendations on restructuring the country's public television.

While the panel – to be chaired by Ram Landes, who played a role in setting up both the Channel Two and Channel 10 news operations – was given no specific instructions, sources said Erdan wanted to committee to look into disbanding the IBA altogether and replacing it with a small, efficiently organization.

"I believe in the importance of public broadcasting," Erdan said. "But the IBA in its current format doesn't fulfill its goal. It has lost any relevancy or influence and the losers are the Israeli public, which has paid NIS 6 billion over the past seven years, without getting anything equivalent in value in return."

The last major effort to reform the IBA was six years ago, when then communications Minister Ehud Olmert appointed a panel to look into reform. The IBA has withstood some two decades of reform efforts by the government, which has struggled to overcome opposition from labor unions.

Erdan may be encouraged by Moshe Kahlon, who was a communications minster in the last government and won plaudits for overhauling the cell phone industry, leading to more competition and lower rates.

He called the IBA "sick and in need of dramatic change," but also stressed that he had no intention of ending government-owned and operated television, which is not geared toward ratings, can offer a wide range of programing for the country's diverse population and isn't controlled by a small group of media moguls.

"I believe entirely in the importance of public broadcasting for every democratic country, how much more so for Israel," he said. The committee has three months to complete its work.

The minister said he did not want to see the television license fee rescinded, but did want to see it reduced significantly. The alternative to a TV tax was to fund public broadcasting from the general state budget, which would put its funding at risk to general spending cutbacks.

"The idea is to reduce costs, to reduce the tax and perhaps to find another model for collecting it," he said. "That will mean more social justice."

Earlier this week, after reaching an out-of-court settlement in a class action suit, the IBA agreed to no longer collect the fee from people who own a television set but do not use it to receive broadcasts. If the screen is not connected to a converter from the HOT cable company, Yes satellite broadcaster or the Idan Plus digital converter, the owner will be exempt from paying the fee. The IBA will also refund fees paid since 2011.

Erdan termed the previous plan to inject NIS 770 million into the IBA in exchange for changes a "mistake called reform" that failed to generate quality programming. His new reform drive, he said, had the backing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minster Yair Lapid.

He said the committee that had led the previous reform drive failed because it left the responsibility for making changes with the IBA itself.

Besides Landes, who is the principal in the production company Koda Communications, the committee's other members include Karni Ziv, who was head of dramatic and comedy programming at the Channel franchisee Keshet, Yair Aloni, a former IBA director-general, Zvika Goldberg, a former editor on the Channel One's Mabat news show and journalist Jackie Levy.

"There were committee that dealt with the future of the IBA and their work led to no changes," said Lanes. I believe this time we will be able to bring about a historic change. If we want a public broadcaster that will be a central player in the Israeli public conversation then we have no choice."

But Ahia Ginossar, chairman of the Journalists Union in Jerusalem, said the Landes panel would never see its proposal put into effect. "Commercial interest and misguided views are the pillars on which the decision to cancel the existing reforms rest," he said. "They will enable business interests that want to shut down the IBA to lead the change."

The Israel Broadcasting Authority headquarters in Jerusalem. A new corporation was meant to replace it.
Tomer Appelbaum / BauBau
Moti Kimche