Israeli Lawmakers Slam ultra-Orthodox Radio Station for Keeping Women Off the Air

Kol Barama radio station tells Knesset's Committee on the Status of Women that keeping females voices off the airwaves was strictly a business decision.

Emilie Grunzweig
Emilie Grunzweig
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Emilie Grunzweig
Emilie Grunzweig

Allowing women to go on air has caused the Kol Barama radio station's ratings to plummet, the manager of the ultra-Orthodox station charged during a stormy meeting in the Knesset yesterday.

The Committee on the Status of Women was discussing cases in which women have been excluded from the public square due to Haredi (ultra-Orthodox ) pressure. During the debate, Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat and several Knesset members accused Kol Barama of refusing to let women on the air.

An ultra-Orthodox man walking past a vandalized poster of a woman in Jerusalem.Credit: AP

But station director Avi Mimran insisted this was strictly a business decision: "When we added women to the broadcasts, the station's ratings fell," he claimed.

Mimran was referring to the latest TGI survey, which put Kol Barama's market share for July-December 2011 at 4 percent. That is a decline of 10 percent from the corresponding period of 2010, when its share was 4.4 percent.

But the station's agreement with the Second Television and Radio Authority - under which women had to be allowed on air in certain time slots and women could not be excised from any broadcast of a live event - was reached only in late October, four months into the six-month rating period.

"You have to distinguish between the public square, the private sphere and the communal space in which this station exists," Mimran added, explaining Kol Barama is not a big, state-owned station like Israel Radio or Army Radio, but a local station that serves the Haredi community. "This is a station whose listeners want the situation like this."

Haredi MK Nissim Zeev (Shas ) offered corroboration, saying that he personally turns the radio off every time a woman speaker comes on. "I need to hear morality from some rabbi's wife?" he demanded. "The station has sunk to that?"

MK Nachman Shai (Kadima ) replied that ratings shouldn't be an issue: Women, he said, are also part of the public, including the Haredi public, and the Second Television and Radio Authority should not permit their exclusion.

Livnat said she also found it "incomprehensible" that the Second Television and Radio Authority and the Communications Ministry were tolerating the station's behavior.

"It was agreed that starting in February, there would be a daily program on which women would speak," she said. "February is ending, and they still haven't begun implementing the agreement. Gender equality is protected by law, so it's impossible to say, 'but there are people who think differently.'"

Haredi MK Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism) was kicked out after calling Reform Rabbi Gilad Kariv an "anti-Semite" who "hates Israel." The Haredi mayor of Beit Shemesh, Moshe Abutbul, and Shai Ben-Maor, who was representing the station's owners, were also kicked out over remarks they made.

Committee chairwoman Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) noted that the station wasn't given permanently to the current owners; it's just on temporary lease. So if the owners are unwilling to abide by certain norms, she said, perhaps it should be taken from them and leased to someone else.