Knesset Shuts Down Israel Broadcasting Authority, Setting the Stage for Reform

But with 1,500 layoffs, Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich laments 'the end of everything we know in labor relations.’

Nati Toker
Nati Tucker
Shelly Yacimovich at  campaign headquarters
Shelly Yacimovich at campaign headquartersCredit: Tomer Appelbaum
Nati Toker
Nati Tucker

The Knesset closed down the Israel Broadcasting Authority on Wednesday, paving the way for the authorities to fulfill their pledge to create a new and better agency less vulnerable to meddling by politicians. With the hefty job cuts, however, a key Labor Party MK harshly criticized the move.

MKs voted 45 to 11 with one abstention for the law setting up a new authority to run Channel 1, the Children’s Channel and the Arabic channel. About 1,500 IBA employees face dismissal, albeit with generous severance terms, and at least 180 will be hired by the new agency. The television license fee will be abolished in March.

“The law is a triumph for anyone who cherishes Israeli culture and society. The law is a triumph for all those who know that our strength lies not only in a strong army but in creativity, history, culture and Israeli heritage,” Communications Minister Gilad Erdan said, adding that “public broadcasting is going back to its natural place – the people of Israel.”

The law is based on the recommendations of a committee headed by media personality Ram Landes. An agreement was also signed Wednesday with the Histadrut labor federation.

“This time we’re really making a change,” said Finance Minister Yair Lapid. “This isn’t just another reform. We’re tearing out the roots and rebuilding because we need a completely new broadcasting authority that delivers the best content.”

Among left-wing MKs, Meretz’s Issawi Freij and Nitzan Horowitz supported the law, while Ilan Gilon (Meretz) and Dov Khenin (Hadash) opposed it. MK Eitan Cabel (Labor), who helped write the legislation and liaised between the Finance Ministry and the Histadrut, was an obvious supporter.

But key members of the Labor Party were among the opponents, including Nachman Shai, a former head of Army Radio, and Shelly Yacimovich, a former radio and television commentator, including for the IBA’s Reshet Bet radio station. Yacimovich said the new law was “bad, foolish and harmful,” adding that “it’s terribly easy to break and destroy everything.”

“I have difficulty seeing rebuilding after the destruction. There are a lot of imperfect things that need fixing, but to shut it down? A finance minister once went to prison, so did you shut the Finance Ministry down? How are defects a reason to eliminate something? It’s unacceptable to close down the workplace of 1,800 employees,” she told the Knesset.

“What would we say if Nochi Dankner did such a thing, or Yitzhak Tshuva, or if the overseas management of [tech firm] Comverse decided to fire all its workers and hire new ones?” Dankner, the former owner of Israel’s largest conglomerate, IDB, is currently on trial for securities fraud. Tshuva owns the Delek energy group.

“This is a watershed point. This is the end of everything we know in labor relations,” Yacimovich said. “We wouldn’t wish this sort of thing in the private sector, and the state does it?”

Yacimovich cited what she called pressure from both left-wing and right-wing politicians on the IBA, and pressure from wealthy advertisers who have clout. “I really can’t say which has more power,” she said. “Sometimes the power of money is much greater than the power of [the authorities].”

MK Karine Elharrar (Yesh Atid), a key player in pushing the law through, said public broadcasting “had lost its relevance to the general public.”

“The law is meant to improve, not destroy or eradicate, but to build something new. There have been a lot of reforms — I’ve counted 14. None succeeded, or they just lay on the shelves collecting dust. Not only did the situation stay as it was – it got worse,” said Elharrar, an MK in Finance Minister Lapid’s centrist party.

“We introduced all the safety measures necessary to make sure politicians do not become part of public broadcasting, because this isn’t their place,” Elharrar said, adding that the issue had been exhaustively discussed in committee.

“The minister in charge can’t appoint or fire the director, the finance minister can’t intervene in budget management, the director of the news division will be independent to the greatest degree, and the corporation’s chief executive and board members will not take part in broadcasts.”

Elharrar said that at least 25 percent of the IBA’s employees would be moving to the new authority. “The goal is to create something new with a new ethos, not to do more of the same,” she said.

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