Army Radio Gets Okay to Keep Sponsored Broadcasts and Public Service Announcements for Extra 18 Months

Knesset Finance Committee extends order allowing Army Radio to run sponsored broadcasts and public service announcements by a year and a half.

The temporary order enabling Army Radio to continue sponsored broadcasts and public service announcements will be extended by a year and a half, the Knesset Finance Committee decided on Sunday. The temporary order will be brought before the Knesset soon for its second and third readings, and will apply until the end of 2012.

The committee's discussion Sunday followed a period of about six weeks during which Army Radio has been under attack from critics. A large part of the station's annual budget - about NIS 17 million (out of a total of about NIS 40 million ) - is derived from sponsorships and public service broadcasts, a policy allowed in a temporary order passed in 2005.

The Army radio studios in Jaffa.
David Bachar

At the end of May this year, the period of the order lapsed and the ministerial committee on legislation rejected the draft of a new law to replace it. Instead of the proposed formulation, it was decided to set up a ministerial committee consisting of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon, and Culture Minister Limor Livnat.

Additional threats have contributed to the station's economic uncertainty. Shortly after the proposed law was rejected, in a surprise move the defense minister announced that he intended to replace the current head of the station, Yitzhak Tunik. Last week, the right wing Yisrael Sheli (My Israel ) movement embarked on a campaign against the station, which they claim is tainted by political imbalance and is damaging to IDF morale.

Objections to sponsored broadcasts come from two directions - from the regional radio stations that are not interested in sharing the advertising pie with Army Radio, and from Knesset members and politicians who complain that the station's political orientation is too far to the left.

On Sunday, the crucial discussion on the temporary order took place and the committee decided unanimously to extend the period, as proposed by journalist Razi Barkai - who presents a program on the station - and MK Nachman Shai (Kadima ), who formerly served as commander of the station.

In addition to MKs who are members of the committee and the IDF's chief education officer, Brig. Gen. Eli Shermeister, there were also many media people present in the audience, including Reno Tsror, Golan Yokhpaz, Danny Kushmaro, and others. Yisrael Sheli head Ayelet Shaked was also invited and presented the movement's claims.

MK Daniel Ben Simon (Labor ) said "the damage to Army Radio is coming from ideological rather than practical motives," while MK Shai noted: "The debate is making the matter political and this is an economic question. The future of Army Radio is not in doubt or in question."

Regarding the financial question, regional radio representative Avner Harari said the current definition of sponsored broadcasts lets the station interpret the rules broadly, beyond what the legislator intended. Therefore, Army Radio's inflated income is eroding the finances of regional stations.

When announcing the temporary order, the committee stipulated that Army radio can air limited amounts of sponsorships and public service broadcasts, with restrictions on the formulations and the nature of the advertising organizations.

After the decision was announced, Yitzhak Tunik, the commander of Army Radio, said: "The committee's decision is important, and in the circumstances that have developed - in which the government, instead of passing the law, decided to extend the temporary order by a year - it was correct to enable this for a longer period.

"I regret that all kinds of elements with political agendas hitched a ride on the discussion," he added, "which was about an economic issue touching on the existence of Army Radio. I am delighted for the great importance of the station's activity."