Army Radio May Close if Not Allowed to Air Commercials

The cabinet is to decide today whether to support a bill that would allow Army Radio to continue broadcasting commercials in order to help fund its operations.

Commercials and public service announcements bring in some NIS 17 million a year, which is 45 percent of Army Radio's budget.

The station has been broadcasting commercials for some 20 years. However, in 2005, local radio stations, which compete with Army Radio for the same advertisers, petitioned the High Court to disallow commercials on the army station. The High Court rejected the petition, but at the same time recommended that the matter be legislated.

Until an early version of a bill, called a memorandum, could be formulated, a temporary order was put into effect by which Army Radio could broadcast no more than four and a half minutes of advertising and public service announcements for soldiers and reservists announcing sales and special deals, but it could not advertise the quality of the product or service or compare them to others. As a result, most of the bodies advertising on Army Radio are non-profit groups.

The temporary order, which was extended several times in recent years, expired yesterday. It was to have been replaced by a law identical to the order. A memorandum was placed before the Ministerial Committee on Legislation a few months ago, but it was voted down by a majority of 10 ministers against two - Dan Meridor and Yaakov Neeman. Defense Minister Ehud Barak submitted an objection to the rejection of the memorandum, which the cabinet is to discuss today at its weekly meeting.

Officials at Army Radio told Haaretz that the rejection of the memorandum and a continued prohibition on advertising on the station would effectively mean the station would have to close.

A number of senior employees including presenters and journalists have spoken to various ministers to gain their support for the bill. "There are forces, political but also economic, that are trying to let Army Radio waste away," journalist and presenter Razi Barkai told Haaretz. "I've given what I could to prevent these efforts and I hope we'll succeed."

"I personally have not approached anyone or met with anyone," presenter Ilana Dayan said, adding that it would be a terrible mistake not to allow the station to continue broadcasting commercials as it had before the temporary order expired.