Heading Netanyahu Off at the Pass, Israel's New Broadcaster Says Ready to Launch by New Year

Promised early start date puts pressure on Netanyahu, Finance Minister Kahlon to approve Kan going on air within two weeks.

Nati Tucker
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Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Credit: Reuters
Nati Tucker

Kan, the new public broadcasting corporation, sought yesterday to head off efforts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to delay or block its launch by issuing a timetable showing it would be ready to go on the air by the first day of 2017.

The start date set in the 35-page document, which details technical and even office-space issues, effectively gives Netanyahu, who also acts as communications minister, and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon — the two officials authorized to approve Kan’s launch — two weeks to issue a written go-ahead, or not.

Netanyahu has been seeking to scuttle the launch of Kan and restore the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA). He is backing legislation that would extend the deadline for Kan to go live to April 30. Kahlon has not taken a strong stance.

Kan was formed at the initiative of former Communications Minister Gilad Erdan to offer better programing than the IBA, which had been hamstrung by political and union interference. But Netanyahu is reportedly worried that he won’t be able to exercise control over Kan’s news and public affair content because appointments will be made by a nonpartisan committee.

Last week MK David Bitan (Likud), the coalition whip, sought to enlist support for preserving the IBA by citing figures showing that keeping it intact would save the government over 2 billion shekels ($520 million) in spending that he said could be used for such things as health, welfare and education.

The Finance Ministry quickly disputed the figure, with one official disparaging the estimate by saying that “Bitan can count his fingers better than that.”

Seeking to differentiate itself from the much-disparaged IBA, whose portfolio includes Channel 1 television as well as eight radio stations, Kan described itself in the document as “a modern media corporation, efficient and effective. ... On January 1, 2017 the corporation will be prepared on a technical, logistical and engineering level for television, radio and digital broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

That will include TV broadcasts in Hebrew and Arabic as well as the eight radio stations, it said.

However, the work plan Kan releasedwas filled with holes and it is unlikely to produce quality programming of the mind that CEO Eldad Koblenz is committed to airing anytime soon.

The document lacks a detailed programing schedule, information on the flagship shows it is planning or the names of the anchors and senior commentators who will appear on its news and public-affairs shows.

Apart from the political battle over its launch, Kan also lacks permanent facilities. It spent 100 million shekels for space in Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul neighborhood and has budgeted an additional 30 million shekels for renovations. But the facility won’t be ready until July and even then it will only be partly usable.

In the meantime most of its operations are being run out of rented facilities in Modi’in, with additional facilities planned in Jerusalem’s Har Hotzvim and in Tel Aviv.

The new corporation has budgeted 139 million shekels for original drama series and documentaries in Hebrew and Arabic, the core of its programming. It also spent 60 million shekels to complete IBA-contracted productions that had been suspended. But the programming won’t be ready when Kan goes on the air because shows typically take one to two years to produce.

As a result, Kan will probably begin life with a schedule mostly of reruns.

TheMarker has learned that the corporation has signed a contract with Herzilya Studios to provide it with three hours of public affairs programming daily in the mornings and afternoons. Kan said the presenters for these shows would be leading news personalities, but none of them has been publicly announced.

Meanwhile, Kan has yet to complete hiring. It now has 535 employees, but aims to reach a payroll of 700 by January 1.

Kan presented figures Wednesday that showed it would be spending the public’s money more productively than the IBA did. It estimated its annual budget would be 740 million shekels, versus the IBA’s 1 billion shekels. Of that, 220 million shekels will pay for outside programming, compared to 25 million shekels by the IBA. Salary costs will only account for 27% of the budget, versus 50% for the IBA.