Israeli Officials Vow to Ensure Reform of Public Broadcasting

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a special cabinet meeting to mark Jerusalem Day on June 16, 2016.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a special cabinet meeting to mark Jerusalem Day on June 16, 2016.Credit: Mark Israel Selam, Jerusalem Post, Pool photo

Senior members of the governing coalition have pledged to prevent the postponement of a planned reform of the public broadcasting authority, despite the intentions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu, who is also the communications minister, is considered the driving force behind the move to postpone the reform, and under the coalition agreement, all coalition parties pledged to support any media reform pushed by Netanyahu. But coalition members argue that this provision doesn’t apply to the current situation.

“Under the coalition agreement, we’re committed to support initiatives advanced by the communications minister, but we aren’t committed to support canceling reforms that were already approved,” said one coalition member. “Changing dates isn’t a reform but the cancelation of a reform.”

The agreement also obligates coalition parties not to support any bill on the media that the communications minister hasn’t approved, and to actively oppose any such bill if the communications minister opposes it.

The planned reform would replace the Israel Broadcasting Authority with an ostensibly more efficient and independent agency, the Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation. But under a deal between Netanyahu and Histadrut labor federation chief Avi Nissenkorn on Monday, the new corporation’s launch would be delayed for 15 months.

Two key coalition parties, Habayit Hayehudi and Kulanu, sounded determined Wednesday to prevent this postponement. Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett said he wouldn’t approve any delay, because it would undermine the new corporation’s standing and independence. Party leaders said the only eventuality that would get them to support a postponement was if the corporation’s executives requested one.

Kulanu Chairman Moshe Kahlon, who is also the finance minister, has said he won’t approve the additional funding for the IBA that a postponement would require. He has also said he will vote against postponement if the decision is brought to the cabinet.

So far, however, he has received no official word from Netanyahu about the postponement; the person who announced it was Nissenkorn.

Sources in both Habayit Hayehudi and Kulanu said that in the end they would probably agree to some delay, but only a brief one, and only if the new corporation’s executives approved.

A source in Netanyahu’s Likud party retorted that Bennett and his party’s number two, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, had led the campaign to shut down the daily Israel Hayom. Therefore, the source said, they “aren’t acting in the name of freedom of expression but in the name of Noni Mozes,” owner of the daily Yedioth Ahronoth and its website Ynet. In exchange, the Likud source charged, Mozes gives them flattering coverage in his news outlets.

President Reuven Rivlin also weighed in on the debate. “I’m very troubled about the existence of public broadcasting in Israel. Period. I think the lifeblood of democracy is public broadcasting. I know there can be influences from all over. But public broadcasting, with its capacity to exist as an independent agency, is the lifeblood of democracy,” he said.

“Public broadcasting can have people with particular opinions, as long as people with other opinions are also allowed to express their views. Public broadcasting’s role is to enable every Israeli citizen to form an opinion about every issue under discussion. Without public broadcasting, we’d be a democracy with a certain handicap. Woe to us if we bring about a situation in which there is no public broadcasting in Israel.”

He added that the courts and public broadcasting were “among the most important things” the country needed to face its difficult challenges.

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