Netanyahu in New Drive to Delay Public Broadcaster’s Launch

Sources say aides preparing legislation to push back launch date, now set for April 30.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his way to the weekly cabinet meeting, February 2017.
Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is gearing up to delay again the launch of the new public broadcasting corporation Kan, which is now set to go on the air April 30, political sources say.

Netanyahu’s aides have begun over the last several days to work on legislation that would mandate another delay. However, he faces a host of obstacles to getting it, among them likely opposition from Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and efforts to force Netanyahu to give up the Communications Ministry.

On Wednesday, Kahlon reiterated his opposition to further delays in Kan’s going on the air. But Netanyahu is equally if not more determined to delay the launch and even kill off the corporation altogether.

Netanyahu has been suspicious of Kan all along and would prefer to preserve intact the Israel Broadcasting Authority, which oversees the government’s television and radio outlets, despite its long history of inflated spending and mediocre programming.

While he has never succeeded in blocking the new corporation from moving forward, the premier has lobbied repeatedly to amend the law that created it and pushed back the date it is supposed to go on the air – most recently from January to the end of April.

Netanyahu’s campaign to block Kan took a break in recent weeks as he was distracted by police investigations, the budget and negotiations over the Amona evacuation.

The prime minister apparently fears that Kan’s news division will be hostile to him and his policies. Unlike the IBA, it is structured to be independent of political influence. In closed meetings, sources said, Netanyahu has said he believes Kan is being staffed by “leftists” and people allied with Arnon Mozes, publisher of the Yedioth Ahronot daily that has long opposed the prime minister.

Sources said that when aides point out that some of Kan’s journalists are affiliated with the right, Netanyahu dismisses them as allies of Naftali Bennett, leader of Habayit Hayehudi and a rival of Netanyahu’s for the support of right-wing voters.

The post of director of Kan’s news division came open recently after the first director stepped down, and interviews begin on Thursday to find a replacement. Kan is to decide within about 10 days from among 15 candidates.

Eitan Cabel, a Zionist Union lawmaker, asserted that Netanyahu tried to fill the job with a supporter by having Shlomo Filber – a Netanyahu associate who is director general of the Communications Ministry – offered an unspecified deal connected with appointing a new news director.

Filber denies any such offers were made, but Kan’s CEO confirmed it to the state comptroller.

Besides likely opposition from Kahlon, Netanyahu may have to give up the Communications Ministry. The Movement for Quality Government and the opposition Zionist Union have both petitioned the High Court of Justice to order him to step down, citing the multiplicity of cabinet portfolios he now holds and the alleged conflicts of interest involved.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is also expected to advise Netanyahu to quit the ministry.

While losing the ministry would no longer give him a direct say in Kan, it is unlikely to stop the prime minster from waging war against it and he is likely to fill the portfolio with a close ally.

Meanwhile, IBA has been working hard to cut costs in an apparent move to undercut Kahlon’s argument that it should be shuttered because it is wasteful and inefficient. The IBA, which has a 750 million-shekel ($200 million) annual budget, has continued to operate while Kan is getting ready to launch, costing the treasury’s tens of millions of shekels a month.

Among other things, IBA has told part-time employees that they must now work as independent contractors.

“The IBA is constantly working to cut operating costs,” it said in a statement yesterday. “Just in the last year we saved 100 million shekels, compared with the year before. Together with the Finance Ministry, we’ve reduced manpower at IBA by about a third and have regularized contracts with outside suppliers.”

In all events, Kan may not be ready by its April 30 deadline. Because IBA is still functioning and half of Kan’s staff is due to come over from the veteran broadcaster, staffing is far less than it needs and its future has been clouded by the prime minster’s persistent opposition.