Netanyahu’s Public Broadcasting Deal Won’t Be Implemented as Is, Say Experts

New news corporation would have to be formed and staffed in only a week in order to hit May 15 deadline.

PM Netanyahu
AMIR COHEN/REUTERS

Political observers are increasingly convinced that the agreement on the future of public broadcasting reached by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon last week will not be implemented in its current format, because the proposed time frame is impossible and alternatives could cause significant budget overruns.

The Israel Press Association and political activist Eldad Yaniv have also filed a petition with the High Court of Justice against the agreement, claiming it is unreasonable and grants Netanyahu control over public broadcasting. The petitioners want the High Court to issue an interim order to postpone the launch date of the broadcasting corporation (called Kan) and to freeze the compromise agreement. (See separate story, Page 3).

Yesterday, the first meeting on trying to formulate a bill to implement the agreement was held in the office of Finance Ministry Director-General Shai Babad. The Treasury’s budget director, Amir Levi, and legal advisers were also in attendance.

According to the new plan, the Israel Broadcasting Authority will be shut on May 15 (two weeks later than stipulated in the current law) and the new public broadcasting corporation, Kan, would launch on television and radio, but without any news programing.

Kan’s news division would be dissolved, and in its place a news corporation would be set up to deal solely with news. It would begin broadcasting that same day, May 15.

The problem is that there’s no way a new news corporation can be established in that time frame. The earliest possible date for passing legislation to set up the news corporation would be May 7, because Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is insisting that no shortcuts be taken in the legislative process, which requires submission of a bill 21 days before it’s voted on so there can be public debate.

Even if the bill is passed on May 7, there must be a selection process (which has yet to be specified) to choose an interim director for the news corporation. Only after a director is appointed can he/she begin assembling a team and deciding which workers will come over from the IBA and Kan’s news division. The expectation that the director will be able to begin broadcasting, within a few days, on Channel 1 and Reshet Bet radio is completely unrealistic.

One suggestion is that Kan’s news division commences broadcasting on May 15, until the new news corporation can be established. Netanyahu opposes this. Mendelblit, however, does not want Kan to start broadcasting without any television news option in place.

The other option is to further delay the closure of the IBA until an alternative news broadcaster is ready to roll. However, each month the IBA remains open costs the state 40 million shekels ($11 million), since Kan’s employees are already at work and being paid. Kahlon has adamantly refused to permit any more double funding.