New Bill Would Give Israeli Government Full Control of Broadcast Media

Under legislation being prepared by Communications Ministry, all figures of authority would be appointed by politicians.

PM Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, March 5, 2017.
POOL/REUTERS

The Communications Ministry is preparing a bill to give the government unprecedented control over all broadcasting, official sources who have seen the draft proposal told TheMarker.

Under the bill, the communications minister would appoint a supervisor for all public and commercial media. (Last month Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resigned as communications minister amid a criminal investigation into his alleged collusion with major media outlets, and appointed a close ally, MK Tzachi Hanegi, as a temporary replacement.)

The ministry would set up a council to take charge of all content providers, including the Israel Broadcasting Corporation, named Kan.

It would have a chairman and 11 members – two of them appointed by ministers and nine public representatives appointed by the cabinet. The new political council would replace the IBA’s existing authorities dealing with appointments and content, according to the draft.

The sources said that the unprecedented control the bill gives the government would seriously endanger the independence of the Israeli media.

The memorandum may be distributed in the next few days, be brought to the vote at the next cabinet session, and perhaps even be put to a preliminary vote in the Knesset before the end of its present term in March. The issue is still being discussed between Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who apparently haven’t reached agreement yet.

The memo enables the setting up of the IBC with no delay. However, it places public broadcasting under direct political control, much like in the outgoing Israel Broadcasting Authority, where it led to its stagnation and the decision to close it down.

The IBC had been set up to effectively separate between the political leadership and public broadcasting, following the recommendations of several committees which concluded that political influence on public broadcasting had caused its demise. The committee, headed by producer Ram Landes, which led to the IBC’s establishment, stated explicitly that one of the IBA’s deficiencies was the control that politicians had over it.

For this reason the existing law stipulates that the cabinet won’t appoint the council members and IBC directors directly, but set up a committee headed by a retired judge (who will appoint the rest of the committee members) to choose the council members. This council, headed by Gil Omer, is directly responsible for appointing the directors in the IBC, in contrast to the situation in the IBA, where the directors were appointed with the cabinet’s approval.

Netanyahu tried for months to prevent the establishment of the corporation and even announced that “we’ll rehabilitate the Broadcasting Authority.” But once it became clear that the authority couldn’t be rehabilitated and the cost of its continued operation was high, the new draft legislation was written to enable setting up the corporation. However, it puts the reins in the politicians’ hands.

The memorandum is based on the reform launched 15 years ago, after the merger of the two bodies regulating broadcasts – the Second Authority, which supervises channels 2 and 10 and commercial TV, and the Cable and Satellite Council, which supervises Yes and Hot. This reform has been delayed repeatedly.

The proposal was spearheaded by former Communications Minister Gilad Erdan and passed in the first Knesset reading. In the current Knesset it was submitted to the Economic Affairs Committee headed by MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) for discussion, but has been suspended.

Now the Communications Ministry is drafting a new bill that unites the three bodies under one council. The new body will be responsible for all the broadcasts, including content supervision, both in public and commercial broadcasts.

This council will be completely political. It will not be independent, but rather a department in the Communications Ministry, with its budget and personnel to be allocated by the ministry. So under the new law, public broadcasting will be dependent on government officials. This move is contrary to the tendency worldwide to have independent, professional bodies supervise the media.

The council’s chairman, who will also be the new body’s CEO, will be appointed directly by the cabinet at the communication minister’s recommendation, without a vetting committee – like the appointment in the Electricity Authority and other government agencies. His term will be limited to four years. This means direct there would be political control of the person supervising all broadcast media.

Two of the 11 council members would be cabinet representatives, i.e. direct representatives of the ministers. The remaining nine would be public representatives appointed by the cabinet at the recommendation of the vetting committee.

The IBC itself will also have a council, but it would lack significant areas of authority. The existing appointments method, by a judge, will be canceled and handed over to the new council.