Senior Government Official Promotes Initiative to Take Down New Israeli Public Broadcaster

Under proposed plan by coalition member, buffer may not exist between political echelon and new corporation, comprised of several existing public media outlets.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Illustrative: Benjamin Netanyahu addresses members of the Israeli media.
Illustrative: Benjamin Netanyahu addresses members of the Israeli media.Credit: Pool, Reuters
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

A senior cabinet member aims to foil the establishment of the new public broadcasting corporation in which the government would not interfere with programming, political sources told Haaretz on Wednesday.

The cabinet member plans to present the proposal next week to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the heads of the coalition parties for approval.

Ten days before the opening of the Knesset’s winter session, the move marks the latest effort by the governing coalition to kill the new corporation in its infancy.

The initiative, still in its early stages, calls for the formation of a broadcasting entity to replace the new corporation. In the government’s proposal, the entity would include Army Radio, Educational Television and the remains of the Israel Broadcasting Authority. Instead of three broadcasting entities, there would be one under a single regulator.

Setting up this new entity would require the passage of new legislation, the establishment of a new oversight council and a new chairman and director general to replace Gil Omer and Eldad Koblentz, who have been chosen to head the new corporation. Until this complex process is completed, the IBA will continue limping along.

Since Netanyahu is also communications minister and his close associate Shlomo Filber is director general, a new law probably would not create a buffer zone between the politicians who seek to control broadcasting and the journalists who work for the envisioned entity.

Political sources say the commitment to the new corporation by the heads of right-wing party Habayit Hayehudi and center-right ally Kulanu – Naftali Bennett and Moshe Kahlon – has weakened recently. They say neither will break up the coalition over an issue that the prime minister considers vital.

According to the sources, there will be no repeat of the errors – as Netanyahu sees them –  in the legislation that created the new corporation. That bill was crafted under Netanyahu’s predecessor as communications minister, Gilad Erdan, who was minister in 2013 and 2014. It aimed to create a media entity free from outside influence – which infuriated Netanyahu.

This time Netanyahu ostensibly would not be distracted, as he claims happened during the 2014 Gaza war. The move is also likely to be attractive to Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who wants to be rid of Army Radio but isn’t eager to order its closure.

It is also likely to be attractive to Education Minister Bennett, who has said he has no desire to battle the prime minister over the new corporation. This is especially so because under the current law, Educational Television is due to be transferred from his ministry to the new corporation.

Finally, the move is likely to be attractive to Finance Minister Kahlon, who has been under heavy pressure from Netanyahu to retract his support for the new corporation. The government is likely to portray the move as one that saves public funds; this would make it easier for Kahlon to explain his new position.

Also, Netanyahu is not a close associate of either Omer or Koblentz and aims to do away with the new broadcasting corporation that is shaping up to be an independent and aggressive entity.

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