Israel Public Broadcaster Back in Netanyahu Government's Crosshairs

Citing budgetary needs, Interior Minister Arye Dery suggests closing down Kan, whose Channel 11 has run several critical stories on him in recent months

Geula Even, one of the broadcasters on Kan's Channel 11.
Rafi Daloya

A new drive to shutter the public broadcasting corporation Kan suddenly emerged on Sunday, as Interior Minister Arye Dery said the savings from closing it could be used to spare ministries hundreds of millions of shekels in budget cuts.

Dery raised the option at a meeting of governing coalition heads where ministers were strongly protesting plans for across-the-board budget cuts. Shutting Kan, which operates television and radio stations, as well as a website, would save the government 800 million shekels ($228.5 million) annually and at little cost to viewers, because of the low ratings of Kan’s Channel 11 TV network, claimed Dery.

Dery proposed sparing the Reshet Bet radio network, but killing off TV and digital operations.

However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who waged an unsuccessful fight to stop Kan from going on the air earlier this year, didn’t take a clear stand at the meeting. He told ministers he would consider the idea and discuss it with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.

The prime minister’s comments apparently left coalition members confused. Shortly after the meeting, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara tweeted, “I’m pleased the prime minister approves closing the public corporation – an end to the waste of the public’s money.”

But a few minutes later, Kara deleted the tweet and replaced it with another saying, “I’ve been approached by the coalition heads about closing the public corporation. I’ve asked the prime minster, and when there’s a final decision I will alert you accordingly.”

In the meantime, Education Minister Naftali Bennett backed the Dery proposal, while sources close to Netanyahu said the prime minister had yet to decide his stance. Sources close to Kahlon, who had opposed Netanyahu’s efforts to prevent Kan from airing, declined to comment.

Netanyahu campaigned vociferously to prevent Kan from launching and replacing the discredited Israel Broadcasting Authority. But he was blocked by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, who opposed legislative measures to block the new corporation or shrink it by barring it from broadcasting news.

Shas leader Arye Dery attending a cabinet meeting, September 11, 2016
Marc Israel Sellem

Netanyahu reportedly feared that Kan’s news operation would be hostile to him and his policies. But, in fact, Dery has suffered the brunt of Kan’s investigative reporting since it went on the air last spring.

Journalist Mordechai Gilat recently aired a program comparing the current police investigations against Dery with those from the 1990s that ultimately led to the minister’s conviction for accepting bribes. Another story by political reporter Michael Shemesh prompted Dery to threaten to sue.

Dery said shutting Kan would save 800 million shekels annually, but Kan’s budget is 750 million shekels and only 650 million of that is covered by the state budget. Dery also claimed that Channel 11 was viewed by just 1.5% of Israelis, when the Ratings Committee put it at 4.8% – a 14% increase over the same time last year.

Kan responded to the reports by noting the increased TV ratings since it took over from the IBA and its lower costs.

The corporation, however, may face enemies within the TV industry. With the Channel 2 franchise due to split starting next month, there will be three commercial broadcasters – the two Channel 2 franchisees Reshet and Keshet, and Channel 10 – alongside Kan.

That adds up to four players in a TV market already being hard-pressed by competition from the internet. As the weakest contender, Channel 10 has the biggest interest in seeing Kan eliminated and its CEO, Yossi Warshavsky, has made no secret of that.

At a Jewish New Year’s toast last month, he told employees: “The public corporation is trying to imitate Channel 10, but it’s a pale imitation. It relies on public resources without any supervision and hides like a coward behind the slogan, ‘Kan’s in the running.’”