Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev on Sunday questioned the point of establishing a new public broadcasting corporation if it would not be controlled by the government, according to sources who attended the stormy cabinet session.
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Regev made the comment during a discussion of an amendment to the Public Broadcasting Law, which was approved after a heated debate between ministers, several of whom abstained from the vote.
The conflict erupted during a discussion of an amendment which will postpone the launch date of the new Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation from October until at least January 1, 2017 and possibly as late as April 1. The corporation is meant to replace the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
According to sources who attended the meeting, the arguments deteriorated into a shouting match between Regev and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (both of Likud). Science Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud) clashed with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi), and all four of them fought with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the issue.
Regev was angry that the cabinet would have no authority to intervene in the senior appointments in the new broadcasting corporation. “It’s inconceivable that we’ll establish a corporation that we won’t control. What’s the point?” Regev said, to which Erdan replied: “Do you control every play at the Habima National Theater or any theater that receives funding from the government?”
Regev also complained about the planned extension of the term of the present CEO of the IPBC, Eldad Koblenz, by another two years, calling it “unfair opportunism.” Erdan shot back at Regev, asking cynically whether she thinks that the law should include special clauses for her. “What opportunism?” asked Erdan. “Do you think, that it’s a law for Miri Regev?”
Minister for Social Equality Gila Gamliel also attacked Regev, noting that the fact that the government is establishing a public broadcasting corporation does not mean government control or intervention in professional appointments or in broadcast contents. According to people who participated in the meeting, Netanyahu tried several times to interrupt Erdan and Gamliel, until the two protested that he wasn’t letting them talk.
Another debate erupted over the journalists who have been recruited to the new broadcasting corporation. Likud MK Akunis complained about a lack of variety, enumerating the names of seven religious Zionist journalists who have been hired, to illustrate his claim that the corporation is identified with Habayit Hayehudi.That provoked a shouting match began between Akunis and Habayit Hayehudi’s Shaked.
Both Erdan and Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) expressed anger at the draft bill being promoted by coalition leader MK David Bitan (Likud) to cancel the establishment of the IPBC altogether. Erdan demanded that Netanyahu announce that he opposes the step. He added that Bitan’s draft bill clearly has no chance of passing, and that its entire objective is to create a cooling effect for journalists, who will be afraid to join a communications body whose future is uncertain. Bennett sided with Erdan, arguing that even a postponement of the launch date will deter many senior journalists from joining.
At a meeting of Likud ministers, held prior to the cabinet session, there were already indications that the issue would spark tension among ministers. Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin (Likud) urged Netanyahu to postpone the launch as long as the broadcasting corporation is not located in Jerusalem, a step which would mean a much lengthier delay. Several Likud ministers protested against Elkin’s proposal. At the cabinet meeting that followed, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) reassured them that he would oppose the inclusion of such a clause in the law.
According to the amendment, which passed, the launch date will be postponed to January 1, 2017. At that point the prime minister and finance minister will have the right to further delay the start of broadcasts to April 1.
Bennett, Shaked, Erdan and Gamliel all abstained from the vote.