Israeli Ministers Gilad Erdan and Yair Lapid Freeze Public Broadcasting Reform

Lacking confidence in the current format, ministers are expected to explore radical reform options, including closing and reopening the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

A planned reform of the Israel Broadcasting Authority was put on hold Sunday by Communications Minister Gilad Erdan and Finance Minister Yair Lapid. The move followed critical reports on the planned IBA reform by the state comptroller and the authority's legal adviser in recent weeks.

The ministers are now expected to explore more radical reform options, including the possibility of closing and reopening the authority, which operates TV Channel 1 and radio channels. The decision to freeze the reform could also ignite labor action.

The plan for reform of the IBA was signed recently by IBA management after years of delay. It provides for the retrenchment of 700 employees and the investment of NIS 770 million in new technologies. In terms of the plan, the IBA will sell off its properties and relocate to the center of the country.

In their letter to IBA Chairman Amir Gilat and CEO Yoni Ben Menahem, Erdan and Lapid stressed that they seek "to examine the most appropriate channel for reforming the broadcast authority for all the state’s citizens." Implementing the funding agreement in its current format was not expected to rehabilitate the IBA, the ministers wrote.

They ordered that the agreement be frozen and requested that the IBA executives explore alternatives for improving public broadcasting in Israel.

The decision by the two ministers is likely to meet resistance from both the IBA and its workers. The IBA's journalists union has previously threatened to turn to the High Court of Justice if the government backed away from the planned reform.

Commenting on the ministers' move, Labor Party MK Nahman Shai said that the government was playing with fire. "In a reality in which commercial broadcasting has taken control of the public agenda, we have to encourage pluralistic and quality public broadcasting," Shai said. "The government's huge appetite brought it to a flawed decision. It should fix the IBA, but in no way should it throw out the baby with the bathwater."

Daniel Bar-On