One of the most dramatic reforms slated for the public sector in recent years, the scrapping of the Israel Broadcasting Authority and its replacement by a leaner public broadcasting corporation, will apparently be delayed by as much as a year.
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The IBA, the public broadcasting agency that runs Channel 1 television, Channel 33 and a number of radio stations, including Reshet Bet, Reshel Gimmel and Kol Hamusica, was supposed to go out of existence on March 31, but the Communications Ministry is developing legislation that would delay the move by a year. This follows widespread concern that preparations are not at a stage that would allow the new corporation to take over at the end of next month.
The Finance Ministry is proposing that plans for the new government broadcasting corporation be implemented within the extra year, after which the corporation would be given special permission to purchase current affairs programming through outsourcing of content, for a limited period of time. The Communications Ministry is drafting legislation that would defer the deadline for implementing the broadcast reform for six months from the current March 31 deadline, but it would also give authority to the communications minister – a post currently being filled by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – to defer it for an additional six months.
Former Communications Minister Gilad Erdan had initially declared that the new broadcasting entity would come into being in March of last year. Therefore if his successor, Netanyahu, makes use of his full authority in extending the process, the total delay will be two years. And even if the full delay is invoked and the deadline is extended until March 2017, it is not entirely clear that the new corporation will be capable of taking over in time.
Legislation now in effect states that the current agency, the IBA, will not go out of existence until its replacement is up and running. The explanatory notes to the legislation now taking shape include an acknowledgment that the new broadcasting entity will not be ready in time.
The broadcast reform includes the repeal of the television license that households pay. In practice, the license was repealed in March of last year, with the shortfall being made up directly from government coffers. The continued operation of the IBA for an additional year is expected to cost 600 million to 700 million shekels (roughly $150 million to $175 million). The IBA does have a revenue stream, consisting of radio license fees, revenue from radio advertising and the collection of past debt, but the delay would still require an infusion of government funding of 150 to 200 million shekels in the coming year for ongoing operational expenses. And that is in addition to a one-time investment of about 350 million shekels that the treasury committed to provide to the new broadcast entity to get it up and running.
Meanwhile the staff with the job of setting up the new broadcasting corporation have said that among the major tasks they face are recruiting staff and the production of programming. There has not been substantial progress on either of these fronts.
It was expected that program production would take an extensive amount of time, but the recruitment of staff has been subject to pressures from interest groups that have been seeking to influence the process. Under Finance Ministry pressure, 450 IBA employees have resigned voluntarily, but that still leaves about 1,100 on the broadcast authority payroll, while the new corporation is slated to have a staff of just 800.