No Publicity Like Self-publicity: Striking TV Employees Cash in on Free Airtime

Israel Broadcasting Authority's coverage of an employee demonstration in favor of broadcasting reform raises the question of who’s watching the watchmen?

Israel Broadcasting Authority employees have not hesitated to utilize the publicly funded-airwaves during their dispute with the organization over proposed reforms.

Last Friday, some 30 IBA employees demonstrated outside the home of Communications Minister Gilad Erdan. Despite the small size of the demonstration, a news team was sent by the IBA’s Channel 1 to cover it and a segment, dedicated solely to the views of the IBA employees on the reform, was broadcast early in the news broadcast.

The plan for reform of the IBA was signed over a month ago, after years of delay. It provided for the elimination of 700 staff positions, the investment of NIS 770 million in new technologies, the sale of IBA properties and relocation of facilities from Jerusalem to the Tel Aviv area. The reform was put on hold by Communications Minister Gilad Erdan and Finance Minister Yair Lapid toward the end of July, due to concerns that it would not succeed in rehabilitating the IBA.

Recently, five members of the IBA's general assembly sent a letter to Erdan in which they laid part of the blame for the current condition of the IBA on its chairman, Amir Gilat. The letter, which was signed by Taly Eichenwald-Dvir, Associate Dean at the Arison School of Business at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Ori Arbel-Ganz, head of the School of Government and Social Policy at Beit Berl College, Ifat Zamir, CEO of the women’s organization WePower, retired judge Bilhah Kahana and accountant Hani Perry, called on the minister to fire the IBA management and reach a quick decision about reform.

Meanwhile, IBA employees have been fighting to save the reform under slogans such a “freedom of speech” and preserving “democracy.” These slogans made their way into Channel 1's news coverage of the demonstration outside Erdan's home on Friday and during the channel's Yoman news program.

“The Broadcast Authority operates eight radio stations and two television stations,” said Sharon Hazan, the reporter covering the demonstration. “The need for public broadcasting isn't just for the employees, but for whomever democracy is important.”

What Channel 1 did not do was ask Erdan for a response, present viewpoints besides those of the demonstrators or mention the administrative and financial problems at the authority. Instead, the station selectively quoted two sentences from a Facebook post that Erdan made on Friday mentioning the demonstration. What they left out were Erdan's criticism of the IBA's management and his view that the public derived little benefit from the IBA. After the segment was aired, a discussion of the IBA reform was held in the studio.

The IBA saw its coverage differently. “The question borders on defamation and bias,” the authority stated, when asked to comment on its coverage. “The authority's management has not silenced and does not intend to silence its journalists or employees.” No response was received from the communications minister's office.

The Israel Broadcasting Authority headquarters in Jerusalem. A new corporation was meant to replace it.
Tomer Appelbaum / BauBau