The cabinet on Sunday approved draft legislation proposed by Communications Minister Gilad Erdan to shut down Israel’s broadcast authority and eliminate the tax on televisions.
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If passed by the Knesset, the draft legislation would shut down the Israel Broadcast Authority, which regulated television and radio, replacing it with a new, slimmed-down authority, and lift the 345-shekel licensing fee Israelis pay for owning a television connected to a television broadcasting service.
“This undertaking will bring about the end of the television fee and make public broadcasting relevant again, with the developing of three new TV channels,” said Erdan at the cabinet meeting. “Israel’s citizens deserve better public television — and we are on our way to realizing this goal.”
In addition to its regulatory role, The Israel Broadcast Authority runs a broadcast empire of television and radio stations. Its flagship channel, Channel 1, garners tiny ratings compared to its commerical rivals. At the same time, the authority has long provoked public loathing with its aggressive and inefficient collection of the television fee, as well as of the 136 shekel radio fee.
“The IBA has become a government company that makes a product for which there’s no demand,” said Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who has been an advocate of the reform plan. He said the key to change was ending the politicization of the IBA. “Governments change; IBA needs to be cut off from politics,” he said.
Under Erdan’s reform plan, which was unveiled about six weeks ago and is to be launched in March 2015, the new authority will be responsible for eight radio networks and three television channels. It will be funded by the radio fee, advertising revenues and a 200-million shekel budget from the treasury. There will be some 600 employees, about 1,000 fewer than at the current authority. Most production will be contracted out.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the beginning of the cabinet meeting that he supports the Erdan’s plan, but expressed reservations.
“I think this reform effort is needed. We want stronger public broadcasting,” Netanyahu said. “I very much appreciate the work that you, Gilad Erdan, have done to bring this reform to us. It’s not without problems. It will certainly undergo changes of one kind or another as it goes to legislation, but the direction is clear, and I’m confident of its results.”
Netanyahu signaled he backs union demands that current employees be rehired by the replacement authority, even though both the Landes committee that put together the package of recommended reforms and the Communications Ministry oppose making such a commitment.
“The best IBA staff members − and there are many of them − will go to the new authority, while whose who don’t will be entitled to appropriate and fair [severance] terms,” Netanyahu said.
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said he opposed the reform in its current form because an estimated 150-million shekels of the new authority’s budget will come from radio fees on car owners. “If we’re promising at the front door to eliminate the fee, we need to really eliminate it and not simply collect the money through the car window,” he said.