Israel’s New Public Broadcasting Era Begins on Monday After Three Years of Political Wars

Israel Broadcasting Authority's successor, Kan, will go on the air side by side with a separate news corporation

Israel Broadcasting Authority employees say goodbye on their final day of work.
Israel Broadcasting Authority employees say goodbye on their final day of work.Credit: Emil Salman

After three years of political fighting over Israel’s new public broadcaster that briefly threatened to bring down the government, Kan will finally go on the air on Monday at 5 P.M., side by side with its sister news corporation.

The way was cleared after the Knesset voted 43-33 early Thursday morning to spin off Kan’s news division into a separate public corporation. Kan will be responsible for non-news public TV as well as Israel’s six state radio stations. The news corporation, which doesn’t yet exist as a legal entity, will take over news programming, Reshet Bet radio and digital media.

>> Watch: After 49 Years, This Is How Israel's Government Shut Down Its Public Broadcaster With Hours' Notice

No decision has been made about who will manage Radio Reka, which broadcasts foreign-language programing for new immigrants, or the planned Haredi radio station.

The two corporations will share studios and equipment, but they will have separate boards and management. The law creates a complicated mechanism for the two to operate side by side and provides for an independent consultant to smooth out disputes.

The split marked the end of a political battle over Israel’s public broadcasting that goes back to 2014, when then-Communications Minister Gilad Erdan won approval to close the Israel Broadcasting Authority and replace it with a new corporation, independent of political interference and union featherbedding.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially backed the plan. But by July, when the new corporation, now dubbed Kan, was preparing to broadcast, he began a drive to try to kill it and keep IBA on the air. Netanyahu reportedly feared that independent of political control, Kan’s news division would be hostile to him and his policies.

Netanyahu allied with Histadrut labor federation chief Avi Nissenkorn, who was anxious about the firings at IBA the reforms entailed. They failed to bury Kan but delayed its launch date twice and finally forced it to surrender news programming to a separate entity.

The spin-off, which will create needless duplication and cost taxpayers 15 million shekels ($4.2 million) a year by some estimates, was the result of a compromise with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who emerged as Kan’s chief backer. Netanyahu threatened to call early elections over the dispute before he and Kahlon hammered out a deal in March.

Oddly enough, in light of the war Netanyahu waged, the news corporation will also be independent of political interference. It will be controlled by a board appointed by a retired judge that will choose its head.

Geula Even, a seasoned broadcaster whose husband is Netanyahu political rival Gideon Sa’ar, will be the main news anchor when broadcasts start Monday, over the prime minister’s vociferous opposition. Netanyahu also failed to prohibit investigative programming.

But the news corporation will share Channel 1 with Kan, and insiders say Netanyahu is counting on friction between the organizations to eventually convince the Knesset to amend the law again, opening a door for him to reassert political control.

Since the last IBA broadcast on Tuesday — days earlier than the staff had expected, prompting a tear-filled final broadcast of its flagship Mabat news show — Channel 1 and the radio stations have been running mostly reruns of old programming.

Kan will formally take over broadcasting the night of May 14, but only begin its first show at 5 P.M. on May 15.

An ordinary day of programming will begin at 6 A.M. with a two-hour morning program, probably produced by Kan, although no final decision has been made. Broadcasting until 5 P.M. will consiste of education programming, reruns and the Knesset Channel.

At 5 P.M. the news corporation will present the first of its own shows, “5 Mekori,” a “light” current affairs program, followed by an economic and business show at 6 and more current affairs from 7 to 8, followed by a one-hour news broadcast. From 9 to 11 P.M., Kan will air dramas, comedies and the like, followed by a brief midnight news roundup.



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