Eurovision May Give Israel’s Public Broadcaster Lease on Life

Government considers delaying law splitting Kan into two because it would jeopardize its membership in the music competition’s sponsoring organization

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Still from Kan airing of Netta Barzilai's Eurovision win.
Still from Kan airing of Netta Barzilai's Eurovision win.Credit: Kan
Nati Toker
Nati Tucker

Kan, the public broadcaster loathed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, may get a stay of execution to ensure that Israel hosts next year’s Eurovision music competition.

At issue is a law approved with Netanyahu’s backing last year that would split Kan into separate news and general-programming bodies. The law, which was aimed at disrupting the new broadcasting corporation just as it was launching, has been frozen due to an injunction issued by the High Court of Justice.

But since then Netta Barzilai won last month’s Eurovision contest, which means Israel is now entitled to stage next year’s event – a point of national prestige as well as a draw for tourists. However, under the rules of the European Broadcasting Union, the body that sponsors Eurovision, the hosting broadcaster must be a full-fledged television operation that airs general programming and news.

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The proposed split, if approved by the High Court, would mean that Israel’s public broadcaster doesn’t qualify for membership in the European Broadcasting Union, and that Israel would not even be able to participate in the contest next year, let alone host.

Just days after political intervention by Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev led to the cancellation of an exhibition soccer match between Israel and Argentina, upsetting hundreds of thousands of fans, politicians are loath to lose Eurovision because of a political battle over Kan.

The Ynet news site reported Sunday that Netanyahu and Communications Minister Ayoub Kara had decided to withdraw the government’s support for the law at the High Court. That would hand a victory to Kan and the journalists’ union, which both filed petitions opposing the breakup, and leave Kan as a single entity.

But sources told TheMarker that no decision had been made on withdrawing the suit; instead, the government will let the court decide. If the decision lets the split go ahead, the government will seek an emergency order from the Knesset delaying implementation for 18 months.

Kan would be able to broadcast the contest but the corporation’s existence would remain under threat.

On Sunday, the Communications Ministry sought to assuage concerns about the politicization of Eurovision and issued a statement that its director general, Nati Cohen, had agreed with Kan CEO Eldad Koblentz that the corporation would be responsible for aspects of the contest’s production and all contact with the European Broadcasting Union.

But the ministry added: “Due to the requirements and cooperation required by the relevant bodies in Israel to produce the event, they agreed that there would be a professional dialogue between them in which the two will discuss everything required for interministerial coordination.”

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