Israel Delays Launch of Public Broadcasting Corporation Until April 2017 at the Earliest

Announcement comes amid Netanyahu's battle to keep Kan off the air, if not shut it down altogether, in favor of leaving public broadcasting in the hands of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has a hard time letting go of the public broadcaster
Amos Biderman

The government won’t let the new public broadcasting corporation, Kan, go on the air before April 30 and plans to amend the law to bar the option of launching earlier, state attorneys told the High Court of Justice on Monday.

They were responding to a petition by MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) and others who had sought to push forward the date for Kan’s launch to January 1 – a deadline the broadcaster has long said it could meet.

The announcement comes as Benjamin Netanyahu, who serves as communications minister as well as prime minister, has battled to keep Kan off the air, if not shut it down altogether, in favor of leaving public broadcasting in the hands of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

But Netanyahu has run into opposition from Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and others, who accuse him of trying to block Kan out of concern that, unlike the IBA, it will be free of political interference.

Kan is supposed to take over IBA’s TV and radio operations and absorb many IBA employees. But the repeated delays in its launch date has meant the two organizations are operating side by side, leaving Kan and its hundreds of employees in a lengthy pre-launch.

Treasury officials say the duplication costs amount to 40 million shekels ($10.5 million) a month, meaning the four-month delay will add up to 160 million shekels. The Communications Ministry says the entire cost of the delay will be no more than 40 million shekels, though its estimate doesn’t include all the costs.

Under the law that created Kan, the communications and finance ministers are allowed to give a green light for Kan to go on air before its April 30 deadline. However, state attorneys said Monday that the government intended to amend the law to set a single April 30 launch date for Kan.

The attorneys didn’t offer the court any explanation for why the government felt the law needed to be amended, but said the Communications Ministry would show the court a draft amendment on the matter within 14 days.

On Monday, treasury sources said Kahlon and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit had been under immense pressure from Netanyahu not to agree to move up Kan’s launch date. They said Kahlon had decided it would be better to compromise on that than continue fighting the prime minister on whether to shut down Kan altogether.