Israeli Finance Minister Comes Out Against Bill That Puts Broadcast Media Under Political Control

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon at a cabinet meeting, January 22, 2017.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon at a cabinet meeting, January 22, 2017.Credit: RONEN ZVULUN/AP

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon will oppose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed legislation aimed at ensuring political control over Israel’s broadcast media unless changes are made to it, treasury sources said on Tuesday.

Kahlon has been the main obstacle to Netanyahu’s repeated efforts to wrest control of the new public broadcasting corporation, Kan, or kill it off altogether and keep alive the Israel Broadcasting Authority, which is now responsible for the state’s network of television and radio stations.

Netanyahu reportedly fears that the news division of Kan, which is due to go on the air at the end of this month, will oppose him and his policies. If he can’t block it altogether, the prime minster is determined to exercise control over it.

“I committed to ensuring freedom of expression and freedom of the press. There will be no subordination to politics. Supervision will be profession and not political,” Kahlon told a conference sponsored by the Calalcist financial daily on Tuesday.

Kahlon told Army Radio earlier in the day that the current formulation of the legislation is unacceptable and that his Kulanu Party – the second largest in the coalition – would work to amend it. “I don’t think you can silence journalists; they have Facebook and Twitter,” he said.

Shlomo Filber, the Communications Ministry director general and Netanyahu ally who formulated the legislation, ran into opposition from treasury officials and from Assistant Attorney General Avi Licht at a meeting two weeks ago, where a draft was presented for the first time.

Sources said Licht, who was responsible for writing legislation on communications in his previous job and still carries weight on the matter, expressed serious objections to the way the draft bill would allow elected officials to interfere in public broadcasting.

As a result, the legislation is being revised and probably won’t be brought up for discussion in the cabinet or ministerial committees any time soon – and it most likely won’t be submitted to the Knesset during its current session.

Under the bill, whose terms were revealed by TheMarker last week, the communications minister would appoint a single supervisory body for all public and commercial broadcasters, including Kan and Army Radio.

It chairman and director general would be appointed by the communications minister without any input from an appointments committee or other outsiders. According to the draft, two of the other 10 members of the new authority’s board would be appointed by the communications and culture ministers, and the rest by a search committee.

Other elements of the bill aim to increase competition in broadcast media by enabling new players to enter. They would not have to meet any content requirements.

Treasury sources said they were opposed to the parts of the bill that politicize broadcast regulation.

Although Finance Minster Director General Shai Babad and Asi Messing, the treasury’s legal adviser, were involved in the early stages, Filber demanded that no one from the budget division participate in the discussion.

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