Kahlon Reverses Course, Agrees to Delay New Israeli Broadcaster

Finance minister and Benjamin Netanyahu reach an accord: New body will replace the outmoded Israeli Broadcasting Authority in seven months.

Moshe Kahlon and Benjamin Netanyahu during a weekly cabinet meeting, June 13, 2016.
Israel Mark Salem

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon agreed on a compromise with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that delays the launch of the new Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation by seven months instead of 18.

The two agreed Monday agreed that IPBC would go on the air no later than April 30, 2017, the midway point between the October date originally slated and a delay to January 2018 that Netanyahu had tried to engineer.  The agreement left open the possibility the launch might even occur as soon as next January.

The compromise came days after Netanyahu, who is also communications minister, triggered a storm of protest after forging an agreement with Avi Nissenkorn, chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, pushing off the IPBC’s launch by 15 months. The agreement was made behind the backs of everyone involved, including Kahlon and the IPBC. 

The heads of the nascent IPBC rejected Netanyahu’s explanation for putting off the launch date by asserting that they weren’t ready to go on the air in October as planned. Kahlon, meanwhile, vowed to oppose the delay on the grounds that it would be a waste of taxpayers’ money. 

Amir Levy, head of the treasury budget division, told the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee the 15-month delay would have cost as much as 550 million shekels ($141.5 million) to keep the Israel Broadcasting Authority running while the IPBC is awaiting its launch date. Later Monday, however, treasury officials said the cost would be closer to 10 million shekels a month because of severe cost-cutting measures that would be imposed on the IBA. ney issues, critics of the delay said Netanyahu’s real aim was to bury the IPBC altogether out of fear that its news operations would be critical of him and independent of the political meddling that has characterized the IBA. 

The IPBC is also supposed to produce better programming and avoid the mismanagement and featherbedding the IBA has suffered from.

In fact, the IPBC may begin operations much earlier than the comprise date. 

In the draft legislative memo circulated by the Communications Ministry shortly after the agreement, the ministers retained the option of bringing forward IPBC’s launch to as early as January 2017 if they wish to do so or if the IPBC’s governing board requests it.

At a stormy caucus of Kahlon’s Kulanu party on Monday, he promised his Knesset colleagues he would do everything possible to ensure the earliest launch date. “We will do everything to enable the corporation to go on the air January 1, 2017 and that it operates in the best possible way for the benefit of all Israelis,” he said.

Communications Ministry Director General Shlomo Filber said he favored deferring the launch until April, a position supported by Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union), the chairman of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee, which is responsible for the broadcast reform. 

Nissenkorn, who had made the deal with Netanyahu out of fear he was losing support in union elections from some 1,200 IBA employees, also came on board in favor of the compromise date. 

“The decision reflects the balancing act that must be made between ensuring the public broadcasting corporation is ready and the need to take care of employees and carry out the process responsibly,” he said.

Sources in the IPBC said they didn’t feel its launch should be delayed beyond January, a position supported by the treasury officials.

Forgoing the professional opinion of his own officials, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has reversed his position to embrace that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on delaying the replacement of the floundering Israel Broadcasting Authority.

To the dismay of Finance Ministry officials, Netanyahu and Kahlon agreed a delay of seven months. The new Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation will launch on April 30, 2017 instead of this October.

Some days ago, Netanyahu, who is also the communications minister, forged an agreement with the chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, Avi Nissenkorn, to delay the transition until 2018. The decision, made behind the backs of everyone else, triggered a storm of objections.

Kahlon had vowed to oppose postponements in inaugurating the government company on the grounds that it would be a colossal waste of money.

The agreed-upon delay of seven months will cost Israeli taxpayers between 200 million to 250 million shekels, treasury officials estimate, because of the need to keep the IBA running while paying for the establishment of the new body.

In the draft legislative memo to be circulated later Monday by the Communications Ministry, the ministers have the option of bringing forward the inauguration to January 2017 if they wish to do so or if the corporation requests it.

Yesterday Amir Levy, head of budgets at the Finance Ministry, told the Economic Affairs Committee of the Knesset that delaying the corporation's launch to 2018 would cost the state 550 million shekels. The heads of the nascent IPBC say they’re ready to start broadcasting in October.

Communications Ministry director-general Shlomo Filber favored deferring the inauguration until next April, a position supported by Nissenkorn and the chairman of the Economic Affairs Committee, Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union). Sources in the corporation itself don’t feel its establishment should be delayed beyond January, a position with the treasury officials agree with, seeing no good reason to delay to April and incur more costs.

Commenting on Kahlon’s decision, Nissenkorn stated that it reflects the balance necessary in order to guarantee the corporation is properly ready to start broadcasting while assuring worker rights.

No comment could be obtained from Kahlon.