Deal Between Netanyahu and Union Leader Spells Major Setback for New Public Broadcaster

Delay of launch until 2018 would effectively bury the new Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation, meant to replace the ailing IBA.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem July 10, 2016.
Dan Balilty, Reuters

Behind the backs of almost everyone involved, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Histadrut labor federation Chairman Avi Nissenkorn reached an agreement late on Monday delaying the launch of the new Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation until 2018.

That spells a 15-month delay for the IPBC, which was due to begin broadcasting this October, replacing the Israel Broadcasting Authority, which has long been criticized for high costs and low-quality programming that attracts few viewers.

Critics said the deal between Nissenkorn and Netanyahu, who acted in his capacity as communications minister, effectively spells the end of the IPBC. It will leave some 200 people already recruited for jobs in the new body with little to do for 15 months and cost the treasury more than 400 million shekels ($104 million) by keeping the IBA open, sources said.

“Delaying it until 2018 is a joke,” said one senior official involved in the new company, who asked not to be identified. “If they put it off till 2018, there won’t be a corporation at all. Netanyahu is trying to concoct some kind of formula that will include the old IBA and the new corporation and will preserve all the dysfunctional management culture and political control that has prevailed at the IBA.”

The decision to delay the launch of the IPBC was signalled by Netanyahu in the Knesset on Monday night, when he said that it wouldn’t be able to meet the October deadline for starting broadcasts and the matter would have to be addresssed.

The IPBA has, in fact, been seeking a three-month delay, mainly to avoid launching during the High Holidays when television viewership is low. But in in a Twitter message shortly after Netanyahu’s statement, the company said that it was ready organizationally and otherwise.

The Histadrut followed Netanyahu’s remark with an announcement of its own, confirming the delay. “Due to the importance of ensuring that there is no interruption in public broadcasting and to ensure continuous and complete broadcasts, the closure of IBA will be delayed till the start of 2018,” it said.

The decision was made without informing the IPBA, its chairman Gil Omer said. “As everyone knows, the corporation and its employees have been working intensively over the last months to ensure continuous, independent and quality TV and radio broadcasting by September 30,” he said.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon wasn’t informed either, even though the delay means the government will be funding the IBA to the tune of 50 million shekels a month during the interim. He warned that the money wouldn’t be forthcoming.

“If delay means wasting money funding the corporation and the authority simultaneously, it won’t happen. I won’t let the public’s money be thrown away in places where it isn’t needed,” Kahlon said.

Netanyahu and Nissenkorn have publicly committed themselves to the broadcast reform, but privately both men have been working to undermine it. Suspicious because the plan was initiated by political rivals Yair Lapid and Gilad Erdan, Netanyahu delayed appointments to the IPBA.

While he signed an agreement with the treasury ensuring places for veteran IBA staff in the new corporation, Nissenkorn was also working to try and bury the plan. He faces Histadrut elections next year and risks losing the votes of some 1,200 IBA personnel affected by the reforms.

The delay will need Knesset approval. Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union), chairman of the economics committee that would have to clear the measure, said on Tuesday thaat he would oppose it.

With reporting by Zvi Zrahiya