Netanyahu Seeks Political Control Over New Public Broadcaster

The plan would make Kan answerable to a separate new unified broadcasting authority and its political appointees.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzachi Hanegbi at a meeting of Likud Knesset members.
Olivier Fitoussi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is crafting a plan to put the new public broadcasting corporation under political control if he can’t prevent it from going on the air in the first place, political sources said Sunday.

The proposal, which is being prepared by the Communications Ministry, would make the new corporation, Kan, subordinate to a unified broadcasting authority, whose board would be appointed by elected officials.

Netanyahu has fought bitterly to keep Kan off the air, getting its launch date pushed back and mounting a campaign to keep alive the Israel Broadcasting Authority, the body now responsible for Channel 1 television and the government’s eight radio networks that Kan is supposed to replace.

Netanyahu apparently fears that Kan’s news unit is being staffed with journalists hostile to him and his policies. Even though he agreed over the weekend to give up the communications portfolio for three months, he named a close ally, Tzachi Hanegbi, as a stand-in.

Hanegbi made that clear in an interview on Channel 2’s “Meet the Press” over the weekend, where he insisted that the Israel Broadcasting Authority – long criticized not only for poor programing but for wasting money – remain a viable substitute for Kan.

“We’ve achieved our goals – we’ve rescinded the television tax, we’ve rebuilt the IBA and it’s now broadcasting with just half the staff it had before,” he said, a contention that at least one treasury official said was entirely false.

Political sources who requested anonymity said the idea behind the Netanyahu plan was to restore political control over Kan through the planned unified broadcasting authority.

Legislation for the authority is now in the Knesset, though deliberations have been suspended amid bad blood between MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union), who chairs the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee deliberating the legislation, and Shlomo Filber, the Communications Ministry’s director general and a Netanyahu ally.

Unlike the Second Television Authority, whose functions the new unified broadcasting authority will assume along with those of the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council, the new authority’s board will not be a statutorily independent body but an arm of the Communications Ministry. Its board will be political appointees.

Sources said Netanyahu wants to change the legislation now in the Knesset to empower the new authority to appoint Kan’s board and to dismiss its current members, including its chairman, Gil Omer. Under the current law forming the public broadcasting corporation, the board is appointed by an independent search committee.

Netanyahu is expected to begin a drive to effect the changes when he returns from a trip to Australia and Singapore a week from Monday. The first step will be to try to push back against Kan’s launch date, which is now set by law for April 30.

Sources said he had obstacles to surmount. One is Cabel, an opposition MK determined to keep Kan on the air. The prime minister hopes to solve that problem by moving deliberations on broadcast-authority legislation to a special Knesset committee.

The second, and bigger, obstacle is Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who said as recently as last week that he was determined to close down the IBA and have Kan go on the air by April 30.