Communications Ministry to Intensify Fight Against Pirate Radio

Move comes in response to pressure from the Israel Airports Authority, strike threats by its employees.

The Communications Ministry will intensify its fight against illegal radio stations in response to pressure from the Israel Airports Authority (IAA)and strike threats by its employees.

The IAA union backed down Wednesday night from its threat to shut down Ben-Gurion Airport today, but it said that it would continue sanctions that would disrupt airport services.

The pirate stations have been interfering with air traffic controllers' radio communications with flights entering and leaving Israel, and thereby threatening airline safety. However, there were no reports of such dangerous broadcasts Thursday, and the airport operated normally.

The ministry intends to begin fining advertisers on pirate stations, in order to undermine the legitimacy of such broadcasters, cut their revenues and possibly even force them to close down.

On a visit to the IAA Thursday, Communications Minister Ariel Atias said: "We have stopped the operations of the pirate radio station in Ramallah in a way that is best not spoken about, and I will not provide any more details, but it is clear to everyone that this is not the way."

Atias emphasized that "it is necessary to increase the punishment for operators of pirate radio stations and reduce the time it takes police and inspectors to close the stations. We will do all that is necessary to provide a solution for locating every pirate radio station that starts broadcasting."

There are still hundreds of illegal radio stations operating in Israel, even though hundreds are shut down every year. Over the last week, nine illegal stations have been closed, with an emphasis on those broadcasting on the same frequencies as airport control towers.

In 2006, 130 illegal radio stations were shut down and 23 indictments filed. Since the beginning of 2007, about 50 such stations have been shut down.The issue will be raised at a cabinet meeting next week, and Attorney General Menachem Mazuz has also been asked to intervene in the matter. He has called an urgent meeting to consider ways of making law enforcement against pirate stations more effective.

The Justice Ministry said in response: "First, it should be made clear that responsibility for handling pirate radio stations is in the hands of the Communications Ministry and the police. Nevertheless, immediately upon receipt of a request from Amos Lapidot [who heads a public committee on aviation safety], we approached the relevant bodies the police and Communications Ministry in order to obtain their comments on the matter by next week."