Stop Talking About Shutting Down Israel's Army Radio

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Soldiers leave the Army Radio station building in Jaffa, in 2016.

In early 1997, the Knesset Education and Culture Committee held a spirited discussion after the broadcast of “The Tunnel” monologue by Keren Mor on the “Hamishia Hakamerit” (Cameri Quintet) television show.

The future of the Israel Broadcasting Authority was also discussed at the time, and the words of the talented actress, which we cannot bear to write down here at the moment, caused deep embarrassment. For myself too, a fan of biting satire, this monologue was truly hard to watch, and I felt terribly uncomfortable just watching it.

Between presenting the dry figures, tables and comparisons to other broadcasting authorities around the world, the discussion circled its way back to one about the content. Under a façade of being businesslike, the Knesset members who participated in the meeting, from right and left, knew to point out which content – mirroring their political stances – drove viewers away from the Broadcasting Authority. Without using the explicit words, they basically asked: What’s the Broadcasting Authority worth if we can’t control it?

The director general of the IBA, Mordechai (Moti) Kirschenbaum, my friend who is now in heaven, listened with great attention to the arguments. He responded matter-of-factly, stifled an understandable chuckle in the face of the hollow comments, bowed his head to the appropriate claims he could not refute – and toward the end, when only Keren Mor’s monologue was left on the table, he asked to state the obvious, which I still miss so much today: “The advantage of satire – and I’ve been working with satire for a few decades – is that everyone has a different opinion about it and everyone defines it a different way.”

“You don’t say, Sherlock!” a few of those present in the room thought. But I understood very well what Moti was telling us. We can argue about satire, gentlemen – but on the right to broadcast it, or any other content, in our public broadcasts, woe to us if we disagree.

The broadcasts of Army Radio and its official status were set down in the Broadcasting Authority Law, and so was the oversight of it. Over the years, Army Radio produced what was in every way public broadcasting, and as such, in a democratic country, we must protect it in every way.

Today, too, the station provides a voice to a public that is worried about the burden of bureaucracy, provides relief to Israelis who love nostalgia at 4 in the afternoon, enables understanding of the world economy and expands on the news in Israel – and gives an important resonance to the generally unheralded efforts of IDF soldiers.

Still, the dilapidated building in Jaffa needs to be shaken up, and we must fill the journalistic asset that resides inside it with content that will once again, firstly, give expression to the entire public, and the entire range of its opinions. It would also be appropriate to combine the principles of broadcasting at the station with fundamental respect for those who are different, and a bit less crudity – but it is forbidden for all this to blur the main principles. Woe to us if we throw out the precious baby with the filthy bathwater – which from time to time floods the broadcasting studios of the military radio station – and we harm Israeli democracy in such a critical way.

Political motives have always resided in the corridors of public broadcasting. But in the battle for the continued life of Army Radio, it seems that those shocked by the political slant in its broadcasts were exposed to this evil disease only when the voice that blasts the radio waves belongs to the opposite of their political side – and suddenly they have become enthusiastic supporters of demolishing the transmitter.

As everyone knows, democracy is not a show that plays only what you want, and public broadcasting is the foundation of a living and kicking democracy. That is why anyone who wants public broadcasting must guarantee that it will be unbiased at the end of every broadcasting day. Every voice has its place, and if it is presented in an appropriate, reasonable way, it is essential for it to be heard in a country such as ours. That is how democracy is built.

It cannot be that because of corrupt voices, we will bow our heads and lose a public broadcasting asset. We must guarantee a journalistic, professional guiding hand in the face of such people and remember that editing, as opposed to censorship, is not a dirty word – it is a system of defense for the public’s trust via the priceless tool handed over to journalists.

Inside me resides the fear that the total closure of Army Radio will be a step after which will come other antidemocratic moves – which I don’t dare to think about at all – and they will enter into the space of reasonable judgment.

As for a framework in which Army Radio will continue and function as a public broadcasting body, I have faith in the judgment of my friend, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and am certain that it is possible to make the proper adaptations in the budget and the mix of soldiers serving at the station, under proper management.

But for now, we must remove from the agenda the plan for a complete closure of the station, or its sale. We must help it to provide the accounting, which is certainly needed, to its listening public only – while it provides good, balanced and managed journalism – when it broadcasts.

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