Opinion

Who's in Favor of Liquidating the News Corporation?

Under Netanyahu's conditions the regime will decide who runs the new broadcasting corporation and what its budget will be. That’s not a free press - that’s North Korea.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, February 19, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

The struggle between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is over image; who’s better, who’s more oriented to social problems and who is more compassionate.

That’s why Kahlon was so angry when Netanyahu managed to make him the bad guy in the story about the closure of the Israel Broadcasting Authority. The workers' demonstrations and strikes were directed at him, while Netanyahu came out clean.

That’s also why Kahlon’s reaction on Sunday to Netanyahu’s antics was so sharp: “I don’t need lessons in compassion from anyone the previous government did to them [IBA workers] what it did, and threw it at me.”

Indeed, Netanyahu pulled a fast one on him. After all, the premier had supported the closure of the IBA when the issue was on the agenda in 2014. He decried the waste there, from the excessive salaries to the surplus manpower. On the eve of the last elections he seemed to equate IBA employees with Hamas terrorists in a video that was meant to be part of Likud’s election campaign.

And now, a little more than a month before the IBA is to close, he practically broke down in tears at the meeting last week with IBA personnel who told him about their difficulties. It’s as if he didn’t understand that when you shut something down, you also fire people. Thus he produced an emotional clip that could easily win an international prize for cynicism. “I spoke with the employees of the authority; it was a heartbreaking meeting with experienced and devoted people who are being thrown into the street,” he said.

Oh, come on. The last thing he’s worried about is the fate of the IBA employees. He sees them as part of the “fat man,” the public sector that needs to be cut. The only thing that interests him is controlling the broadcasting outlets.

Netanyahu is also sure that the journalists who were hired by the public broadcasting corporation Kan, which is meant to replace the IBA, belong to a left-wing gang, and even worse — the Arnon Mozes gang, with the Yedioth Ahronoth publisher pulling the strings. That’s why he will do everything to prevent the opening of Kan, but if there’s no choice, then he will castrate it.

Netanyahu already controls a significant portion of the media. He has an entire newspaper, Israel Hayom, and another newspaper, Makor Rishon, which supports him. He has a large news website, Walla!, whose owner is his friend, and he has the IBA. He doesn’t want to give up anything. Culture Minister Miri Regev was speaking for him in 2016 when she said: "We give them money and they broadcast whatever they want? It is inconceivable that we establish a corporation that we won't control. What's the point?”

For all the political spats we’ve almost forgotten why the IBA had to be shut down in the first place. It’s a sick organization whose output and quality had been deteriorating for years. It was way overstaffed by people getting excessive wages and all kinds of strange salary increments. The unions were the absolute rulers and political appointments destroyed all semblance of professional management. The state comptroller once said that at issue was “an unacceptable organizational culture, deviation from proper management, serious management deficiencies and political influences.” The public voted with its ears, so to speak, and Channel 1’s ratings plummeted.

The big question is whether replacing the IBA with a new corporation is the right move. First of all, it’s going to cost a lot – some 740 million shekels ($200.9 million) annually. Second, today there are so many media channels, on television, on the radio and on the internet that compete and offer pluralism and a variety of opinions, from Channel 20 to Channel 10, from Kol B’Rama radio to Radio Eilat, that it isn’t certain there’s a need for a government or state media outlet.

The issue is getting increasingly complicated, as it turns out that the Netanyahu-Kahlon compromise agreement includes the dismissal of the current professional executives of Kan, and the establishment of a government body that will supervise the corporation and choose its executives. That’s an absolute castration of the company. After all, the job of the media is to criticize and expose the regime’s injustices, but the moment the regime decides who will run an outlet and what its budget will be, that’s not a free press, that’s North Korea.

Therefore, if at the end of this process we get a corporation that’s essentially the IBA in disguise, with an excess of workers (since it will be forced to hire additional IBA castoffs) and under Netanyahu’s political control, then this media outlet can't justify its existence either.