Opinion

With Politicians Like These, Israel Is Better Off Without Public Broadcasting

Maybe public broadcasting can succeed in other countries with a democratic tradition like Britain, but not in this sweaty country where politicians want to control everything that moves

News anchors and the television crew during the final broadcast of "Mabat," May 9, 2017.
Channel 1 screenshot

This time it won’t take 52 years. This time it will happen much more quickly. Everything goes more quickly nowadays, especially the media. The two broadcasting corporations that have been launched this week in the most perverse way possible won’t hold up for too many years. The division, the waste and the politicization will do them in.

“Public broadcasting” is an oxymoron. Maybe it can succeed in other countries with a democratic tradition like Britain (and there it also has problems), but not in this sweaty country where politicians have no democratic tradition and want to control everything that moves.

The main idea behind establishing a new corporation was to keep the politicians away from it. After all, the essence of the media is to criticize the regime. We won’t find out about corruption at the top without investigative reports, and we won’t know how to vote correctly without knowing what the politicians’ real interests are.

But the moment the regime controls public broadcasting, we’ll have a government mouthpiece that hides the truth and therefore has no right to exist. That’s exactly what happened to the Israel Broadcasting Authority and unfortunately that’s what will happen to the two new corporations. Culture Minister Miri Regev said that as clearly as can be: “It’s inconceivable that we’ll establish a corporation that we won’t control. What’s the point?”

For most of the IBA’s existence, ministers and prime ministers blatantly intervened in its broadcasts, and journalists who wanted to advance to management positions pandered to them and did their bidding. This can also be expected to happen with the two new broadcasting corporations, and it doesn’t matter if the law states that their executives will be chosen by a judge. After all, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already split the original corporation and basically dismissed its two directors, so the editors and reporters know exactly on which side their bread is buttered – and that’s the anti-media side.

The IBA was a sick organization. It was controlled by unions that didn’t let it  be managed properly. There were hundreds too many employees, some of whom didn’t even work, but they couldn’t be fired. Many, especially the technicians, claimed fictitious overtime hours, “on-call shifts” and all kinds of other tricks that extorted the government and absurdly enlarged their salaries.

The IBA’s top salary for 2015 went to a voice supervisor who earned 71,000 shekels ($19,730) a month – more than the prime minister. While the private channels send reporters into the field with one technician, Channel 1 sent four. So it’s true that the IBA also had good and devoted workers, but there were fewer of them over the years and the end result was a wasteful and corrupt outfit whose ratings were embarrassingly low. The radio stations were the exception.

This can also be expected to happen with the new corporations. It’s a deterministic process that has already begun. The crazy split has turned the Kan corporation into a marginal, insignificant entity whose soul (the news) has been taken from it. The fact that the government will set the budgets for the two corporations is a clear recipe for control. You don’t want to broadcast what we want? We’ll cut your budget. You’re too critical? We’ll brand you leftists and fire you. We’ve done it before.

The personal contracts won’t survive, either. The employees of both corporations will organize very quickly under the auspices of the Histadrut labor federation, and the personal contracts will go into the trash. Proper management will again become impossible, just like at the IBA. Political appointments will abound, as will waste and irrelevant considerations until the bottom line – low ratings – will emerge and people will ask, why pay a billion shekels a year for this?

It’s worth noting that print journalism has no “public newspaper.” All the newspapers are privately owned and even so there is variety marked by competition, investigations and different opinions that together promote democracy. This proves that with politicians like ours, we’d be better off without public broadcasting.