Opinion |

Israel Needs More Private Media Outlets, Not a Public Broadcaster

When the government funds a public broadcaster, it is buying obedience and maintenance of the political status quo - which is the last thing the public needs.

Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher
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Preparing for a news show on Channel 1.
Preparing for a news show on Channel 1.Credit: Nir Kafri
Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher

So what if the new public broadcasting corporation – due to replace the Israel Broadcasting Authority – is scrapped? After all, there’s no print equivalent. There’s no state-sponsored public social network. Or a publicly sponsored Google or any other search engine. All of these media outlets are privately owned. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who wants the new broadcasting corporation shuttered before it’s scheduled to go on the air early next year, has unwittingly managed to convince the media that it would be a disaster for democracy (the public really doesn’t care about public broadcasting) if this new agency doesn’t get off the ground.

Due to his unfounded paranoia, the premier attributes left-wing, anti-“Bibi” plots to the new public broadcasting body (known as Kan). Consequently, he has managed to make this nascent public broadcaster look like an essential part of Israeli democracy.

But public funding in Israel is always political – and Israeli public bodies are political, too. From the moment there are government regulations and regulators, boards and Finance Ministry budgets, it becomes political. Therefore, Kan will seek to offer a “balanced” view. The term balanced, however, has only one political meaning in Israel – and that is that it sanctifies the political status quo.

In what respect is Kan essential to democracy? Will it fight the occupation and West Bank settlements? Will it fight for separation of religion and state? Will it promote the rights of the country’s disadvantaged Arab minority? Of course not. It’s all in Netanyahu’s paranoid head.

Due to its “public” status, Kan is obligated to provide a voice for all local communities and cover the gamut of opinion in Israeli society. But that also neutralizes its mandate to formulate an agenda.

Its public nature is a guarantee of malignant ideological paralysis and over-cautiousness – lest the public be offended. The new broadcaster will become another government mouthpiece on all the core burning issues: the occupation, apartheid, the status of religion, the Holocaust, the Israel Defense Forces, etc. How would Kan have covered the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza? Just like commercial Channel 2. How will the face of Israeli society change if Kan actually goes on the air? Not a jot.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attending his weekly cabinet meeting, at his office in Jerusalem, September 27, 2016.Credit: Atef Safadi/Reuters

Only privately run media outlets are capable of furthering a clear political agenda. That’s what’s happened on Jewish heritage broadcaster Channel 20; at Haaretz; on the Walla website; and at the daily Israel Hayom. Israel needs more private media outlets. Why not just scrap all public broadcasting, including Army Radio (an anomaly that should stop immediately) and Reshet Bet radio? “Public” is not a synonym for quality. “Public” is a synonym for “official.” And officialdom in broadcasting is a real ill.

When the treasury foots the bill, it is also calling the tune. And the route between the Finance Ministry, the communications minister (currently Netanyahu) and the government coalition chairman will always be a short one. Of course, the left-wing, peace-loving minority in Israel that opposes the occupation and fascist influences suffers from underrepresentation in the media. It’s capable of providing consumers with additional media that represents their worldview. There’s a demand for it.

And this is a problem the free market needs to tackle. The solution will not come from Kan. It would be a shame to waste energy fighting for its right to exist when, in practice, it will be afraid of “the people” and of steering clear of elitism.

The battle over Kan is a dazed invention of Netanyahu’s making. In his paranoid mind, there’s a substantial political distinction between Kan and the agency he’s currently promoting, which would bring together the remnants of the Israel Broadcasting Corporation, Army Radio and Educational Television. There really is no difference. It’s an illusion.

Anyone hoping to promote a liberal agenda that would wage all-out war on the occupation and the increasing religious and fascist influences should calm down. Whether it’s Kan or something else, it doesn’t matter. Salvation will not arrive via public broadcasting.

The public is getting the public broadcasting it deserves – and it’s the Israeli public that’s the problem (Netanyahu is just a symptom). The public is the occupier, the settler. It is increasingly racist, embracing extreme nationalism based on an Orthodox, religious Jewish identity.

The involvement of the government in the media needs to be reduced, not increased. Less regulation and reduced government funding for the media equals a freer media.

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