Israeli Media Must Kill Its Inner Censor

When it comes to cottage cheese we go out and do battle, but when we are poisoned by government- sponsored delicacies, a consumer boycott is inconceivable.

It’s Israel’s voice today, but it brings us back to yesteryear; they are returning to the Ben-Gurion era, when the Israel Broadcasting Authority found shelter beneath the wings of the Prime Minister’s Office.

This month saw the publication of the book “B’Kol Ram” (“In a Loud Voice”) by Israeli newsman Elimelech Ram, who confesses: “Censorship silenced us. That was the atmosphere imposed by Ben-Gurion.
We were the government’s yes-men. It took us time to understand that something wasn’t kosher here and that this alliance had to be broken.” What was understood then is not understood now.

I was there, during those years, a Benjamin in the company of lions and their cubs. I recall the phone calls from aides and advisers. Each of us developed his own methods of evading them. I invented the broken telephone − Hello, what’s the matter with this screwed-up phone? Hello, I can’t hear a thing. And by the time the line was repaired the broadcast was on the air, too late to censor.

I was an inexperienced young man, but I have never worked with people graced with such intelligence and integrity, refusing to sing along with the choir. Although the law subjugated radio to the government – we were still living without television − it was clear to everyone that change was around the corner. And we didn’t say the day will come, we helped bring it about. In 1965 Prime Minister Levi Eshkol released broadcasting from slavery to freedom, and that subversive gang − Haggai Pinsker, Yoram Ronen, Yirmiyahu Yovel, Micha Shagrir, Yigal Lossin and Yaron London − stood up and cheered.

Where are they and where are Amir Gilat, Yoni Ben-Menachem and Mickey Miro? Where is Eshkol and where is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? Every state in the making is a mobilized state. There is no need to mobilize it, it serves of its own free will, out of a sense of mission: Let’s come together to the aid of the nation. But the years pass, the society matures, and then it’s capable of marching on its own. In the mid-’60s, only 15 years after independence, we knew our own minds and crossed the street without escorts.

That’s the difference between those days and these, vive la difference. We wanted to be released from our shackles, whereas our successors want to be tied up. We wanted to broadcast and they want to serve, to renew the alliance that we decided to break. It’s enough to check out the new managers to know what they’re made of: There is subservience and no resistance, there are missionaries and no mission, there is payment and nothing in return − they are professional lackeys. It’s pleasant and rewarding to stand at the entrance of the conference room on Sunday mornings and receive a pat on the back from the prime minister; there’s no doubt about it, Shmulik, he likes you.

We always fought for public broadcasting, even during its worst periods when commissars were sent to supervise its political correctness, to tame the shrew. The day will come when it fulfills its function, we said to ourselves. It would be a mistake, we believed, to place our confusion in the hands of the whitewashers from the commercial channels.

But now, when Netanyahu is reaching out for the broadcasting authority, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak is reeducating Army Radio, we are beginning to have regrets. After all, we have no desire for a large and expensive mouthpiece designed to brainwash us. When it comes to cottage cheese we go out and do battle, but when we are poisoned by government- sponsored delicacies, a consumer boycott is inconceivable.

And maybe there’s another way to stop the purge (who will be ousted next?): to kill the censor within us while it is still small and remove from the studio the fear that paralyzes and silences us. The people in charge have to know that the broadcaster who is kicked out will not be quickly replaced, the collaborators will have no collaborators, and the microphone of His Master’s Voice will remain closed and abandoned. Is that too much to expect from colleagues?