Shut Down Public Broadcasting if It's Turned Into a Tool for Israel's Politicians

There is no justification to pay for politicized public broadcasting to the tune of hundreds of millions of shekels a year.

Illustrative: Benjamin Netanyahu addresses members of the Israeli media.
Pool, Reuters

The attempts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud MKs, through coalition whip MK David Bitan, to undermine the Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation, known as “Kan” (Here), have been growing in recent weeks. If they succeed in the end, it will be a harsh blow to Israeli democracy.

The justification for the aggressive move of closing down the old Israel Broadcasting Authority while laying off all its employees, and establishing a new public broadcasting corporation in its stead, was based on two basic assumptions. The first was that the IBA was so tainted, and the waste of money and inefficiency so great that there was no possibility to rehabilitate it through internal reforms. The second assumption, expressed in the conclusions of the Landes committee, which recommended a process of closing and reopening, was that the rot in public broadcasting stemmed from the entrenched political control: The process of appointing senior IBA officials was defective and allowed politicians to place their obedient cronies in key positions, in some cases even if they lacked the right skills and managerial experience.

The IPBC was meant to solve both these problems. First, a wide-scale economic study was conducted before the IPBC’s founding, which detailed the projected financial savings and the methods of operation and oversight needed for the corporation to function with managerial flexibility and in line with professional standards.

But more importantly, the legislation that established the IPBC created for the first time a significant obstacle for the politicians: Appointments to the IPBC’s board would be made by an independent search committee headed by a judge, so the political leadership had no ability to intervene in appointing board members or executives.

On Thursday, Bitan presented a document in which he claimed that the closure of the IPBC and return of the IBA would lead to major financial savings. Bitan emphasizes only the financial motive, but if the IBA remains as before, it will allow Netanyahu to continue to directly control the appointment of the IBA’s management. This means a return to the old system of political appointments, which created a dependent public broadcaster carrying out the politicians’ wishes.

If Netanyahu’s plot to harm the IPBC succeeds, there is no justification to pay for politicized public broadcasting to the tune of hundreds of millions of shekels a year. Such a body, which will be a tool in the hands of the politicians, has no right to exist, and it should be completely shut down until a way is found to bring it back in a truly independent format.