Something Is Rotten in the State of Public Broadcasting

The Israel Broadcasting Authority is using threats and aggression to raise fees from the public, but it remains a mismanaged cultural wasteland.

Haaretz Editorial
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Haaretz Editorial

During the first half of 2013, the Israel Broadcasting Authority succeeded in improving its numbers in two areas, according to its performance reports for the period (as reported in Hebrew Haaretz yesterday). No, we’re not referring to the quantity or quality of the productions by Israel’s public broadcasting station – those both dropped – but in its rate of collection and in employee salaries.

According to the reports, the IBA succeeded, by, among other methods, a campaign of threats and aggressive actions by lawyers, to boost its income from the annual broadcast levy to NIS 281 million, about 30 percent more than had been expected for the period. The surplus funds were invested primarily in benefitting its workers, using the mechanism of overtime hours; overtime payments rose 20 percent during the first half of the year, to NIS 41 million. This occurred without any change in worker output and despite the IBA’s promise two months ago that it would reduce overtime hours.

The IBA’s payment mechanism, which is based on a relatively low base salary and a wholesale distribution of overtime that has no relation to employees’ actual performance, has been criticized in the past, inter alia, in the State Comptroller’s Report in 2007 and in another report in 2009. According to the report on public sector salaries for 2011, the average gross salary of IBA employees was NIS 18,400 a month, higher than what is customary for the public sector, let alone the private sector. One might be able to justify such salaries if the result properly served the public, but what is far more obvious than the IBA’s financial reports is the cultural wasteland staring at us from the screen of the public channel, which cannot manage to offer an alternative to the commercial broadcasters.

The public channel, which is supported by an obligatory fee levied on everyone who owns a television set, suffers from numerous problems, including political appointments, lavish and wasteful productions by those in the inner circles and excessive wage agreements with workers whose productivity is low.

In the opinion of deputy attorney general Avi Licht, and an economic consulting firm that dealt with the issue, the reforms in the IBA that are currently being being promoted, at a cost of some NIS 770 million, will not ensure improvement in the situation. Therefore, the minister responsible for the IBA, Gilad Erdan, must keep his word and come up with a new, much more dramatic reform program. This reform must, first and foremost, disengage public broadcasting from political interests, and heal the sickness in the IBA. Only thus will we finally be able to enjoy quality public broadcasting that’s accessible to all.

The Israel Broadcasting Authority building in Jerusalem. Credit: Yael Engelhart