Israel's Culture Minister Should Leave Army Radio Alone

A minister is meant to outline a policy, not engage in assuring airtime for artists based on their ethnic origin, the language they sing in or their style.

Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial
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Army Radio studio.
Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

The strange series of meetings that Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev has been holding with the brass at Army Radio about its Galgalatz music station indicates bad judgment on the part of both the minister and station managers, who agreed to meet a minister to whom they don’t answer.

With regard to Regev, one must ask if the playlist of a military station – which is only one of many on the air – is really worth addressing. A minister is meant to outline a policy, not engage in assuring airtime for artists based on their ethnic origin, the language they sing in, their style or other considerations, on any specific station.

Beyond the issue of the formal limits of the minister’s authority in this realm, the question is how to set a fair mix of songs for the playlist that will satisfy the aspirations Regev supposedly represents. Should Israeli, Western-style songs make up 40 percent or 55 percent of all the songs the station plays? Should there be a special quota for Mizrahi (Middle Eastern-style) songs? After all, not all Israeli songs are sung in a distinctly Mizrahi style. And how does one determine if a song is “Mizrahi” or a different type of Israeli music?

Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev.Credit: Tess Scheflan

The fact that Regev’s involvement was influenced by singer Maya Bouskilla, who accused the station of discrimination several months ago during a performance, highlights Regev’s tendency toward populism and headline-seeking – in this case by promoting the agenda of a celebrity, even if it’s a celebrity who felt rejected and insulted.

While the people at Army Radio promised Regev they would try harder to recruit music producers from poor, outlying towns (the assumption being that the taste of producers from the periphery will necessarily tend toward Mizrahi music), it’s not the culture minister’s job to deal with staffing the station’s playlist committee. This is true even if, as Regev told Haaretz, her involvement was coordinated with the Defense Ministry. The station’s subordination to the Defense Ministry is itself a distortion that should be corrected.

As for the station managers at Army Radio, as journalists who manage a news department and not just a music station, it should have been clear that allowing the involvement by any politician – especially an aggressive and populist minister like Regev – in determining station policy was a risky move. The fact there were several meetings on the issue conveyed a clear message to the station’s managers that they must toe the government line, and that if the regime wants to hear more Dudu Aharon or Maya Bouskilla, it pays to include them.

“Dialogue” with public figures, as station chief Yaron Dekel described it, follows a pretty standard pattern – the public figure speaks, and the other party listens and does as he’s told. It would behoove Dekel and the other station managers to politely but firmly rebuff such intervention.

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