Why Hasn't Israel Done Away With the TV Licensing Fee?

A plan to revamp the Israel Broadcasting Authority and do away with the archaic TV licensing fee was promised a year ago, is now on hold until the election, and beyond.

The intention to remove Channel 33 from Idan Plus should be examined.

“About a year from today, the television license fee in Israel will be eliminated. I will repeat this more precisely: On March 31, 2015, the television license fee will be eliminated.” That was the text of the announcement from former Communications Minister Gilad Erdan at a Tel Aviv news conference in March of last year, an event at which he was joined by the finance minister at the time, Yair Lapid.

Erdan presented his reform plan then to shut down and reopen the Israel Broadcasting Authority based on recommendations of an official panel, the Landes Committee. The main points of the recommendations dealt with the closure of the bloated and inefficient old agency and the establishment of an efficient and money-saving broadcast agency in its place. It was a response to the rot that had been spreading for decades at the broadcasting authority, to its inflated expenses and to the high level of political involvement in its program content.

The public’s anger at the broadcasting authority was mostly over the obligation that households have had to make twice-yearly television license fee payments, even though the old broadcasting agency hasn’t provided the required value to the public in return for the fee. Erdan, along with Lapid, based the entire reform process on rising public anger and garnered wide public backing.

The deadline that Erdan set is fast approaching, but the license fee has not been rescinded. It won’t be rescinded by the end of 2015, either. For political considerations in the run-up to the March 17 Knesset election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is holding up official approval of a deferral of the reform and as a result the Israel Broadcast Authority cannot currently send license fee bills to households around the country. Immediately following the election, however, the public will be required to pay the fee, and that may even continue in 2016.

Erdan acted with determination and courage to pass the public broadcasting law, beginning with work that his predecessors had avoided – getting the process of genuine change in public broadcasting moving. Nevertheless, he was quick to base all of the marketing efforts on behalf of the reform on the elimination of the license fee and even saw to it to claim credit and political gain for it. True, Erdan is no longer communications minister. He is now interior minister, but the authority for handling the reform at the broadcasting authority remains in his hands. It would be proper for him to address the public and explain the delay in fulfilling his promises. It would also be proper for the current acting communication minister, Netanyahu, to speak rather than hide behind a temporary delay in the required license fee payment.

Thus, one of the few successful reforms that the outgoing government has managed to create is still far from being carried out, while members of the public, who were promised that they would be spared the fee, will be forced to continue to pay it.