Who Will Save the IBA?

Israeli governments have carried out the most important reform of all: the IBA has been weakened and frightened, made absolutely dependent on its real owners: the government and the prime minister.

It is fair to say that the Israeli public is not interested in hearing about the Israel Broadcasting Authority. Does anyone still watch Channel 1 television? Nonetheless, it deserves a moment of attention because the situation at the IBA is really a story about what ails the State of Israel.

In the current episode of the farce/tragedy/soap opera of the broadcasting association, Channel 1's broadcasts will be ending at 11 P.M. as of last night, as a result of cuts by the management (which is also doing away with its flagship show, the news wrap-up program "Mehayom Lemahar"), and work stoppages by the technical staff. Channel 1 will also not be broadcasting the Winter Olympics, and the IBA's Israel Radio is no longer airing telephone interviews with public figures.

For many years, Israeli governments have made sure that the IBA management would be political appointees, whose expertise is their connections rather than their professional skills. In most cases the chairman of the board and the director general can't stand each other, so they undermine each other's work.

Thus the situation at the IBA has declined to a horrific nadir. It is falling behind technologically, uses archaic visual content, and has a massive accumulation of frustrated employees who are in essence unemployed, along with technicians whose excessive salary agreements were meant to compensate for pathetically low base wages. There is also a pervasive lack of moral support or solidarity between journalists and the technical staff. The results match the situation.

Reports that quote the "IBA management" are really absurd. The IBA has no real management at this time. For the past eight months there has not even been an acting chairman of the board, much less a fully fledged one. There has been no permanent director for television, radio, television content or television news for even longer than that. All are just acting directors.

To say that they are "acting" directors means that none of them was selected through a tender. All of them were selected to suit the person who selected them at that particular moment (not on the basis of skills), and they can all be removed at any given moment if their actions don't please the boss. This "management" is the one expected to conduct negotiations with the Finance Ministry on reforming the IBA.

The only permanent appointment at the IBA is the director general, Moti Sklar, and the situation proves that he is not powerful enough to stand up to a pushy government, or to the staff; he cannot gain their trust or inspire them.

There has been talk of reforming the IBA for the past two decades. Every minister under whose authority the IBA falls produces another committee, another report and another proposed reform, but nothing is implemented. All the same, Israeli governments have carried out the most important reform of all: the IBA has been weakened and frightened, made absolutely dependent on its real owners: the government and the prime minister. The IBA today is like a battered woman who isn't financially independent and does whatever she can to please an abusive husband because she has no other option.

Thus we find that the prime minister's spokesman demands that his boss get some air time on the radio and the acting head of Israel Radio orders the station to comply - contrary to the desires of the editor in charge. And Channel 1 is the only television station spending tens of thousands of dollars (which it does not have) on a team to accompany the prime minister on an important trip to Washington. Of course, reporters working for the IBA realize full well that it is in their interest to weigh their words carefully.

When this is the situation, it's clear why the minister currently in charge of the IBA, Yuli Edelstein, refuses to continue work on of a proposal to amend the IBA Law by taking the right to appoint the director general and chairman of the board out of the government's hands. He wants it to remain in government control.

The politician who initiated the proposal is Edelstein's predecessor's predecessor, Eitan Cabel. Isaac Herzog, Edelstein's immediate predecessor, continued to work on it, but somehow three years in office were not enough time for the previous government to pass the amendment.

When this is the situation, why reform at all? After all, if the government wanted to, it could carry out a kind of disengagement: pour a lot of money onto the problem, compensate those being fired, and rebuild. It is possible; the IBA's agreements with its workers are almost totally finalized. But who cares about the employees? Or the viewers? Or the state? The most important thing is that the politicians remain protected.