Shake up at Israel's public broadcasting body may meet with resistance

Rebecca Hawkes | 11-03-2014

Plans to shut down the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) with immediate effect and replace it with a professionally run agency are likely to face stiff opposition from workers' unions and politicians, according to local reports.

Israel's Communications Minister Gilad Erdan is committed to closing the IBA, which in addition to radio, runs the country's prime public TV channel – Channel 1 – and news and cultural Channel 33, which broadcasts in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

Erdan's decision follows the recent publication of a report calling for far reaching reforms at the IBA, authored by a committee headed by Ram Landes. The creation of a replacement governing body; a thousand job losses; a new wage scheme; a decrease in political influence on appointments; the merging of radio and TV news media; and state and advertised-based funding are some of the proposals.

Under the Landes plan, a board of directors – each professionally qualified in a relevant field – would oversee the new agency. The board and its chairman would still be appointed by the communications minister, but candidates for both board and chairman would be proposed by a search committee. If a minister rejected the recommendations, they would have to explain their decision. The new agency's board of directors would appoint the new agency's director general, rather than the cabinet as is currently the case.

The proposal is still likely to encounter political resistance, although some say it does not go far enough. Some observers point out the director general could ultimately be ousted by the cabinet should he or she fall out of political favour.

The Histadrut labour federation is yet to add its voice to the mix, but given the IBA was established through legislation, negotiations with workers will be key to changing the governing body of public broadcasting in the country.

However, Israeli media believe that with the backing of Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Erdan's plan to replace the IBA may come to pass – despite the failure of the many previous reports calling for its reform. Erdan has also courted public popularity by announcing the mandatory television and radio licence fee will be scrapped in 2015.

"What's important is bringing this to the finish line once and for all and launching a new broadcasting authority that's divorced from all past obligations," said Landes. "It's very important that the authority's money be directed outward to support the local production market."

Speaking to Channel 1 on 7 March, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "Certainly reform of the Israel Broadcasting Authority is needed. Everyone knows that. The public knows it, as does the broadcasting authority's staff. I hope a good reform can be achieved. We need public broadcasting in the State of Israel. I think it's necessary in any democratic country."