The Israeli government may revoke the decision to establish a new independent public broadcaster in what could be a serious detriment to democracy in the country.
Current IPBC logo.
Current IPBC logo.

Back in 2014, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had approved – alongside the coalition government – a law to establish a new broadcaster for the country, the Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation (IPBC) to replace the old Israeli Broadcasting Authority (IBA). However, the government has recently decided to backtrack on its plans, by scrapping plans for the new broadcaster and working instead on the old institution.

The planned IPBC was proposed for two key reasons. One is the belief that the old IBA was not worth the money, was inefficient and not fit to operate, no matter how many attempts there were at internal reform. Second, it was noted that there was too much political control within public broadcasting, especially as the appointment processes allowed politicians to place their supporters in key positions.

The establishment of the IPBC sought to overcome these problems by proposing a thorough financial plan and a new legislation that would allow an independent committee – conducted by a judge, rather than politicians – to appoint board members or chief executives.

Yet despite this, Prime Minister Netanyahu has recently been attempting to undermine the newly introduced IPBC, proposing to close it down and work on the old IBA model instead. In July, Netanyahu had already decided to delay the institution of the new broadcasting corporation and extend the IBA mandate. The Likud MK David Bitan, head of the government coalition,  claimed last Thursday that returning to the IBA and working to improve its efficiency would be more cost effective for the country. This move, however, could be a serious detriment to Israel’s democratic standing.

In fact, disregarding the new legislations that came with IPBC might also mean that politicians could maintain the same level of power when it comes to appointing new board members or executives.

In an editorial, the newspaper Haaretz condemned this decision, arguing that if Netanyahu’s attempts succeed “there is no justification to pay for politicised public broadcasting to the tune of hundreds of millions of shekels a year. Such a body, which will be a tool in the hands of the politicians, has no right to exist, and it should be completely shut down until a way is found to bring it back in a truly independent format.”

This move also puts at risk many of the journalists and media professionals who signed contracts with the IPBC and are now left in suspense to see what their future will hold.

“My contract was supposed to have started now and I don’t know what’s happening,” said one of the workers who was supposed to work with IPBC. “Nobody is talking to me and I don’t know what my fate is going to be.”

Yesh Atid MK Karing Elharar, chair of the Knesset State Control Committee, criticised the intentions of the government and especially its decision to work on the IBA whilst incorporating the Army Radio and Educational Television.

“Now the prime minister wants to merge a number of broadcasting outlets which can only be harmful to freedom of expression,” he said.

Gideon Levy, a Hareetz correspondent, echoed the critique writing that a similar decision “will be the end of press freedom”. Levy stressed the importance of fighting for public broadcasting as opposed to just promoting commercial media, as the latter does not do much to challenge the status quo as much as public media could potentially do, whilst promoting democracy and freedom of expression.  A move to restore IBA would significantly undermine the benefits of an independent public broadcasting organisation.

Header image: Overlooking Jerusalem. Credits: Neta Bartal/Creative Commons