The cabinet voted Sunday to support a bill that would close the Israel Broadcasting Authority and establish a new public broadcasting entity in its place, and would bring an end to the country’s tax on televisions by 2015.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the much-anticipated reforms in remarks at the weekly cabinet meeting.
“These reforms have been presented to about a dozen committees and have been passed by the government of Israel, and now we’ve finally come to realize these reforms, first and foremost of which are that all Israeli citizens will stop paying television license fees starting next year, doing away with a tax that charges every family more than 300 shekels ($87),” he said.
Netanyahu also expressed support for IBA workers who are demanding that they be absorbed into the new entity.
“The quality employees of [the IBA], and there are many, will continue to work in the new division, and [IBA] employees who retire will receive adequate and fair conditions,” he said. “I think this reform is essential. We want stronger public broadcasting. It must be effective, it must undergo a change that we have been calling for many years.”
While acknowledging that the bill is “not without problems” and should be tweaked as it passes through the legislative process, Netanyahu praised Communications Minister Gilad Erdan for crafting a bill “with a clear direction.”
For his part, Erdan thanked the prime minister and said that the bill would lead to better public television, including three new stations.
Since 1965, any Israeli household with a television set — whether used for cable, satellite or solely for watching videos — was obligated to pay an annual television tax which helped fund the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA). Today, the tax stands at NIS 345 per year ($100).
The IBA strictly enforced this rule, ignoring pleas from TV owners who did not use IBA’s services or were not connected to any television service whatsoever.
In March, the Knesset Finance Committee delivered a scathing criticism of the IBA after it became known that the broadcasting authority spent NIS 30 million ($8.6 million) in 2013 on attorney fees in order to chase down missing payments, Maariv reported. The IBA’s TV tax collections in 2013 came to approximately NIS 461 million ($132 million).
Finance Minister Yair Lapid slammed the IBA as a government institution that had outlived its usefulness and stressed that public broadcasting be independent from the government.
However, opposition MKs panned the decision, accusing the government of destroying “an institution that is a pillar of democracy” and ignoring the fate of IBA employees.
“Netanyahu, Erdan and [Finance Minister Yair] Lapid signed the death certificates of 2,000 workers,” Meretz head MK Zahava Gal-on said, according to Channel 2. “Their approach does not signal a commitment to public broadcasting, but rather a populist political act that constitutes a shameful burial [of public broadcasting].”
“There is no doubt that the [IBA] needs deep reform, but this should be done while preserving the basic principles of public broadcasting and fairness to employees,” Meretz MK Ilan Gilon added. “There is a need for reform, but not destruction.”
Aron Dónzis contributed to this report.