Knesset approves bill to abolish broadcast authority

Knesset approves bill to abolish broadcast authority

Opinions differ on which parliamentary committee should oversee law to establish replacement entity

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Interior Minister Gilad Erdan (photo credit:  Flash90)
Interior Minister Gilad Erdan (photo credit: Flash90)

The Knesset approved on Monday the first reading of a bill to abolish the Israel Broadcast Authority and replace it with a new public entity.

Sponsored by Communications Minister Gilad Erdan, the bill received 33 votes in favor, 14 against, and two abstentions.

Erdan explained the need for the change stems from the broadcast authority becoming increasingly unnecessary.

“The relevance of the broadcasts is diminishing to the point that many of the younger generation don’t even know what the broadcast authority is,” he said.

The bill calls for the establishment of a new public broadcast authority by March 31, 2015.

“Our state is groundbreaking in various sectors, so how can it be that the public broadcast, that should be a showcase, looks like an abandoned and neglected back yard,” Erdan declared. “To my regret the abyss between the current situation at the broadcast authority and proper public broadcasts is too large to be bridged using cosmetic treatments as it was in the past.”

Erdan asserted that starting afresh with a new entity will not only save money but also enable doing away with the television tax. He added that negotiations were already underway with IBA workers regarding the expected reduction in workforce in the new broadcast organization.

However, Erdan’s suggestion that the proposal be handled by a specially-formed committee, appointed by the Knesset, drew sharp criticism from some MKs who argued that in the past the Knesset Economics Committee always handled broadcast authority matters.

Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog (Labor), who was once the minister who presided over the broadcast authority, warned that the current form of the bill would give the Finance Ministry too much control over public broadcasts.

“You want an open debate? Bring this bill to the Economics Committee that it is the natural place for this bill,” he said.

“The request to establish a special committee gives an uneasy feeling and raises the suspicion of politicization,” added MK Omar Bar-Lev (Labor). “We need to make sure that the public broadcast is public and gives expression to all the opinions in Israeli society.”

The Knesset House Committee is to decide if the bill should be handled by the Economics Committee or a specially formed panel of MKs.

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).

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