Following heavy criticism over his decision to postpone the opening of a new public broadcasting corporation to replace the ailing, cash-strapped Israel Broadcasting Authority, Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also the communications minister, has reached a compromise deal with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to launch the new authority by April 30, 2017.
The Monday agreement backtracks on a delay announced last Monday, that would have seen the corporation opened only in 2018.
The decision to postpone the reform was announced after Netanyahu and Histadrut labor federation chief Avi Nissenkorn struck a deal to help save jobs that are expected to be lost with the shuttering of the older IBA.
Following the announcement, members of both Netanyahu’s coalition and the opposition claimed he sought the delay because he feared the new broadcasting authority would be an independent and critical media voice. Netanyahu has faced criticism for holding onto the Communications Ministry and going for months without granting a single Hebrew-language interview. But Netanyahu rebuffed criticism of his decision to delay, saying the new corporation would not have been ready to go live at its originally scheduled launch date.
Kahlon, who said that he first heard about the deferral from the media, last week called for the original date for the transition to the new Broadcasting Corporation to be honored.
He said he was working to secure the funding for the new broadcaster and that he would not allocate the funding for the IBA that a postponement would require. Deferring the establishment of the body to 2018 would have cost the state NIS 550 million ($143 million), according to Finance Ministry officials.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett has echoed the criticism of Netanyahu’s relationship with the media, but also slammed the move on financial grounds. “I can fund summer camps for every child through the sixth grade for half a billion shekels,” he said in an interview last week.
The new date means the cost will be reduced to around NIS 250 million ($65 million).
The IBA reform law passed in May 2014. It originally called for the establishment of a new public broadcast authority by March 31, 2015.
The original target date was not met and the government agreed to extend the deadline until September 2016.
The IBA was established in 1948, and held a monopoly on TV and radio broadcasting in Israel until the 1990s. It runs several television channels and radio stations and broadcasts news in 14 different languages.
Since 1965, any Israeli household with a television set was obligated to pay an annual television tax which helped fund the IBA. Today, the tax stands at NIS 345 ($90) per year. 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.
In March 2015, the Knesset Finance Committee scathingly criticized the IBA after it emerged that the broadcasting authority spent NIS 30 million ($8.6 million) in 2013 on attorney fees in order to chase down missing payments. The IBA’s TV tax collections in 2013 amounted to approximately NIS 461 million ($132 million).
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.