State seeks further delay in launch of new public broadcaster
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State seeks further delay in launch of new public broadcaster

In response to High Court petition, government says Kan should not be allowed to begin transmissions before April 30, 2017

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

The newly-built control room at the offices of the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation in Tel Aviv, August 29, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
The newly-built control room at the offices of the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation in Tel Aviv, August 29, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Amid ongoing disagreements over the future of the Israel’s state-owned media, the government revealed Monday it will try to delay opening of a new public broadcaster and prevent efforts to begin transmission before the end of April, 2017.

In a response to two High Court petitions demanding that Kan, the new broadcasting corporation, be allowed to go on air in January, the state said it would try to change the legislation that created the media outlet. The law currently allows the corporation to set a date to begin transmissions, with the permission of the communications and finance ministers.

The response did not give reasons for the delay.

In 2014, the Knesset passed wide-reaching reforms closing the ailing Israel Broadcasting Authority, which politicians at the time described as increasingly irrelevant and costly, and replacing it with a new broadcasting corporation. It originally called for the establishment of a new broadcaster by March 31, 2015.

The legislation, advanced by then-communications minister Gilad Erdan, who is now the public security minister, aimed to ensure greater editorial independence for the new corporation compared to the IBA, exempting it from government oversight rules that apply to most other public corporations and severely curtailing the ability of politicians to intervene in content and senior staff appointments.

The Israel Broadcasting Authority building in Jerusalem on March 6, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
The Israel Broadcasting Authority building in Jerusalem on March 6, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But following efforts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also holds the post of communications minister, to delay the opening until 2018, and a Likud-led bill to cancel the legislation altogether, Kan’s management announced in October that it would be ready to begin broadcasting on January 1.

Likud officials have claimed that nixing the new corporation would save the state some NIS 2.5 billion ($658 million), a figure later ridiculed by the Finance Ministry and Erdan.

Critics from both the coalition and the opposition say the real reason for the move was Netanyahu’s fear of the corporation’s political independence.

Last month, amid growing opposition over his planned reversal of the reforms, Netanyahu postponed a vote to dismantle the broadcasting corporation, agreeing instead to establish a temporary committee to asses the issue.

Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s committee would look at whether the new broadcaster would — as the prime minister has claimed — incur prolific and wasteful costs, the two men announced in a joint statement.

The decision came following “Kahlon’s insistence that the budget for the public broadcaster would not exceed the allocated funds,” the statement read.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 13, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 13, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

Speaking at the Knesset Finance Committee on October 31, Kahlon said he was opposed to the costly flipflopping by the government over the new corporation, saying that billions of shekels would be wasted were it to be shut down.

“Canceling the corporation would mean losing NIS 1.7 billion ($442 million) immediately and NIS 370 million ($96 million) a year. Whoever wants to introduce a law next week and advance it will have to make sure that there is strong public broadcasting and understand where the money is going to come from,” he said.

Speaking at the Globes Israel Business Conference on Monday, Kahlon said that no deal had been reached and that all options were still on the table.

“I have not reached an agreement with the prime minister, we have no deal on this issue and I’m unwilling to break the budget framework,” Kahlon said. “Can I live with a restored broadcasting authority? I can live with anything.”

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