Channel 1, Israel’s first news and entertainment television station, aired its final transmission Saturday night with the 62nd Eurovision song contest, bringing to an end the broadcaster’s 49-year run.
The closedown came as part of a major media reform that will see the Israel Broadcasting Authority replaced by a new public media corporation known as Kan.
At approximately 1:45 a.m. local time on May 14, 69 years to the day since the State of Israel was established, the station broadcast a video of news staffers singing the national anthem and then cut to a still image announcing: “Our broadcast has ended. 1968-2017.”
Hours earlier, spokesman Ofer Nahshon gave an emotional farewell to the channel that has broadcast programming continuously since May 1968, beaming out his goodbye to some 200 million people worldwide tuned in to the finals of the Eurovision song contest.
“This is IBA Channel 1 calling from Jerusalem. For the past 44 years Israel has participated in the Eurovision song contest, winning 3 times, but tonight is our final night,” Nahshon said when called on by the show’s Ukrainian hosts to announce who Israel would give points to.
“Shortly, IBA will shut down its broadcasting forever, so on behalf of everyone here of us let me say thank you Europe for all the magical moments. Hopefully we shall meet again in the future,” he added emphatically.
Nahshon’s emotional announcement reflected confusion over whether Israel will indeed be able to field an entry in the contest next year.
While Kan is hoping to take over broadcasting rights for the competition next year, it is unclear whether it will qualify as a member of the European Broadcasting Union — broadcasters must be members in order to transmit the feed of the competition produced by the EBU — due to a lack of a news division.
Immediately after the show, the channel broadcast a retrospective music video, and re-aired the final moments of its flagship “Mabat” news program that closed last Tuesday with a staff rendition of the “Hatikvah” national anthem, which came just two hours after they had been told the show would be their last.
David Hahn, the Official Receiver of the Justice Ministry, announced on Tuesday evening in a Knesset committee that Channel 1 would be shut down on Wednesday morning, as part of the changeover to replace the IBA with Kan. The announcement gave the station’s news staff just two hours to arrange a farewell broadcast of “Mabat.”
The abrupt, slipshod nature of the closure has been roundly criticized in the media, with some calling it a dishonorable end for a show that had defined Israeli media for much of its 49-year run.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied he had anything to do with the sudden closure of Channel 1’s news division and slammed the manner in which it took place, calling it “disrespectful and dishonorable.”
On Wednesday evening Israel Radio ended its full-time broadcast, fading to music after 81 years of transmission. The station has since broadcast only music and hourly news updates.
Netanyahu had recently pushed to keep the existing public broadcaster, and dismantle the new state-funded corporation, citing unneeded layoffs and reportedly concerned over a lack of government oversight, although he had backed the legislation that led to its closure.
The Knesset overnight Wednesday-Thursday voted to excise the news division from the new public broadcaster and establish a separate news department in its stead, implementing a March compromise reached by Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.
The deal stripped the new broadcaster, “Kan,” of its news division and created a separate news entity in its stead, largely made up of staffers from the old Israel Broadcasting Authority.
Netanyahu, who was until recently also acting communications minister, oversaw passage of the 2014 law to establish the new corporation, but more recently has led an effort to abort it before it goes on the air, complaining of a lack of government control over its editorial line, which may be critical of his government.
IBA employees were in limbo for several years as the government approved the reforms, backtracked, attempted to merge the two entities, before finalizing the Kahlon-Netanyahu agreement that absorbs more workers from the IBA, while laying off hundreds of others.
The IBA was established in 1948 and held a monopoly on TV and radio broadcasting in Israel until the 1990s.
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 per year ($90). 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.
The aging broadcaster has already been subjected to drastic manpower and budget cuts in recent years in preparation for its replacement, including the early retirement and firing of hundreds of employees.
Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.