With two hours’ notice, Israel’s Channel 1 nightly news ended a 49-year run on Tuesday evening, with anchors crying openly on the final broadcast, journalists skewering the abrupt government shutdown during the program, and Israel’s president issuing a warm tribute to the first news show in the State of Israel.
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 Israel Broadcasting Authority TV station with a new publicly funded entity, known as “Kan.”
The employees of the first news channel in the State of Israel, who had thought their last broadcast was to be on May 15, closed the nightly news with a rendition of the “Hatikvah” anthem, with many weeping openly.
Haim Yavin, the retired anchor who on “Mabat” in 1977 announced the political revolution that brought Menachem Begin’s Likud party to power in Israel for the first time, said in the final minutes of the Tuesday broadcast that the scrapping of the IBA was “stupidity,” “idiocy,” “a crime,” and “the whim of one man, who happens to be the prime minister.”
“What is this notice, two hours in advance?” asked senior IBA journalist Yaakov Ahimeir on air. “What are we, criminals?”
He said he had interviewed the Archbishop of Canterbury earlier in the day and assured him that the full interview would be screened on Saturday, only to discover that now there would be no Saturday night news show.
Ahimeir decried the order to shut down the station, and the brutal manner in which it was finally done, as a “stain” on the Israeli government.”
“They are not giving us the opportunity to say farewell properly. They didn’t give us the chance to say thank you to all the people here in the studio,” said the normally restrained Ahimeir.
Earlier, Geula Even, the anchor of the early evening “Hamusaf” news show, was handed an announcement during her broadcast telling her it was her last, and that the “Mabat” main news broadcast that evening would be the last, too. Doing her best to hold her emotions in check, she conveyed the news to viewers. Even was offered a position as the main news anchor in the new broadcasting corporation, though fresh Knesset legislation to separate the news division from the broadcaster “Kan” casts doubt over when, or if, the position would be available, with layoffs of dozens of journalists anticipated.
“This was my professional home for many years,” Even said, her voice cracking. “There were many difficult moments, and many good ones, and in the end, many people are being sent home.”
Some Israeli politicians, led by the president, waxed nostalgic about the “Mabat” news broadcast, founded in 1968 and until 1993 the only TV news in the country — noting that it accompanied Israel through many of its most traumatic and dramatic moments, from the 1973 Yom Kippur War to the signing of a peace deal with Egypt.
“This is the end of an era, and at this time, amid the uncertainty and doubt, I want to thank you, employees of the IBA, from the bottom of my heart,” President Reuven Rivlin said in a statement.
“As a public servant, I want to thank you for your dedicated work in accompanying the diplomatic, political, and social activities in all of its manifestations… I hope each and every one of you finds the right path and you forever carry with you the years of respectable, worthy work that you led.”
Channel 2 carried its former competitor’s last hurrah live, with anchor Yonit Levi lamenting the abrupt shutdown and urging viewers to empathize with the newly unemployed journalists.
The last-minute move culminates a saga spanning several years to dissolve the IBA and replace it with a new corporation.
The Knesset plenum on Wednesday will vote into law a bill that will restructure the new public broadcasting corporation, implementing a March compromise reached by Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.
The deal reached by Netanyahu and Kahlon stripped the new broadcaster, formally called “Kan” and widely known as HaTa’agid (the corporation), 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 has long been leading an effort to abort it before it goes on the air, complaining of a lack of government control of the corporation’s editorial line, which may be critical of his government.
Kahlon, meanwhile, has fought for the establishment of the new broadcaster, as legislated, and with reduced government meddling.
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.
The Mabat news broadcast was functioning with a 40 percent reduced staff, including directors, camera crews, sound and graphics. Weather forecaster Sharon Wechsler had been doing her forecasts by simply sitting next to anchorman Ya’akov Eilon, sometimes with no slides or graphics.
Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.