Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi said Saturday he would seek to significantly slash funding for the Kan public broadcaster. The station’s manager warned the move would force it to shut down.
Karhi, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, said he would push to include the funding cuts in a package of laws accompanying the next state budget.
“There is no place for public broadcasting in the State of Israel,” he declared in an interview with Channel 12 news. “Obstacles will be removed and the market will be opened for competition.”
“The budget of [Kan] will be reduced by hundreds of millions of shekels,” he added.
Kan began operating in 2017, replacing the legacy Israel Broadcasting Authority and Channel 1, long criticized for budgetary waste and antiquated programming. Kan, conversely, has proved far more popular, producing some of the country’s most popular and lauded television content in recent years.
Kan currently has an annual budget of over NIS 750 million (nearly $220 million).
“Today, these hundreds of millions go to a single player in the market and block all competition,” Karhi asserted.
He also vowed to close down the Second Authority for Television and Radio and the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council, a pair of state bodies that regulate commercial broadcasting.
Responding to Karhi, the director-general of Kan said cutting the public broadcaster’s budget by hundreds of millions of shekels would result in its closure.
“[Kan], as an independent broadcasting body, will steadfastly continue its activities despite the threats to its very existence,” Golan Yochpaz wrote on Twitter.
The Union of Journalists in Israel described Karhi’s proposed budget reduction as “a declaration of war on the public broadcaster.
“All the talk about closing or privatizing the public broadcaster are no less than an effort to threaten the broadcaster’s journalists and deter them from doing their work faithfully, while harming the livelihood of hundreds of families,” the union said in a statement.
It added: “We call for an end to the intimidation attempts and to let the broadcaster’s employees continue carrying out the excellent work that they do.”
Karhi’s comments Saturday came after he said earlier in the week that there was no reason to support state public broadcasting in Israel and indicated he intends to shutter Kan.
He also said then that he would propose privatizing Army Radio, which is operated by the Israel Defense Forces.
In November, during coalition negotiations, an unsourced Channel 12 report said Likud would seek to close the news department of Kan, but leave intact the departments that create scripted programming and documentaries.
In response, the Likud party insisted the issue had not come up during coalition negotiations. At the time, Karhi tweeted that he was not familiar with any such plan, but it was a move he supported.
“There is no reason to keep funding a public broadcaster to the tune of almost NIS 1 billion a year,” he wrote. “[Shutting down] Kan is just a start, then Army Radio.”
When Kan began operating, then-prime minister Netanyahu — who also served for years as communications minister — strongly opposed its creation, reportedly viewing it as too left-wing and difficult to control.
Internal disagreement on the matter almost brought down the coalition in 2017. However, if the news department were to be closed now, the move would be unlikely to face pushback in Netanyahu’s current right-religious government.