Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached a deal Thursday with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon over the future of Israel’s new public broadcasting cooperation, ending a coalition crisis that had threatened to cleave the government and force new elections.
According to the deal, the new broadcaster will be allowed to go ahead, albeit with a slight delay, but will lose its news division. In its stead, a separate broadcast entity will be established to deal with all state-funded current affairs offerings.
The long-simmering crisis escalated two weeks ago when Netanyahu backtracked on an agreement with Kahlon to launch the new public broadcasting corporation — formally called “Kan” and widely known as HaTa’agid (the corporation) — set up through a law passed by his previous government in 2014 and slated to replace the old Israel Broadcasting Authority, or IBA.
Instead, the prime minister called for rehabilitating the ailing IBA. Kahlon, meanwhile, fought for the establishment of the new state broadcaster, as legislated, and with reduced government meddling.
Netanyahu, who had backed the 2014 legislation that established the new corporation, said in recent weeks that the new body was a “mistake.” His key complaint was the law’s guarantee of greater editorial independence for the new agency.
Despite affirming that his primary concern was saving jobs at the IBA, Netanyahu is widely believed to have been opposed to the new body because he perceived it as being too left wing and difficult to control. Netanyahu has long complained of a media hostile to him.
One of the reported sticking points in negotiations was Netanyahu’s insistence on repealing key reforms aimed at ensuring editorial independence for the new corporation and uniting Israel’s three separate broadcasting authorities under a politically appointed oversight body.
Under the deal, that proposal will not be advanced and the body responsible for overseeing the new news corporation will be subject to the same lenient regulations as Kan, according a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office.
But in a possible blow to Kan, the deal states that the corporation will be staffed “primarily” by former IBA employees. There are currently 763 employees working for the new broadcaster, 421 of whom came from the IBA. Under the agreement, the Finance Ministry will provide a severance package to employees of both the IBA and Kan who will not be included in the new corporations.
In order to pass the new reforms through the Knesset, the transmission date will be delayed by two weeks, according to the PMO.
A spokesperson for Kan told The Times of Israel, however, that no one at the broadcaster had been informed of any of the details of the deal and that, as mandated by the current law, the corporation was still planning to begin transmissions on April 30.
Kan employees have already said they will protest the move, announcing a demonstration this weekend outside the government quarter in Tel Aviv.
“We will oppose these corrupt efforts by the government to wield control over Israel’s free media and specifically its public broadcaster,” the Kan workers’ union said in a statement. “We call on all journalists to join us.”
Coalition chair David Bitan, who has been instrumental in imposing Netanyahu’s delays on the new broadcaster, said that the deal was “good for the Likud, good for Kulanu, good for the media and most importantly, good for the State of Israel.”
He said the agreement would “prevent elections and ensure the continued existence of a good coalition working for the sake of Israel.”
Asked if he thought the coalition crisis was over at a press conference earlier Thursday, Netanyahu replied, “I believe so.”