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Defense minister to take army out of Army Radio, approving longtime IDF request

Military has for years been asking for the station to be removed from its purview, seeing it as expensive, anachronistic and an ethical headache

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Illustrative: Radio broadcasters at Army Radio headquarters in Jaffa, on March 27, 2014. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash 90)
Illustrative: Radio broadcasters at Army Radio headquarters in Jaffa, on March 27, 2014. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash 90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Thursday announced that he planned to remove Army Radio from the military and his ministry’s area of responsibility once and for all, a move that has long been expected but has been repeatedly delayed so as to avoid shuttering the station for good.

“An inter-agency team will be formed, headed by Defense Ministry Director-General Amir Eshel, which will lead the process and develop a proposal for how to transfer the station or shut it,” Gantz’s office said in a statement.

The military’s operating, and funding, a radio station with journalists responsible for investigating the Israel Defense Forces itself, as well as politicians, has long been considered anachronistic, expensive and an ethical minefield. For that reason, for at least the past five years, the IDF has called for Army Radio to no longer be part of the military.

The decision to finally jettison Army Radio from the military came after a fresh request from the chief of staff last summer.

“Defense Minister Benny Gantz decided — on the recommendation of IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi — to speed up the process with the goal of removing Army Radio from the defense establishment,” Gantz’s office said.

Eshel’s team will include representatives from the Defense Ministry, IDF, Justice Ministry and Communications Ministry.

Over the course of several weeks, the committee will put together a proposal to either turn Army Radio into a civilian station or to close it completely, according to the Defense Ministry. In his statement, Gantz indicated he would prefer the former option.

“I appreciate Army Radio and its contribution to Israeli journalism and to the variety of opinions and voices in the media, and it would be right to find another outlet for its continued operation,” the defense minister said.

“The decision… was an ethical matter, not a budgetary one. A free press in Israel is important above all else, and I will continue to defend it and ensure its independence, but having a military radio station in the IDF is not reasonable at this time. I have determined that people in uniform should not deal with politics in any position,” Gantz said in a statement.

Army Radio — one of the most listened-to news stations in the country — has had an outsize footprint in Israel’s media landscape in general, providing relatively young soldiers with what would ordinarily be senior positions at any other news outlet. When they finish their service — still in their early 20s — many are hired for positions at other prominent networks across the country.

The station’s news department is also staffed by seasoned journalists who do not view themselves as being at all obligated to toe the military line.

The station’s position as a media outlet has thus always been an uneasy one, functioning simultaneously, and sometimes discordantly, as an independent news organization that seeks to critique the government and as an arm of the Israeli military dedicated to covering the troops and furthering the narrative of the military as an area of national consensus.

In recent years, Army Radio has been embroiled in various scandals tied to the statements of civilian journalists that have been criticized by right-wing elements as being too controversial or insufficiently patriotic for a station supposedly representing the IDF. On the other hand, a number of presenters for the outlet have also been accused of being unfairly biased in favor of the prime minister.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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