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Deputy AG: Defense Minister can’t shut down Army Radio during election season

Countering Gantz, official rules decision to remove station from military’s purview must be made by a minister in a non-interim government

The newsroom of Army Radio, which contains both conscripted soldiers and civilians who work on its programming. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash 90/File)
The newsroom of Army Radio, which contains both conscripted soldiers and civilians who work on its programming. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash 90/File)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz does not have the authority to shutter the military’s radio station during an election season, the deputy attorney general said Tuesday.

“In light of the election period, and the obligation of the government and its ministers to exercise restraint during this period, it will not be possible to reach a final decision regarding the future of Army Radio during the election period, including the issue of removing Army Radio from the IDF,” Meir Levin said in a statement.

The next defense minister to be appointed in a non-interim government will have full authority to close the station, Levin said.

In January, Gantz 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.

Blue and White party leader Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks in an interview with Channel 13 news, January 12, 2021. (Channel 13 news)

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.

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.

Grafitti reading “Army-get out of the radio. A soldier is not a journalist” written on a building near the IDF radio station (Galei Tzahal) headquarters in Tel Aviv-Jaffo, on August 19, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash 90)

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.

National elections — the fourth in two years, slated for March 23 — were called after the power-sharing government of Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White failed to agree on a budget by a December 23 2020 deadline.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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