Eurovision organizer warns Netanyahu against threatening Israel’s public broadcaster

EBU director general asks PM to ‘safeguard the independence of Kan’ in order to remain a member; communications minister: I am ‘beholden to Israeli public and not any other body’

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Kalush Orchestra from Ukraine stand on the stage after winning the Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest at Palaolimpico arena, in Turin, Italy, May 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Kalush Orchestra from Ukraine stand on the stage after winning the Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest at Palaolimpico arena, in Turin, Italy, May 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

The European Broadcasting Union, the body responsible for organizing the Eurovision Song Contest, sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government over its threats to shut down the Kan public broadcaster, it said on Tuesday.

EBU director general Noel Curran sent a letter to Netanyahu warning against such a move, and stating that “we trust the new government will also safeguard the independence of Kan and enable it to continue to fulfill its mission in democratic society.”

Curran cited November comments by Likud MK Shlomo Karhi, who has since become communications minister, calling for an end to public broadcasting in Israel as being of particular concern.

“Independent news and information form an integral component of public service media organizations and make a key contribution to media pluralism in well-functioning democracies,” Curran wrote in the letter to Netanyahu.

“The EBU’s responsibility is to ensure that it supports all our Members in their mission to serve the interests of the general public in the best possible manner. These developments risk undermining Kan’s capability to meet its commitments as a member of our international alliance of public service media organizations,” he added.

In response, Karhi issued a statement rejecting any attempts at intervention by the EBU in the issue.

Incoming Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi arrives for a group picture of the new government at the president’s residence in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“As far as I can remember, we declared our independence as a Jewish and democratic state around 75 years ago,” said Karhi. The new minister stated that Israeli voters elected a “right-wing government” and that he is “beholden to the Israeli public and not to any other body.”

Karhi added that he will seek out “a solution that will balance Israel’s cultural expression in the world with the media competition and diversity we want to bring to the media market.”

In order to be a full member of the EBU — which is required in order to compete at the Eurovision — countries must operate a public broadcaster that airs both news and other types of programming.

The Kan public broadcaster first hit the airwaves in 2017 after a long legislative battle to shut down and replace Israel’s former public broadcaster, the Israel Broadcasting Authority. Right-wing politicians, led by Netanyahu, have long decried Israel’s public broadcaster for its purported left-wing bias, and lamented an inability to control the content of the publicly funded channel.

The control room at the offices of the Kan public broadcaster in Tel Aviv on August 29, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Likud’s Transportation Minister Miri Regev — a former culture minister — infamously said during a 2016 Knesset hearing on the issue: “What’s the point of a public broadcaster if we don’t control it? Why should we put up the money if they’re going to air what they want?”

Not long after Kan launched, Netanyahu sought to split its news division off from the rest of the public broadcaster in an effort to better control its programming.

But after Israel won the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest, the prime minister ultimately gave up on that plan, since splitting the body in two would make Israel ineligible to remain a member of the European Broadcasting Union and therefore to host the 2019 contest.

Israel hosted the Eurovision in 2019 in Tel Aviv after Netta Barzilai won the 2018 competition in Lisbon. Pop star Noa Kirel is slated to represent Israel at this year’s upcoming contest in Liverpool, Britain.

Most Popular
read more: