Government said set to freeze its efforts to close Kan public broadcaster

Report says coalition putting aside plans in bid to limit distractions as it tries to push through its contentious judicial overhaul legislation

Actors, filmmakers, executives, and celebrities attend a demonstration against the government's plans to shut-down public broadcaster KAN, in Tel Aviv on January 25, 2023. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
Actors, filmmakers, executives, and celebrities attend a demonstration against the government's plans to shut-down public broadcaster KAN, in Tel Aviv on January 25, 2023. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The government has decided to freeze nearly all items on its reform agenda, including the shuttering of the Kan public broadcaster, as it looks to focus on pushing through its contentious overhaul of the judiciary in the face of widespread public opposition, according to a Thursday report.

Channel 12 said a decision was made at a meeting of coalition heads earlier this week to try and limit the number of public battles it faces, so that it can give full priority to the legal reforms it is planning.

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi’s plan to close down public broadcasting has also drawn opposition and protests, including from some of the country’s most-loved public figures.

The decision also includes suspending Karhi’s plan to reduce Kan’s budget by hundreds of millions of shekels.

It is in force “until further notice,” the report said.

Last month Karhi said there was no reason for state-supported public broadcasting and indicated his intention to shut down Kan along with additional transmission regulating bodies.

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi speaks during a conference at Reichman University in Herzliya, January 9, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Karhi said the policy of his Likud party was to “remove obstacles and remove regulation” in the industry to allow the free market to prevail.

“In my view, there is no place in this day and age for a public broadcaster when there is a wide range of channels,” he added.

The Likud party, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has long been accused of seeking to shut down Kan because it criticizes the government while receiving public funding.

Kan hit the airwaves in 2017 after a long legislative battle to shut down and replace its predecessor, the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

At the time, then-prime minister Netanyahu — who also served for years as communications minister — strongly opposed the creation of Kan, reportedly claiming it was too left-wing and too difficult to control.

Internal disagreement on the matter almost brought down the coalition in 2017.

The renewed plans to shut Kan saw hundreds of broadcast workers protesting in the streets and a petition by 200 leading musicians, who vowed to join anti-government protests.

“It is not a coincidence that those trying to stage a regime change and remove all meaning from democracy have chosen to eliminate public broadcasts as one of their first steps,” said the musicians’ letter published last week and signed by such stars as Shlomo Artzi, Shalom Hanoch, Rita, Ninet Tayeb and Ehud Banai.

Their protest tied the move to shut Kan to the legal overhaul plans, joining protests by leading economists, business leaders, lawyers, students and other bodies in expressing alarm at the government’s plan, which critics warn will undermine democracy and the economy.

The government’s plans have also sparked weekly mass protests and international concern.

Tens of thousands of Israelis protest against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, January 21, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The judicial plans call to severely restrict the High Court’s capacity to strike down laws and government decisions, and there would also be an “override clause” that would enable the Knesset to re-legislate any such struck-down laws with a bare majority of 61.

The proposed changes would also give the government complete control over the selection of judges; prevent the court from using a test of “reasonableness” to assess legislation and government decisions; and allow ministers to appoint their own legal advisers, instead of getting counsel from advisers operating under the aegis of the Justice Ministry.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin has vowed not to compromise on the core elements of the plan, saying it is necessary to restore the balance of power in Israel, which has been usurped by an overactive court.

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