Facing closure, Israel Broadcasting Authority goes on strike

Israel Radio, Channel 1 programming suspended in protest of bill that would shutter state service; workers rally outside Treasury

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Workers from Channel 1 protest outside the FInance Ministry in Jerusalem on June 2, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)
Workers from Channel 1 protest outside the FInance Ministry in Jerusalem on June 2, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

The Israel Broadcasting Authority’s television and radio stations launched a strike Monday against a government bill that would dismantle the entity and lay off 2,000 workers.

All programming on Israel Radio was suspended until further notice beginning 4 p.m., while TV Channels 1 and 33 canceled broadcasts through Tuesday morning, running the statement “IBA workers are protesting the decision to close the broadcasting authority and sending 2,000 employees home,” on a continuous loop.

Moshe Segev, chairman of Channel 1’s engineers and technicians committee, said Sunday, “It makes no sense and is not fair to demand of thousands of families [that they] pay the price of [the IBA’s] administrative failures.”

He added that “we are not opposed to reform, but we are in favor of all reform [being implemented] responsibly, with consultation with representatives of the Histadrut and workers.”

Segev charged the Finance Ministry with displaying “apathy” toward the soon-to-be fired workers. “We are taking to the streets to shout the cries of our families and to stir the decision makers,” he said.

Earlier Monday, hundreds of employees rallied outside the Finance Ministry where a key meeting between Communications Minister Gilad Erdan, the head of the Histadrut, the heads of journalism unions, and Finance Ministry officials was held to discuss the shuttering of the authority and its replacement — a new public organization.

Protesters held aloft signs reading “[Channel] 1 for all, and all for 1,” and “Erdan, stop the media circus against us,” and urged Knesset members to oppose the bill to close the authority. The demonstrators blocked entry to the offices for a short while before being evacuated by police.

Last Monday, the Knesset approved the first reading of the proposed legislation — sponsored by Erdan — to abolish the IBA, with 33 MKs voting in favor, 14 against, and two abstaining.

Erdan explained that the need for the change stems from the broadcast authority becoming increasingly unnecessary.

“The relevance of the broadcasts is diminishing to the point that many of the younger generation don’t even know what the broadcast authority is,” he said.

The bill calls for the establishment of a new public broadcast authority by March 31, 2015.

“Our state is groundbreaking in various sectors, so how can it be that the public broadcast, which should be a showcase, looks like an abandoned and neglected backyard?” Erdan asked. “To my regret, the abyss between the current situation at the broadcast authority and proper public broadcasts is too large to be bridged with superficial remedies as it was in the past.”

Erdan asserted that starting afresh with a new entity will not only save money but also enable abolishing the television tax. He added that negotiations were already underway with IBA workers regarding the expected reduction in workforce in the new broadcast organization.

The IBA was established in 1948 and held a monopoly on TV and radio broadcasting in Israel until the 1990s.

Since 1965, any Israeli household with a television set — whether used for cable, satellite or solely for watching videos — was obligated to pay an annual television tax which helped fund the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA). Today, the tax stands at NIS 345 per year ($100).

In March, the Knesset Finance Committee delivered a scathing criticism of the IBA after it became known that the broadcasting authority spent NIS 30 million ($8.6 million) in 2013 on attorney fees in order to chase down missing payments, the Maariv newspaper reported. The IBA’s TV tax collections in 2013 came to approximately NIS 461 million ($132 million).

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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