Journalists back Kan against budget cuts, say public broadcasting not up for debate

Amid coalition desire to slash Kan’s funds and push Israel’s only public broadcaster out of business, reporters warn against ‘tycoons’ owning all news stations

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Journalist Ilana Dayan speaks at a Tel Aviv rally against the government's intention to close the Kan public broadcaster, January 29, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Journalist Ilana Dayan speaks at a Tel Aviv rally against the government's intention to close the Kan public broadcaster, January 29, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Top Israeli journalists gathered in Tel Aviv on Sunday in support of Kan television and radio, after the new communications minister resurrected his Likud party’s long-standing threat to shutter or privatize the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation.

Organized by the Union of Journalists in Israel, which partially represents Kan employees, the “emergency summit” brought together over 100 journalists and figures from across the local media industry to protest any attempt to pull Kan’s funding.

Ilana Dayan, one of the country’s most celebrated journalists and the host of the primetime investigative show “Uvda,” told the assembled crowd that talk of ending public broadcasting should be beyond the pale.

“There are things that can be debated,” she said. “There are things that are supposed to be above debate, and there are things that I have no idea how we can ever start debating.”

Dayan, who also hosts a show on Army Radio but does not work for Kan, added: “To privatize public broadcasting is to kill public broadcasting. To kill public broadcasting is to destroy one of the engines of our public conversation.”

The current public broadcaster, which launched in 2017 after a drawn-out legal process to replace its predecessor, the Israel Broadcasting Authority, has long been a target of Likud party members who view it as a body hostile to their agenda. An attempt by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to split Kan into separate news and entertainment divisions was agreed upon in 2018, only to be abandoned once Israel won the 2018 Eurovision contest, since maintaining an independent public broadcaster was a requirement for hosting the following year.

Opposition to Kan’s potential closure has garnered fewer headlines than protests against the Netanyahu government’s judicial ovehaul plan, which on Saturday night drew tens of thousands of Israelis to the streets for the fourth week in a row.

Journalist Nurit Canetti speaks at a Tel Aviv event against the government’s intention to close the Kan public broadcaster, January 29, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Army Radio senior journalist Nurit Canetti, who chairs the union, told The Times of Israel that the organization intended to convey solidarity with Kan, but will have to wait for the government to firm up its proposals before determining its next steps.

Newly seated Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, has declared his intention to renew the Likud party’s fight against Kan, but has yet to submit legislation to pull its funding.

The most likely vehicle for doing so would be the Arrangements Law, a bill regularly passed with the state budget that delineates the many structural, institutional and policy reforms needed to make the numbers in the budget legislation work.

Once the government’s plan becomes clear, Canetti said that the union plans to fight it in the Knesset, in the courts, and in a public opinion campaign.

Earlier this month, Karhi said in a television interview that he would slash Kan’s funding, a move that the network said would force it to shut down.

“There is no place for public broadcasting in the State of Israel,” the communications minister said, pledging that “obstacles will be removed and the market will be opened up for competition.”

Karhi has said that broadcasting should be subject to free market competition, but critics have slammed his arguments as an attempt to push out Kan for the benefit of pro-Likud broadcaster Channel 14.

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi at the Knesset on January 2, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Kan employs a number of external private entities to produce its entertainment content, including the award-winning spy drama “Tehran.”

Fellow Likud minister Galit Distel Atbaryan, who heads the newly created Public Diplomacy Ministry, also recently attacked her former employer Kan, claiming she had not worked on issues of substance during her time there. In 2016, then-culture minister Miri Regev infamously said during a cabinet meeting: “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?”

Canetti, Dayan, and many of the journalists in attendance Sunday regularly interview public figures, including Karhi, Distel Atbaryan and Regev.

“It’s odd that those we cover don’t understand the importance of our work,” Canetti told The Times of Israel. “It’s odd, it’s sad, it’s disappointing, and it distracts from the work we need to do.”

Kan runs Israel’s only publicly funded television news channel. Several of the journalists in attendance cited the need to have a news source immune to influence from private owners. Journalist Ayala Hasson, who works for the privately owned Channel 13, said: “We can’t have only tycoons owning our media channels.”

Israeli journalists, including Ayala Hasson (L), attend a Tel Aviv rally against the government’s intention to close the Kan public broadcaster, January 29, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Directing comments toward Karhi and Distel Atbaryan, journalist Avi Weiss said “someone has forgotten the fundamental rules” when discussing Kan, as “the bosses of journalists aren’t politicians, they are the public.”

Reporter Yigal Guetta, a former MK for Shas, pledged to the government that “if you try to silence us and close the door, we’ll come through the window.” He was echoing Shas head Aryeh Deri, who made a similar comment two weeks ago when the High Court of Justice ruled his appointment as a minister unreasonable in light of his tax fraud convictions and he was dismissed.

Support for preserving Kan also poured in from abroad. Liz Corbin, who heads news for the European Broadcasting Union of which Kan is a member, said in a video message that journalists whose responsibility is to the public are part of what makes a democracy strong.

“The strength of democracy really relies on journalists being independent, impartial, free to do their jobs and well-funded to do that with public funding,” Corbin said, adding that this “makes us responsible to the public to be representing public interests” and that “holding public authorities to account is part of what we do.”

Journalist Yonit Levi attends a Tel Aviv event against the government’s intention to close the Kan public broadcaster, January 29, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“Threats against EBU member Kan are unacceptable,” she added, and said that the association’s director general “has written to the prime minister of Israel” to make sure that Kan’s independence and integrity are protected.

Canetti also said that incitement against journalists by politicians has already translated into violence, referring to a Saturday evening incident in which a reporting crew from Channel 13 was attacked by right-wing Israelis at the site of a deadly Jerusalem terrorist attack.

“Yesterday it was already physical. You can imagine where it will go tomorrow,” she said.

Dozens of journalists later went to block a busy intersection in central Tel Aviv.

Parallel to the journalist union protest on Sunday, hundreds of students flooded Tel Aviv’s Habima Square to protest the government’s judicial reform platform.

On Saturday evening, tens of thousands gathered at the square and near Azrieli Center in Tel Aviv, as well in as Jerusalem, Haifa, and Beersheba, to protest the judicial changes.

Protesters, the attorney general, and the Supreme Court president deride the intention to increase political power at the expense of the judiciary as damaging to democracy and civil liberties, while the government says it is necessary to rebalance power in the face of an activist judiciary and will ultimately strengthen Israeli democracy.

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