Likud said looking to shut Kan public broadcaster’s news division

Party says move not part of coalition talks; Netanyahu, other party members have long opposed news division; opposition MK: ‘1st lesson in school of dictators… silence the media’

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

Poised to retake power after more than a year in the opposition, the Likud party is reportedly aiming to shut down the news department of the Kan public broadcaster, which it has long viewed as hostile.

According to an unsourced Channel 12 news report that aired Sunday evening, Likud is hoping to close down Kan’s news division but leave intact the parts that create scripted programming and documentaries.

In response, the Likud party told Channel 12 news that the issue had not arisen during current coalition negotiations.

Kan hit the airwaves in 2017 after a long legislative battle to shut down and replace the longtime previous public broadcaster, Israel Broadcasting Authority.

At the time, then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who also served for years as communications minister — strongly opposed the creation of Kan, because he perceived it as being too left wing and difficult to control.

Internal disagreement on the matter almost brought down the coalition in 2017. However, if the news department were to be closed now, it would be unlikely to face the same obstacles from the expected right-wing government.

Netanyahu made a deal to separate the news division from the rest of Kan, but the High Court temporarily struck down the split, saying that it had no basis.

After Israel won the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest, the decision to keep the public broadcaster as one cohesive unit became permanent, since splitting them up would make Israel ineligible to be a member of the European Broadcasting Union and therefore to host the 2019 contest.

Duncan Laurence of the Netherlands celebrates winning the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest with the song “Arcade” in Tel Aviv, May 18, 2019. Behind him is 2018’s winner, Israeli singer Netta Barzilai. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Likud MK Miri Regev, a former culture minister who is expected to receive a ministerial position in the next government, 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?”

Netanyahu is currently on trial in three separate cases, including one — nicknamed Case 4000 — where he is charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust for allegedly using his influence as prime minister to improperly favor the owner of Bezeq in exchange for what amounted to editorial control over the company’s Walla news site.

Reports of the current Likud proposal sparked ire among expected opposition lawmakers.

Yesh Atid MK Moshe Tur-Paz called the move a “first lesson in the school of dictators: weaken the gatekeepers, silence the media, shrink the justice system and cut off the checks and balances.”

Tur-Paz added that “the Netanyahu government hasn’t even been established yet, but the war for democracy has already begun. We’re here and we’re not going anywhere.”

Yesh Atid MK Boaz Toporovsky asked what could be next on Likud’s list of demands.

“Perhaps it sounds obvious but democracy does not have eternal immunity,” tweeted Toporovsky. “Yesterday they wanted to add another year to their term, today they want to shut down the public broadcaster. Who’s next in line? Who else will they silence?”

Outgoing culture minister Yoaz Hendel said Monday that “anyone who just seeks to shut things down — is talking nonsense.”

Meanwhile, Likud MK Shlomo Karhi tweeted that he was not familiar with any such plan, but it is a move that he supports.

“There is no reason to keep funding a public broadcaster for almost NIS 1 billion a year,” he wrote. “[Shutting down] Kan is just a start, then Army Radio.”

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