Minister says cabinet comments on media border on ‘fascism’

Gila Gamliel, Moshe Kahlon take Miri Regev to task for saying government should ‘control’ new public broadcaster

Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, in the southern Israeli city of Eilat, January 29, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, in the southern Israeli city of Eilat, January 29, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Social Equality Minister Gilal Gamliel on Monday criticized a Likud cabinet colleague for expressing a desire to hold the reins of a new public broadcast corporation, accusing her of attitudes that “border on fascism.”

Gamliel spoke out a day after a tempestuous cabinet session, during which ministers sparred over plans to establish the broadcasting company, and Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev mused that there would be no point to the broadcaster going on air “if we don’t control it.”

“Some of the statements yesterday bordered on fascism, no doubt,” Gamliel told Army Radio. “We should keep in mind that we are a democratic state and that this is the primary element that outlines our overall conduct.

“As soon as you claim that we, in the public system, are setting up a public corporation, and that we, as the government, need to control it — it is frightening to think that these things are said in this day and age.”

Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev seen at the weekly cabient meeting in the Prime Minister's Office, Jerusalem July 10, 2016. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)
Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev at the weekly cabinet meeting in the Prime Minister’s Office, Jerusalem July 10, 2016. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)

Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon backed Gamliel’s comments, tweeting that “the minister showed political and public courage, and is a beacon of light in the darkness.”

Long-sought reforms of the cash-strapped Israel Broadcasting Authority coalesced into a plan to form the new broadcasting corporation in 2014 and were passed into law, backed by then-communications minister Gilad Erdan and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who currently serves as communications minister.

During the cabinet meeting Regev, a Likud party populist who has demanded “loyalty” from theaters and other cultural institutions that receive state funding, told the cabinet, “What’s the point of this corporation if we don’t control it? The [communications] minister [Netanyahu] should control it. What, we’re going to put money into it and then they’ll broadcast whatever they want?”

Gamliel, also of Likud, said at the time that the government was establishing a public broadcaster, not a mouthpiece, and would thus not have a say in professional appointments or the content of broadcasts.

The new corporation is slated to take over and expand current public broadcast offerings, including the IBA’s radio and TV stations. Under the 2014 law, the corporation is exempted from oversight rules that apply to most public corporations, severely limiting the ability of politicians to appoint its senior staff or interfere with reportage.

That legally mandated independence has raised hackles in the cabinet.

When Netanyahu announced last month that he would delay the launch of the new corporation until mid-2017, nearly a year after the original planned launch date in September 2016, many interpreted the move as an attempt to find ways to curtail its independence.

Netanyahu said the corporation’s professional staff was unprepared logistically to launch in the fall of 2016, but lawmakers from both left and right, including Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the Jewish Home party, suggested the delay was meant to create uncertainty over the corporation’s establishment in order to weaken it.

At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu brought to a vote a new proposal, backed by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, to postpone the establishment of the corporation only until January 1, 2017, with an option to extend the delay until the end of April.

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