Ministers are selling themselves to the public, with millions in public money
Even Knesset has ad funded by taxpayers, preaching democracy

Ministers are selling themselves to the public, with millions in public money

A shift in criteria for government campaigns allows Miri Regev, Naftali Bennett and others to voice their own accomplishments, and it's starting to sound a little off-key

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Culture Minister Miri Regev unveils the logo for Israel's 70th anniversary celebrations, during a press conference on January 15, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Culture Minister Miri Regev unveils the logo for Israel's 70th anniversary celebrations, during a press conference on January 15, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Noticed a significant rise in the number of government commercials and minister voiceovers on TV and the radio? You’re not imagining things. Since May 2015, government ministries spent NIS 142 million ($40.5 million) on radio, print and online advertising, according to media watchdog Ifat Bakarat Pirsum, in a survey conducted for Globes.

According to a recent Hadashot news report about government radio ads, Culture Minister Miri Regev spent the most in the last year, with six campaigns at a cost of NIS 576,833 ($164,809), followed by Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis, who spent NIS 568,081 ($162,308), and Education Minister Naftali Bennett NIS 286,300 ($81,800).

The report added there was a total of NIS 1.85 million ($535,714) spent by various government ministers on radio ads in the last year.

According to an Ifat survey, Regev and Akunis, as well as Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Interior Minister Deri, have altogether purchased 37 hours of radio airtime; Regev alone used almost 18 of those hours.

השרה מירי רגב מזמינה את כולם ליהנות מפסטיבלים בחנוכה – מתחת לב…

מתחת לבית ובחינם.שבוע טוב, בשורות טובות וחג שמח.

Posted by ‎Miri Regev מירי רגב‎ on Saturday, 16 December 2017

The rise in government advertising is further muddied by the fact that Regev was recently made the new head of LAPAM, the government’s advertising agency.

Many of these public service announcements are created by the 100 staff members at LAPAM, whose offices are in Tel Aviv.

Until a few years ago, government ministers were not allowed to participate in public campaigns, but attorney general Avichai Mandelblit created new criteria in the last year that did away with those restrictions, allowing government ministers to now broadcast their latest accomplishments on a regular basis.

According to the criteria, ministers can appear as themselves in radio advertising for events to which the public is invited. They can also purchase ads in newspapers, but can’t appear in a photograph in a newspaper ad.

MK Stav Shaffir (Zionist Union) addresses the Knesset on March 7, 2017. (Screen capture/YouTube)

It’s a matter that Knesset member Stav Shaffir said she wants to bring to the Knesset Transparency Committee, pointing out that the ministers are using public monies to finance their political campaigns.

“It’s not what the public would want,” she said.

Independent magazine The Seventh Eye, which takes a close look at matters of media and transparency, also wrote about the uptick in government advertising, publicizing a letter that attorney Shahar Ben-Amir and media personality Oded Kramer wrote, demanding that Mandelblit change the criteria as the government advertising exploits public funds for personal advertisements that promote the politicians and their reputations.

For now, however, it appears that Regev, as the head of LAPAM, is in charge of this questionable area of government spending. The agency’s new CEO is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former spokesperson, Boaz Stambler, who recently gave testimony to the police in the current Bezeq corruption case.

Stambler wouldn’t speak to The Times of Israel for this article.

Regev’s spokesperson also did not answer any specific questions about the changes in government advertising criteria, except to say that the participation of ministers in government advertising on the radio was done according to the criteria created by the attorney general for this matter.

Gadi Margalit, the former CEO of LAPAM, who is now director-general of the Haifa municipality, also would not answer any Times of Israel questions about the rise in government advertising.

Margalit did speak to The Marker in January, commenting that he expected the LAPAM budget — which is usually based on two-years — to fall considerably, given that the government had decided to cut the budget by 40%.  

According to The Marker, some 34% of the most recent LAPAM budget for government advertising was spent on television commercials, with another 23% in the press, as well as Google ads and Facebook campaigns.

The television and YouTube videos don’t show any images of government ministers, and are used to tell the public about various public campaigns.

According to Ifat, the Ministry of Transportation spent NIS 19.5 million ($5.57 million) on campaigns about buying the all-purpose transportation cards, reminders not to ride electric bikes on the sidewalk, and to cross the street without looking down at a smartphone or daydreaming with ear buds in.

The Justice Ministry ranked second, spending NIS 14 million ($4 million) on public service announcements about the criminal offense of transferring sexual content without permission, and encouraging accessibility to businesses for people with disabilities.

The Education Ministry came in third at NIS 11.9 million ($3.4 million) with their “Give Me Five!” campaign encouraging students to take matriculaton in five courses, including one about learning English with a cameo by Eurovision star Nadav Geudj.

There were also campaigns from the Finance Ministry comparing car insurance policies and the importance of comparison shopping on Passover, from the Tourism Ministry about the wonders of travel in Israel, and from the Prime Minister’s Office (starring comedian Adi Ashkenazi) about the availability of government information online.

Even the Knesset has gotten in on the act, with a campaign showing how democracy works, using a dog.

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