Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday slammed the abrupt shuttering of Israel’s Channel 1 nightly news program the night before, calling the way it was handled “disrespectful and dishonorable.”
In a statement from his office, Netanyahu also denied any involvement in the sudden closure of the station, which is being replaced by a new state broadcaster.
“The prime minister heard about it from the media. He did not support the move and it was not done with his knowledge. He is also not authorized to make such a decision,” the statement read.
David Hahn, the Justice Ministry official in charge of closing down the station, announced on Tuesday evening in a Knesset committee that Channel 1 would be shut on Wednesday morning, as part of the changeover to replace the Israel Broadcasting Authority TV station with a new publicly funded entity, known as “Kan.”
Employees of the first news channel in the State of Israel, who had thought their last broadcast was to be on May 15, closed the nightly news with a rendition of the “Hatikvah” national anthem, with many openly weeping.
The abrupt, slipshod nature of the closure was roundly criticized in the media, with some calling it a dishonorable end for a show that had defined Israeli media for much of its 49-year run.
“The manner in which the broadcast authority was closed was disrespectful and dishonorable,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu had recently pushed to keep the existing public broadcaster, and dismantle the new state-funded corporation, citing unneeded layoffs and reportedly concerned over a lack of government oversight, although he backed the legislation that led to its closure.
“The prime minister was the one who fought so that the news company of the channel would continue broadcasting with as many workers as possible absorbed into the news body,” the statement said.
President Reuven Rivlin also bemoaned the manner in which workers were informed.
“You, the viewers and the listeners all deserved a more dignified departure,” he said in an interview with the IBA’s Israel Radio. “Like every viewer in Israel, my heart ached to see the image of the hasty and surprising farewell, he said in an interview with Israel Radio.”
Rivlin also said that public broadcasting is essential for preserving Israel’s democratic character and that it ultimately must serve the interests of the public, not those of the government.
“Without public broadcasting, there is no democracy. Without public broadcasting, the State of Israel is not the State of Israel,” he said. “An official public broadcaster is very important. It allows the government to express its policies and to try and explain [them] to the public. But the broadcasting authority is the public’s because it is the broadcasting authority that is meant to allow the public to formulate its views.”
The Knesset plenum on Wednesday will vote into law a bill that will restructure a new public broadcasting corporation, implementing a March compromise reached by Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.
The deal reached by Netanyahu and Kahlon stripped the new broadcaster, formally called “Kan” and widely known as Hata’agid (the corporation), of its news division and created a separate news entity in its stead, largely made up of staffers from the old Israel Broadcasting Authority.
Netanyahu, who was until recently also acting communications minister, oversaw passage of the 2014 law to establish the new corporation but had led an effort to abort it before it goes on the air, complaining of a lack of government control of the corporation’s editorial line, which may be critical of his government.
Kahlon, meanwhile, has fought for the establishment of the new broadcaster, as legislated, and with reduced government meddling.
The IBA was established in 1948 and held a monopoly on TV and radio broadcasting in Israel until the 1990s.