The Israel Broadcasting Authority, which was set to close and make way for a new Broadcasting Corporation in September, received an unexpected reprieve Tuesday, when Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu decided to wait until the beginning of 2018 to complete the move.
The IBA runs several television channels and radio stations. It broadcasts news in 14 different languages.
Sources close to Netanyahu, who is also the acting communications minister, claimed that the deferral is simply due to the fact that the new corporation is not yet ready to begin broadcasting.
However, members of both the coalition and the opposition challenged that claim. Some critics have blamed the delay on Netanyahu’s ostensible concern over the independence of the new public broadcasting authority. There have also been claims that Netanyahu caved to demands from the Histadrut labor federation, which has fought to preserve some 700 jobs within the IBA.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said that he first heard about the deferral from the media. In an interview with Channel 2 Tuesday, he said that the original date for the transition to the new Broadcasting Corporation should be honored.
Gilad Erdan, the former communications minister who sponsored the original bill to abolish the IBA, tweeted that the deferral meant the new corporation would never be established. “I call on the prime minister and the head of the Histadrut labor federation to reconsider the deferral,” he said.
The legislation was approved in May 2014. It originally called for the establishment of a new public broadcast authority by March 31, 2015.
Erdan explained at the time that the need for the change stemmed from the IBA becoming increasingly irrelevant and untenably costly. He said a new public entity would save money and do away with the unpopular television tax.
The original target date was not met and the government agreed to extend the deadline until September 2016.
Senior opposition lawmaker MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) told Channel 2 that Netanyahu’s move made it clear that political considerations had buried the new corporation. “More than the fact that the corporation is not ready to broadcast, Netanyahu is not ready for an independent public broadcast corporation,” she said.
The IBA was established in 1948 and held a monopoly on TV and radio broadcasting in Israel until the 1990s.
Since 1965, any Israeli household with a television set was obligated to pay an annual television tax which helped fund the IBA. Today, the tax stands at NIS 345 per year ($90). The IBA strictly enforced this rule, ignoring pleas from TV owners who did not use IBA’s services or were not connected to any television service.
In March 2015, the Knesset Finance Committee scathingly criticized the IBA after it emerged that the broadcasting authority spent NIS 30 million ($8.6 million) in 2013 on attorney fees in order to chase down missing payments. The IBA’s TV tax collections in 2013 amounted to approximately NIS 461 million ($132 million).