Amid growing opposition over his planned reversal of vast reforms to Israel’s state-owned media, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has postponed a vote to dismantle a newly created public broadcasting corporation, agreeing instead to establish a temporary committee to asses the issue.
Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon reached an agreement Wednesday to set up a committee to look at whether the new broadcaster would — as the prime minister has claimed — incur prolific and wasteful costs, the two announced in a joint statement.
The decision came following “Kahlon’s instance that the budget for the public broadcaster would not exceed the allocated funds,” the statement read.
The announcement means that a Likud-led bill to cancel the previous legislation which created the new broadcaster, previously slated to be voted on next week, will be postponed.
In 2014, the Knesset passed wide-reaching reforms closing the ailing Israel Broadcasting Authority, which politicians at the time described as increasingly irrelevant and costly, and replacing it with a new broadcasting corporation called “Kan.”
Likud officials have claimed that cancelling the new corporation would save the state some NIS 2.5 billion ($658 million), a figure later ridiculed by the Finance Ministry and Interior Minister Gilad Erdan, who shepherded the original law when he served as communications minister.
Critics from both the coalition and the opposition say the real reason for the move was Netanyahu’s fear of the corporation’s political independence.
On Monday, Kahlon broke his silence on the issue, threatening to torpedo the prime minister’s efforts. Speaking at the Knesset Finance Committee, Kahlon said he was opposed to the costly zigzagging by the government over what to do with the new corporation, saying that billions of shekels would be wasted were it to be shut down.
“Canceling the corporation would mean losing NIS 1.7 billion ($442 million) immediately and NIS 370 million ($96 million) a year. Whoever wants to introduce a law next week and advance it will have to make sure that there is strong public broadcasting and understand where the money is going to come from,” he said.
The new committee will be made up of representatives from both the communication ministry — which Netanyhau heads in lieu of a permanent minister — and the finance ministry. It will present its conclusions to the two ministers within three weeks.
Earlier Wednesday, Israel’s State Comptroller announced a probe into government conduct over the stalled reforms. Yosef Shapira instructed auditors to begin collecting materials on the issue following significant criticism over the way it has been handled, a statement released by the oversight body said.