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New communications minister says ‘no place’ for public broadcasting in Israel

Shlomo Karhi declares Kan network should be axed, IDF-operated Army Radio should be privatized, accuses media of being ‘too biased to the left’

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi attends a digital journalism conference at Reichman University in Herzliya, January 9, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi attends a digital journalism conference at Reichman University in Herzliya, January 9, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi said Monday there was no reason to support state public broadcasting in Israel and indicated he intends to shut down the Kan broadcaster along with additional transmission regulating bodies.

Speaking at the DIGIT 2023 digital journalism conference at Reichman University in Herzliya, Karhi said the policy of his Likud party was to “remove obstacles and remove regulation” in the industry to allow the free market to prevail.

The Kan public broadcaster is among the bodies that “police the conversation, that cut off the connection between the public and the media,” Karhi claimed.

“In my view, there is no place in this day and age for a public broadcaster when there is a wide range of channels,” he added, explaining why he thought Kan and Army Radio, which is operated by the Israel Defense Forces, were superfluous.

The Likud party, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has long been accused of seeking to shut down Kan due to its criticizing the government while receiving public funding.

“I see the media as too biased toward the left, and maybe I’m wrong. But let’s let the public decide,” Karhi said.

The control room at the offices of the Kan public broadcaster in Tel Aviv on August 29, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Regarding Army Radio, Karhi said he would propose privatizing the station.

He also took aim at two public bodies that oversee commercial broadcasting, the Cable and Satellite Council and the Second Authority [for Television and Radio], for “regimenting the discourse” in media.

Khari said he would present his plans for the communications market in a couple of weeks and they would be included in the upcoming budget. “There will be many changes,” he promised.

During his speech, Karhi was heckled by a member of the audience who reportedly shouted, “There is no democracy without public broadcast,” before he was removed from the hall.

In November, during coalition negotiations, an unsourced Channel 12 report said Likud would seek to close the news department of Kan but leave intact the departments that create scripted programming and documentaries.

In response, the Likud party insisted the issue had not come up during coalition negotiations. At the time, Karhi tweeted that he was not familiar with any such plan, but it was a move he supported.

“There is no reason to keep funding a public broadcaster to the tune of almost NIS 1 billion a year,” he wrote. “[Shutting down] Kan is just a start, then Army Radio.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on January 3, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Kan hit the airwaves in 2017 after a long legislative battle to shut down and replace its predecessor, the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

At the time, then-prime minister Netanyahu — who also served for years as communications minister — strongly opposed the creation of Kan, reportedly claiming it was too left-wing and too difficult to control.

Internal disagreement on the matter almost brought down the coalition in 2017. However, if the news department were to be closed now, the move would be unlikely to face pushback in Netanyahu’s current right-religious government.

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