Top managers at the new state broadcasting corporation, established by a 2014 Knesset law to replace the cash-strapped Israel Broadcasting Authority, threw down the gauntlet Tuesday in a letter to the government announcing they will be ready to launch by January 1.
The letter assured that programming would reflect the broad spectrum of Israeli society and said the corporation’s initial editorial staff features a diverse mix of Israelis from all sectors, including Arabs and immigrants of Ethiopian descent, Channel 2 News reported.
It also said that the corporation has already invested some NIS 140 million ($36 million) on original productions and on establishing studios in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Modi’in and Beersheba in the country’s south.
The letter is an answer to the announcement by Likud MK David Bitan in recent days that he plans to propose a bill to abolish the new public broadcaster and leave intact — but render more efficient — the outgoing IBA.
It also puts pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also serves as the communications minister charged with regulating the new agency. Netanyahu opposes the corporation’s establishment and has argued its launch must be delayed because it may not be ready for broadcast until 2018.
The Knesset passed a law in May 2014 shuttering the ailing IBA, which politicians at the time described as increasingly irrelevant and costly, and replacing it with a new broadcasting corporation.
The legislation, advanced by then-communications minister Gilad Erdan, who is now the public security minister, ensures greater editorial independence for the new corporation compared to the IBA, exempting it from government oversight rules that apply to most other public corporations and severely curtailing the ability of politicians to intervene in content and senior staff appointments.
In July, however, Netanyahu decided to extend the life of the IBA and delay the launch of the new corporation.
The new corporation has drawn criticism from right-wing cabinet ministers who charge it will adopt a left-leaning editorial stance. At the end of July, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev (Likud) asked at a tempestuous cabinet meeting what the point of the new corporation would be “if we don’t control it.”
In August, the Haaretz daily reported on a meeting between Netanyahu and IBA workers during which he reportedly expressed regret over the creation of the new corporation and asked, “What if everyone in the corporation were people from Breaking the Silence?”
Breaking the Silence is a controversial Israeli NGO that collects soldiers’ testimonies about alleged Israeli human rights breaches in the West Bank and Gaza. It has been targeted for opprobrium across the political spectrum for taking its advocacy campaigns overseas and drawing much of its funding from abroad.
Bitan, the coalition chairman in the Knesset, claimed on Thursday his plan would save the public coffers some NIS 2.5 billion shekels ($658 million), a figure later ridiculed by the Finance Ministry and Erdan, and termed “sleight of hand” by the Israel Democracy Institute think tank.
Bitan in turn dismissed as a “baseless rumor” reports in Haaretz that a “senior and most central figure” in the ruling coalition sought to combine the outgoing IBA with Army Radio, the state-run Educational Television and certain elements of the new corporation into a single public media body that would be supervised by a single regulator.