MK: Netanyahu Determined to Shut Down New Public Broadcasting Group

YERUSHALAYIM -
View of the Israeli broadcast authority archive at the Israeli broadcast authority offices in Jeruslaem, March 21, 2016. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
View of the Israeli broadcast authority archive at the Israeli broadcast authority offices in Yerushalayim. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A cabinet discussion on shutting down the public broadcasting authority that is supposed to replace the now-defunct Israel Broadcasting Authority has been postponed until next Sunday – but MK David Bitan, who is sponsoring the bill to get the government out of the media business altogether, said that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was determined to see the shutdown through. “It’s not just that the new body will be as difficult to work with as the old one.” Bitan told Army Radio Sunday. “The main motivation is to save the taxpayers money.”

The discussion on shutting down the new body was canceled after Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon failed to attend the ministerial discussion. Kachlon’s office said the minister was busy working on the state budget, but opposition MKs opposed to shutting down the body declared a “victory,” saying that Kachlon’s absence was “a public protest and declaration” by Kachlon of his opposition to Netanyahu’s move.

The Bitan bill would essentially turn the clock back, canceling the new public broadcasting authority before it begins operations on its scheduled January 1st launch date, and restore a pared-down version of the IBA, which would be dependent on government funding without collecting the annual tax that Israelis had long complained about before it was abolished last year.

The move to close the new authority has been much-criticized in the media and among the opposition, with MKs accusing Netanyahu of trying to “choke off public debate and criticism of his policies,” opposition sources said Sunday. “This is an attempt to kill off democracy and imprint the state with the image of Netanyahu.”

Nonsense, said Bitan. Speaking to Channel Two, the MK said that “it is very clear to us that this new broadcasting body will be extremely leftist. Already, before broadcasting one word, the head of their economic desk has been spreading insults about Netanyahu on social media, and many of those hired by the body are well-known for their leftist views.

Sources in the Likud said that Netanyahu intended to enforce coalition discipline on the matter, meaning that all coalition members would have to vote in favor. However, one of the most vocal opponents of shutting down the new body has been Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett. “Canceling the new program will cost us a billion shekels” in contract buyouts. “Who is going to pay for this, considering all the other expenses – health, education, and the rest?”

Besides its politics, Bitan has said that the new group will cost the state as much, if not more, than the IBA. According to Bitan, the annual budget for the group will be NIS 2.5 billion. At that price, Bitan said, it would be cheaper for the public to buy out the contracts of the group’s employees and shut it down immediately, rather than allow it to begin operating.