Poll: Most Israelis Don’t Care About Public Broadcasting Furor

The newly built studion at the offices of the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation, in Tel Aviv. August 29, 2016. Photo by Miriam Alster/FLASH90
The newly built studio at the offices of the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation, in Tel Aviv. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The issue of the shutdown of the new public broadcasting company was the primary story in the Israeli media over the past week, and was a central plank in discussions of the newly reconvened Knesset, which began its winter session this week. But a poll conducted by business daily Globes shows that 61 percent of Israelis have almost no interest in the issue.

Of the 39 percent who were “interested” in the topic, the majority said that it was “important.” But most of those who said they cared one way or the other about the future of the public broadcasting entity were older; among Israelis 29 and under, 71 percent said they had no interest in the matter. Of Israelis 50 and older, slightly more than half – 53 percent – said the matter did interest them.

Among observant Israelis, the level of disinterest in the matter reached 72 percent; among Israelis who termed themselves secular, that figure was 56 percent. Sixty seven percent of Likud supporters said they didn’t care, while slightly more than half of Zionist Camp voters said they didn’t either.

Of those who did care, opinions on whether to close down the public broadcasting body, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu seeks to do, are varied. 47 percent said the body should begin broadcasting on its scheduled January 1st launch date, while 25 percent said that the old Israel Broadcasting Authority, which the new body is set to replace, should continue operations. 29 percent said they had no opinion. Among those who considered the matter “very important,” 57 percent said that the body should be kept intact, with 28% preferring the IBA, and 15 percent having no opinion.

Netanyahu on Wednesday backed down from his demand to hold a vote as early as next week on closing down the new public broadcasting body, and instead agreed with Finance Minister Moshe Kaxhlon to set up a committee that will make recommendations on the future of the project. Netanyahu’s decision was seen as an elegant way to avoid a coalition crisis, after Kahlon said earlier that he would oppose any closure of the new body, because doing so would be too expensive, analysts on Channel One said.

In a joint statement, the two said that “in light of Finance Minister Kachlon’s position that the budget for the public broadcasting body not exceed the amount allocated to it in the state budget, it was decided to establish a committee made up of officials from the Prime Minister’s Office, and the Finance and Communications Ministries to discuss the matter. The committee will present its recommendations within three weeks.”

A cabinet discussion on shutting down the public broadcasting authority that is supposed to replace the now-defunct Israel Broadcasting Authority was scheduled for discussion at last Sunday’s cabinet meeting, but was postponed until next week, when Kachlon failed to show up for the 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. Kachlon later stated that he would oppose the move because it would be too expensive. “I welcome anyone who wishes to go ahead with this closure to come up with the money to do so first, and then we can talk,” Kachlon said.

The bill to be discussed was proposed by MK David Bitan (Likud), which would have essentially turned the clock back, canceling the new public broadcasting authority before it begins operations on its scheduled January 1st launch date, and restoring 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 reason for the shutdown was not budget but politics. 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. The opposition has vociferously accused Netanyahu of trying to “choke off public debate and criticism of his policies. This is an attempt to kill off democracy and imprint the state with the image of Netanyahu,” opposition sources said in media interviews.

The poll was conducted on behalf of Globes by the Rafi Smith organization of 500 representative Israelis 18 and older.