Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation: An Existential Dilemma?

By HaRav Yisrael Rosen
Dean of the Zomet Institute

“This is Achashverosh – who killed his wife because of his lover... and who killed his lover because of his wife...” [Esther Rabba 1].

A Vital Moment in the Life of a Nation...

The “Israeli Public Broadcasting Law,” which was passed in 2014 and (as of now) will take effect right before Yom Haatzmaut this year, will occupy my readers during the entire week between when I write this article and when it is published. It must be admitted (with a smidgen of cynicism thrown in for good measure) that this is indeed a fateful and almost existential issue for the State of Israel. Everything that came “before” will no longer exist “afterwards.” This involves a dilemma at a level similar to the one that David Ben Gurion presented to the Provisional State Council: Should a Jewish state be established or not? Clearly, there were weighty considerations on each side of this question. And now, in our generation, once in seventy years, we are once again faced with a world-shattering dilemma , this time with respect to the IPBC – the Israel Public Broadcasting Company (also known by its Hebrew nickname, “Kan” – meaning “here”). There is no doubt in my mind that a referendum is the best way to solve this question (including gathering opinions from Diaspora Jewry). However, for many citizens of our country, even those who are most savvy, the questions to be asked in such a referendum are not obvious. Let me take this opportunity to clarify the matter.

A number of committees actively studied the behavior of the old Israel Broadcasting Authority as a result of a general lack of satisfaction because of very high costs, outdated equipment, missing or virtually crippled media outlets, refusal to give expression to all sectors of the population, inefficient management, and more. The government agreed, and this was written into a Knesset law, that the only possible alternative would be to destroy the existing edifice and to replace it with a new structure. A process was formulated that included retirement for some of the workers and rehiring some of the veteran staff in the new framework. We should note that our country has had its share of labor disputes based on economic, personal, and logistic factors (electricity, the ports, El-Al Airlines, public transportation, hospitals, national and municipal government workers, teachers, and garbage collectors, to name a few examples). In general we can say that we have managed to contain the problems, we have not yet been forced to establish a new country, and we have not yet resorted to holding a nationwide referendum. But in this case we must admit that we have moved into an entirely different realm. This involves the communications media, which is as important as the air we breathe. This is the real thing, it is exalted and no less than divine. This time, it is imperative that we make a choice: To be or not to be!

Media = Leftist

And now we come to an open secret, which is well-known to everybody in the know with any sense of feeling. The problem is the political and nationalist agenda.Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is also the Communications Minister, signed this into law in 2016. He is the one who at first supported the law with all his might but who is now rejecting it “with his other hand” while he waggles his finger, warning of new elections. This can best be described as Achshverosh-type inconsistency (see the Midrash quoted above), an example of action which has danced around before my eyes ever since Purim of this year.

Well, we can reveal a great secret now: No new law will ever have any effect in this matter! The communications media will retain its leftist stance, as part of its very definition, whether it is called a “corporation” or an “authority.” Our country has competitive channels, and they provide a broad platform for balance. The only possible alternative for “leftist media” is a nongovernmental “nationalistic media.” I do not support a third alternative of establishing “dedicated media” which will be mandated to support the current government. This is not necessarily for reasons that are ideological and based on important principles, rather I am sure that such an effort will fail – Who would listen to such uninteresting material?

The law of the Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation was born out of the need to nurse national broadcasting to better health and not in order to “reeducate” it. Section 7 of the law is very clear: “The contents that will be supplied by the Israel Public Broadcast Corporation will reflect and will document the fact that the State of Israel is both Jewish and democratic, it will present the values and the heritage of Israel, and it will give a fair, equal, and balanced expression to the entire spectrum of viewpoints and opinions that are extant within the Israeli public. It will provide news... that is free from distortion and that is reliable and faithful to true facts and to the obligation of reporting to the public.” These are only some of the beautiful words of the law. None of this will happen, but what can we lose if the new body is more efficient and will save us some money?

Reject Petty Settling of a Grudge!

If in the end we will be forced to hold new elections because of this wishy-washy law, every rational person must refuse to support a Prime Minister who acts in a petty way and who is looking for revenge (“Who will be the anchor of the news broadcasts?”), and who is patently indecisive. We have heard about his obsessive addictions and his media schemes, which were recorded in secret meetings with the manager of competing media. Even if such dealings do not cross over the border into illegal dealings, they can teach us something about the value system of the man and in which “movie” he is living.

No comments: