Workers of the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) briefly interrupted Channel 1’s flagship news program on Monday night, March 13, in a preview of labor actions planned to take place in protest against the imminent closure of the ailing public broadcasting network which is to be replaced by a new, state-run media conglomerate. An image of employees holding signs protesting the move appeared briefly on the screen during the nightly “Mabat” newscast, accompanied by a message directed at politicians leading new media reforms that will see the IBA closed down. “Citizens of Israel, on April 30, the eve of Memorial Day, the IBA will be closed by order of Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon,” the message read. “Bread earners of one thousand families will be added to the ranks of the unemployed. Today it’s us — tomorrow it’s you!”
The various IBA workers’ unions called an emergency meeting on Monday morning to decide on final arrangements for a labor strike that will indefinitely shut down the entire IBA broadcasting apparatus. Also on Monday, the Histadrut announced the start of organizational measures in solidarity with the workers of the IBA, measures which brought all work to a halt from 8:00-12:00 the following day in all units of the Ministry of Health and local health districts across the country. During the past week, IBA workers organized demonstrations outside the Prime Minister’s office, the Knesset and the Treasury, and in the city center of Jerusalem. IBA workers also vociferously demonstrated outside the home of Histadrut Labor Federation chairman Avi Nissenkorn, calling him a “traitor.”
In conjunction with Monday night’s live broadcast disturbance, the IBA labor unions sent a letter to Nissenkorn appealing for a display of solidarity with their plight. The letter reads: “On May Day we will be unemployed; yes on International Workers’ Day… Why? Because you and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have failed to prevent the opening of the new broadcasting corporation and you are allowing the government to close the work place of a thousand employees… for a broadcasting body that will do exactly the same thing we do, just less professionally and with less experience.”
While Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu initially supported closing down the IBA because of its alleged “pro-Palestinian orientation,” now he has become, if not a supporter of keeping it open, at least an opponent of replacing it with the new Kan broadcasting organization. Over the years Netanyahu has had his differences with the IBA, often accusing its reporters of having a leftist bent. However Kan, it turns out, “may be even worse,” the PM wrote in a social media post. “What will Kan’s reporting look like when we see that a Kan reporter praised a terrorist? You would expect such a reporter to be fired, but she was only suspended. This is a leftist organization, and they are employing supporters of terrorism,” Netanyahu wrote.
In 2014, the Knesset passed wide-reaching reforms aimed at closing the IBA, which right wing politicians at the time described as increasingly irrelevant and costly, and replacing it with a new broadcasting corporation called Kan. MKs from Hadash strenuously opposed this move. The new corporation is slated to take over and expand current public broadcast offerings, including the IBA’s popular radio and television stations. Despite numerous delays and efforts at scuttling the move, the government is reportedly working on a proposal that would enable Kan’s long-delayed launch, at the end of April — but only in return for increased governmental control over the country’s media landscape.
Last October, Kahlon broke his silence over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to dismantle the new public broadcasting corporation, saying that reverting to the IBA would result in “massive financial losses for the state.” The decision to allow Kan to begin broadcasting is said to be the result of a compromise reached by a temporary committee set up by Kahlon and Netanyahu. Thus, if things go according to what now seems to be planned, as of April 30, Kan will begin broadcasting national and regional media outlets, and the old IBA will be out of business.