Blow for Israel’s democracy and Eurovision hopes

Closure of broadcaster by Binyamin Netanyahu weakens media

Israeli singer Imri Ziv rehearses for the Eurovision final in Kiev. Israel’s public service broadcaster has been shut down. Photograph: Surgei Supinsky/Getty Images

Israeli singer Imri Ziv rehearses for the Eurovision final in Kiev. Israel’s public service broadcaster has been shut down. Photograph: Surgei Supinsky/Getty Images

 

Tonight is the European Broadcasting Union’s big party. Some 26 countries with member or associate public service broadcasters will take part in the Eurovision final in Kiev. There will be yodelling, dancing gorillas and a diverse selection of eyebrows. And there will be Israel, represented by Imri Ziv and his club banger-style track I Feel Alive.

Back home, the mood in the country’s media is less euphoric. The government of Binyamin Netanyahu this week closed down the state-funded Israel Broadcasting Authority (which was an EBU member), prompting tears on air.

In 2014, Netanyahu said he would replace the broadcaster with a new, less costly one, due to launch next week. Chillingly, when he looked at the people appointed to work in this new corporation, known as Kann, he saw too many names he did not like. So it has now been decreed that Kann will have no news division and that a parallel news organisation will be set up – a move predicted to weaken public media in Israel.

The Jerusalem Post, noting that the average Israeli “couldn’t care less” about the battle over the public broadcaster but does care about Israel’s participation in the song contest, pondered whether this would be Israel’s last Eurovision.

Whether a newsless Kann can gain entry to the EBU is, of course, a side-issue to one dismal certainty: A public service broadcaster with no freedom to run an independent and adequately funded news service is not worthy of the name. And, worryingly, Israel is far from the only country where such tensions are surfacing.

When politicians regard journalists as enemies, it is never a good show.