Netanyahu criticised for Israel Broadcasting Authority shutdown

Anchors on flagship news programme shed tears and sing anthem during final broadcast

The opposition in Israel have accused the government of Binyamin Netanyahu of trying to control the media after the Knesset on Wednesday closed down the state-funded Israel Broadcasting Authority and set up two new public broadcasting corporations.

"This is a blow to the most important part of democracy – the news," said opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog.

The measure, initially portrayed by Mr Netanyahu's Likud party as an attempt to revitalise an increasingly irrelevant state broadcaster, developed over recent months into an attempt by the political echelon to exert control over the media.

"It can't be that we'll set up a broadcasting authority and not control it," said Likud culture minister Miri Regev.

The previous Netanyahu government decided three years ago to take the drastic step of closing down the entire IBA and replacing it with a new, streamlined public broadcasting corporation.

Years of chronic mismanagement at the IBA had resulted in the annual television licence fee of 345 shekels (€76) becoming Israel’s most hated tax.

Mr Netanyahu maintains a keen interest – many say obsession – in the media, which he believes is dominated by left-wing elites. He appointed himself communications minister and made all coalition partners agree in advance to support any media-related reforms introduced by Likud.

After trumpeting the impending IBA closure during the last election campaign, a few months ago Mr Netanyahu changed his mind. He looked at the names of the managers and journalists appointed to work in the new broadcasting corporation, which will launch next week, and he didn’t like what he saw. Some, he believed, were left-wing opponents of the government: others were right-wing critics.

Drastic U-turn

Mr Netanyahu initially contemplated closing down the new corporation and even threatened new elections over the issue. But, lacking coalition support for such a drastic U-turn, he eventually took the entire news division out of the corporation, creating a parallel news corporation.

The move was criticised by the opposition and commentators as blatant political interference and a recipe for administrative chaos after next week’s launch.

The Israel Democracy Institute accused Mr Netanyahu of "delivering the message that he is the 'real boss' of those who work in public broadcasting, and to other media outlets he made clear whom they need to serve".

Israel television's flagship Mabat evening news programme broadcast its last edition on Tuesday night, having being given only an hour's notice, with tearful farewells from anchors and with the entire staff singing the national anthem.