Bibi likely to fail in aim to close public broadcaster

November 24, 2016 23:13

Sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week he was even prepared to dismantle the coalition in his quest to prevent the new public broadcast corporation from seeing the light of day.

This hardly seems credible. Mr Netanyahu is on the brink of passing a two-year budget, ensuring his government remains in power until early 2019. He is extremely unlikely to jeopardise this. But the threat to disband the government reflects his deep aversion to the Israeli media.

Ironically, the plan to close down the old Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and replace it with the new corporation was the brainchild of Mr Netanyahu's former communications minister Gilad Erdan, who has always been totally loyal to the PM.

Now Mr Netanyahu says he was distracted at the time by the Gaza War and did not realise the new corporation would become overly independent and dominated by left-wingers.

Even though he holds the communications portfolio, it is hard to see how the prime minister can succeed. IBA is already being dismantled and the new corporation is ready to begin broadcasting on January 1. As communications minister, Mr Netanyahu can prevent them from going on air in two months, but the new broadcasting law and the state budget mandate that, at the very latest, they begin on May 1. To change that, he needs a Knesset vote - but at least a third of the coalition are adamantly opposed to tampering with public broadcasting.

So why is the prime minister working so hard on what seems certain to be a lost cause?

Mr Netanyahu may have won four elections and been in power for over a decade, but he still believes the Israeli media is dominated by a cabal of left-wingers and his nemesis, Arnon Mozes, owner of the Yediot Ahronot Group.

It does not matter that over the last two decades, many young right-wing journalists have occupied positions of influence in the media and Yediot Ahronot's dominance has been greatly weakened by new news organisations, including Yisrael Hayom, the freesheet owned by his patron Sheldon Adelson which slavishly parrots the prime minister's message. He is still haunted by what he believes is unfair media criticism of him and his wife.

Mr Netanyahu is working on a plan to "open up" television to more private broadcasters. He is well aware that an independent public broadcaster would make it much more difficult to divide and control the channels. Ultimately, the media is one of the strongest and most free-minded sections of Israeli democracy. Mr Netanyahu is fighting a losing battle.

November 24, 2016 23:13

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