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Immediately upon assuming the position of Minister of Communications, Dr. Shlomo Karai (Likud) declared his intention to eliminate public broadcasting in Israel. Until now, it was not clear whether behind the statements, which he repeated again and again, there was also a systematic plan. In the Ministry of Communications, in any case, They didn’t know such a plan at all. Now the “Hain Shivait” website reveals the plan based on which Karai intends to close the television division of the Public Broadcasting Corporation and take over its budgets.
It is a meager document, containing only four pages, without references or reasons, which seems to have been prepared hastily and without any special expertise in the field of media regulation. The document was not prepared by the Ministry of Communications, and in fact originated outside the Knesset at all: it was signed by Dr. Yitzhak Klein, head of the policy research department at the Kehalat Forum, an ultra-conservative research institute funded by American billionaires and working to weaken public institutions in Israel. The outstanding campaign of the Kehalat Forum, Adopted by the Netanyahu government, it is designed to weaken the Israeli justice system.
In interviews, Minister Karai claimed that he wanted to eliminate public broadcasting in order to increase competition in the media market and add diversity and voices. A perusal of the written plan reveals that it serves purposes opposite to those he stated. It will subordinate production budgets directly to politicians, allowing them to control the content and direct the money to entities they wish to support. The plan will harm the competition by strengthening the strongest bodies in the industry, will make the ratings the main parameter for financing Israeli creations and will increase the power of the advertisers.
Dr. Klein’s document seeks to cancel “all existing legal arrangements for subsidizing Israeli productions” and establish a “fund to support Israeli productions” to be managed by “one of the government ministries”. The immediate meaning is the cancellation of the separation between the government and the content budgeted from citizens’ funds. Based on the document What Klein wrote demands that Minister Karai actually subject most television and film productions in Israel to political supervision.
The plan seeks to abolish the current system of public budgeting for series, docu and feature films and subordinate it to government agencies. The proposed change will allow politicians to transfer budgets amounting to hundreds of millions of shekels to media organizations, which will be committed to them.
Karai proposes to cancel the financing obligations of the public film funds and the investment obligations in Israeli content that are currently imposed on the private media bodies. The drafter of the program, Yitzhak Klein from the Ecclesiastical Forum, questions the very need to finance an original work from taxpayers’ money. “One wonders if there is any further justification for the state’s intervention to encourage Israeli audiovisual productions when the audiovisual market itself provides incentives for this,” Klein writes, citing as an example the commercial channels 12, 13 and 14, and the cable channels.
“Unlike business companies, which must make a profit from every broadcast hour they produce, the corporation receives a generous budget package from the state for the purpose of these productions, and it is not clear that these amounts justify themselves in terms of hours of viewing and enjoyment by the tax-paying public. […] This position paper accepts the assumption that there is a demand – whether from the public or from vocal interest groups – for the encouragement of Israeli productions by the state, and offers an alternative model,” adds Klein.
Bias in favor of ratings
Apart from the fact that the budgets will be distributed by a political party, most likely the Minister of Communications, the supervision of the content of the winning proposals will also carry a political dimension. Klein suggests dividing the budgets according to a series of “packages” according to languages, topics or genres, and notes that “the minister entrusted with the implementation of the law reserves the authority to define the purpose of the packages within these limitations”. According to the proposal, “at least 10% of the packages will be used for productions in the field of Zionism, the history of the people of Israel and the Land of Israel, and Jewish heritage.” The document also states that productions will not receive funding if they have “anti-Zionist, racist content or that deny the character of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.” According to the proposed model, a political factor will be the one to determine whether a particular production meets these conditions.
One of the basic principles in budgeting according to the proposed method is a bias in favor of ratings, with an emphasis on productions that will attract advertisers. “First, a binding connection must be made between the preferences of the viewing public and investments in Israeli works, so that works are created that the public really wants to watch. It is desirable to include in the regulatory model an incentive for producers to create works that the public, or advertisers, are willing to pay to watch. This connection is missing in the model The creation of the public broadcasting corporation, which receives its funding according to law whether it is watched or not,” Klein writes.
One of the clear consequences of the implementation of the proposal will be the actual encouragement of the powerful entities in the communications market. According to the proposal, the chances of receiving government funding will increase as the contestants declare their intention to bring money from private sources. The example shown in the document is a body that will declare that it can invest NIS 20 million in a certain production, and because of this will receive a government subsidy of NIS 10 million.
“Although the state should determine the types of creation it wishes to encourage, the subsidy for this creation should go to business companies that wish to attract as large an audience as possible; this is how competition is created in the field of quality,” adds Klein. “If it is indeed possible to incentivize business companies to create Israeli works in order to profit from them, this means that they can be required to invest in these works as well – not by the method of charging investments as a type of tax, but according to business logic.
“This means that if in the state’s opinion it is desirable to encourage an Israeli creation in the amount of X every year, the state does not need to invest the entire amount of X; if it can at the same time encourage private investment in these works, and the financial burden on the taxpayer’s pocket can amount to less than X” . Klein also suggests obliging the creators to set aside a portion of the profits, however much they may be, to the state treasury.
These assertions by Klein demonstrate the basic lack of understanding of him and the Minister of Communications Kerai in the field they claim to change from end to end. Klein’s analysis, according to which free competition in the industry is based on the pursuit of “quality”, contradicts the basic reality of commercial television in Israel, which focuses mainly on studio and reality shows, which combine characteristics of cheap production and an appeal to the lowest common denominator.
In recent years, the commercial channels in Israel have almost completely abandoned the pretense of producing feature series and original, quality documentary productions. One of the basic purposes of the Israel Broadcasting Corporation is to address this distinct market failure.
In the television and film industry, the program of Karai and Forum Kehalat is seen as a direct threat to creative freedom, and it is added to the minister’s announcements of his intention to “privatize” the corporation. In the short time that has passed since he declared his intentions, Karai managed to unite a broad front against him that includes all the creators’ organizations in the content industry in Israel, journalists and creators from commercial television, the organization of male and female journalists, journalists’ witnesses, musicians, and media researchers from academia.
Prof. Zvi Reich, Head of the Department of Communication at Ben-Gurion University was exposed to the details of the proposal before its publication. In a conversation with the “Seventh Eye” he points out its flaws and calls on the minister to stop the move. “On paper it may seem like a good idea, but only in the eyes of those who do not understand this area of media economics,” says Prof. Reich. “It’s like putting a semi-trailer driver into a mechanic’s shop – because he too apparently ‘understands mechanics’. But it’s not at all on the same level. It’s immature, it’s hasty, it’s an unprofessional, irresponsible, inconsiderate policy.
“There is an amateurish attempt here to apply a market framework to broadcasting policy. Someone here does not understand the ABC in the field. And the ABC is that the media economy is a unique economy, with delicate products. These are products that are related To identify, to culture, products that do not necessarily benefit from competition. These are products that are unprofessional to treat as any other product. And any economist who understands the media will tell you this, but I’m talking about real economists – not political economists.
“It is so dangerous, and precisely for those who care about Israeliness. Today there is such a great threat to this entire industry – from the outside, from monsters like Netflix – that the need at the moment is only to protect these enclaves of local creation. Rather a right-wing government, with right-wing values and a heart On the right side, the first thing is to protect what builds Israeliness, these local materials, of which we are proud.
“Precisely a right-wing government, with right-wing values and a heart on the right side, should first of all protect what builds Israeliness, these local materials, of which we are proud”
“The first thing the minister should do is stop, and calm down, before trying to insert this thing into the Settlements Law. First of all, we need to understand what is broken. What is broken in ‘Rehearsals’? In ‘Zero Hour’? In ‘Tehran’? In ‘Manayich’? At the headquarters?”
You gave a nice metaphor, of a truck driver coming to a watch store. But in reality, if you saw a person with a truck entering the store – you wouldn’t assume that he came to fix something. You would understand immediately that he came to destroy.
“Right now I’m giving Minister Karai the benefit of the doubt. He may think he’s doing the right thing. But he’s making a mistake here, he’s trusting the wrong experts. I don’t know what his motives are, but as they say in ‘Khozari,’ even if his intention Desirable – his actions are not desirable. The end of these moves to sabotage a beautiful branch that manages to develop an excellent local creation here.”
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