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What Are You So Scared Of, Karhi?

Lisa Shiloah
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Benjamin Netanyahu and Shlomo Karhi
Benjamin Netanyahu and Shlomo Karhi
Lisa Shiloah

Make no mistake. The plan by Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi and Information Minister Galit Distal Atbaryan to close the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation does not stem from a desire to improve the quality of programming, for the benefit of Israelis. It stems solely from their desire to control the content of the broadcasts, especially in the news division, Kan News. It has nothing to do with values, quality or the public interest: It’s entirely political.

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When I agreed, six years ago, to lead the establishment of the public broadcasting channel, as deputy director of television, I worked day and night, aided by a team of skilled, highly motivated professionals, formulating a vision for Israel’s public broadcaster. With the backing of the corporation’s chair and board, we determined the key values and guiding principles of Kan Channel 11.

We strived to create a high-quality public broadcasting service, relevant, pluralistic, original and enriching, that would reflect Israeli reality in all its shades. We wanted a TV channel that appealed to a wide and diverse viewership while maintaining high standards of creative and thought-provoking content; a channel which would be an alternative to commercial channels, investing in complex genres such as drama and comedy series, documentaries and content with social and cultural value.

In contrast to public broadcasting, the business model of commercial channels relies on ratings. Advertisers pay a platform according to the number of eyes watching their ads they have managed to reel in. This is why commercial channels invest most of their content budget in reality shows and in cooking and singing competitions. The deal is this: We’ll give you free entertainment and you give us your time and attention while we broadcast the advertisements of our customers. To paraphrase Apple CEO Tim Cook: “When a service is free, you are the product.” Just like fast food, this is TV that attracts many viewers, providing quick and easy digestible satisfaction, with little nutritional value. There definitely is room for such content, just as there is for fast food, but this cannot comprise our entire diet.

One of the main advantages of public broadcasting lies in the fact that it is not driven by considerations of ratings and is not subject to political or commercial ones either, since it has no stockholders with private business interests. Its sole role is to provide relevant, high-quality, horizon-broadening, entertaining and accessible content to viewers, doing so in the optimal manner possible.

Nearly a decade of work and thought were devoted to the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation since the law establishing it was passed in 2014. For three years, teams worked on creating the infrastructure for TV, radio, digital and the news division. Many resources were invested in recruiting workers, in building studios and offices, in defining goals, in formulating procedures and in characterizing content. This was done while making the corporation more efficient, with significant cuts to costs and manpower, in comparison to its predecessor, the Israel Broadcasting Authority. The work was done on the backdrop of a prolonged and incessant campaign waged by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud politicians, headed by former Culture Minister Miri Regev and MK David Bitan, all trying to prevent the launching of this corporation’s broadcasts.

On May 11, 2017, there was a short notice saying that broadcasts would commence in four days, on May 15. The corporation met this challenge. Since then, it has become a huge engine of growth for Israel’s television industry. In its six years of existence, the corporation has issued dozens of calls for proposals and examined thousands of applications, providing a platform and an opportunity for a wide range of local creative artists, both male and female. It produced more drama series than the Broadcasting Authority did in all the years it operated. Furthermore, all these series were produced by independent companies. The result was a richness of groundbreaking content which evoked much public discussion. Suffice it to examine the international success of Israeli content, which has garnered prizes both locally and overseas, in order to realize the scope of the exceptional talent which has arisen here. Yes, we are a Startup Nation in TV creativity too.

Kan Channel 11 has realized the goal it set for itself, and it provides the public with enriching, diverse, accessible, high-quality, relevant, original, innovative and Israeli content.

Pardon the question, Minister Karhi: Which of these values scare you so much that you want to personally destroy one of the most beautiful and successful cultural enterprises ever established in Israel?

Everyone knows how easy it is to destroy something and how difficult it is to build. I call upon you to rethink your intention. Don’t be responsible for the destruction of the most glorious and Israeli public channel ever created here. Embrace it, give it your backing and be a proud accomplice to its achievements.

Lisa Shiloach is a former deputy director of television at the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation.

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