The Israeli government has approved a draft bill reforming the country's public service broadcasting system. If approved, the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) will be shut down and replaced by a slimmed-down body and the TV licence fee will be abolished. The changes will take place in 2015.
The bill follows a number of government consultations on the future of the IBA, the latest of which, the Landes Committee, delivered its findings in March. According to local press reports, the Committee's recommendations included the lay-off of 1,000 of the IBA's 1,700 staff, the sale of several properties, the merger of news divisions, and increased outsourcing of programme productions.
The new proposals do not include any cutbacks in the number of the IBA's services, which include eight radio channels and three TV services: the flagship Channel 1, Arabic-language Channel 33, and an Educational Channel. However, the latter will will replaced by a channel aimed at children, it is reported.
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) expressed 'serious concern' at the proposals to shut the IBA, which has been a member of the public service broadcasting body since 1957. The EBU is worried at the ten month deadline set by the government for the transition phase and the absence of a political agreement on the structure of the replacement public service body, including its governance, funding and remit. The EBU added that scrapping the licence fee was 'a step in the wrong direction'.
The licence fee - currently 345 new shekels ($100) a year - is payable by any household with a TV or radio, regardless of whether it is used for TV viewing, and even by owners of cars equipped with a radio. Earlier in the year the finance committee of the Knesset (Israel's parliament) criticised the legal fees run up by the IBA in collecting unpaid fees.
Israel's government is not alone in attempting to reform public broadcasting, and to address the perceived imbalance between the costs of the system and the benefits in an increasingly diverse media environment. After long consultations, the government appears determined to push through reforms - and the abolition of the licence fee might prove a popular measure. However, the EBU is certainly correct to warn of the dangers of making widespread reforms without a clear plan of the share of the body which will succeed the IBA, using the example of Greece's chaotic replacement of ERT with a new entity called Nerit. In particular, the transition to direct government funding should ring alarm bells.
Moves to increase the outsoucing of programming could, however, prove beneficial to Israel's prolific production sector. Though relatively small, Israel has spawned a number of internationally successful programmes, including Hatufim, a drama series remade as Homeland for US network Showtime. Last year, international production company Endemol invested in local broadcaster Reshet.