Media Comment: Behind-the-scenes treachery?

Netta Barzilai managed to come out the victor in the recent Eurovision “song” contest. This was touted by our media and some of our politicians as a fantastic accomplishment and a great honor to the State of Israel.

Certainly it played well into the hands of the beleaguered Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation (IPBC) which is faring rather poorly in the ratings and was under the threat of being broken up into two sections: one a public news corporation, the other, responsible for entertainment.

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As luck would have it, not only will the IPBC orchestrate the next Eurovision contest in Israel, but Barzilai’s feat ascertained that the IPBC will not be broken into two parts.

Communications Minister MK Ayoub Kara (Likud) tabled a new law, which would annul the division. The reasoning given for the law was that “lately letters were received from the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) concerning the possible implications of creating a separate broadcasting entity… [this law will] remove the worry about the possible implications including the assuring that the Eurovision contest will take place in Israel”.

In a letter sent to Eldad Koblenz, Editor-in-Chief of the IPBC and its chairman Gil Omer, the EBU stated the following: “We are not aware of any PRM Organization that operates the news in a totally separate entity with separate governance. In the event that the Supreme Court were to uphold Amendment B to the IPBC Broadcasting Law… the EBU may have reservations about a membership on that basis and a new membership application will be required and subject to a thorough reexamination by all the EBU governing bodies to ensure IPBC would be capable of adhering to PSM’s core values.”

The implication of the letter’s content is obvious and therefore, it justifies the minister’s decision to rescind the law and keep the IPBC as a single entity. But there are some nagging questions.

As pointed out by Israel’s Media Watch in a July 1 letter to the Minister, the EBU is not stating that having two entities implies removal, only that the topic would be re-examined.

Secondly, the statutes of the EBU itself state clearly “Membership of the EBU is open to broadcasting organizations or groups of such organizations.”

In fact, there should be no fear that the division of the IPBC into two would lead to removal of Israel as the venue of the contest.

Be that as it may, one can understand that the minister, a political figure, would not want to create a situation whereby such an important and popular contest within the Israeli population would be endangered, but is it really so? The media turned the Eurovision into an outsized event but we would guess that neither the Arab population nor a sizable fraction of the Zionist Orthodox really have an interest in it.

In fact, the Ashkenazi (and Zionist) Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Aryeh Stern, specifically urged the politicians not to hold the Eurovision event in Jerusalem for religious reasons of Sabbath desecration. How many middle-of-the-way Israelis are interested in the kind of music heard at these contests is also a factor. The fact is that in recent years Israel’s songs did not last and hardly anyone remembers them.

The EBU estimated that only 1 million viewers in Israel followed the contest this year, that is, but 13% of the population.

It would not be far-fetched to estimate that, at most, a quarter of the population is interested in the contest.

In truth, the facts are more sinister. It is clear from the EBU’s letter to Koblenz and Omer that the two previously had corresponded with the EBU.

Israel’s media Watch, under the freedom of information act, requested the IPBC supply it with its full correspondence with the EBU on this topic. The IPBC as of now refuses to do so.

Moreover, their response to a query by the Israel Hayom newspaper expressed their scorn of the public and its right to know: “We are preparing to produce the Eurovision and are therefore too busy to bother with obviously wrong conspiracy theories.” But no one accused them of conspiracy.

Could it be that they actually know that there was a conspiracy and they are hiding it? Why else are they diffident in publicizing the content of their correspondence with the EBU? THE MORE one thinks about it, the more questions should be asked. We know for a fact that the EBU was used (unsuccessfully) by previous Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) directorates to try and prevent the dissolution of the IBA. Messrs.

Koblenz and Omer could have tried to do the same here, urging the EBU to send them an official letter stating that the division may jeopardize Israel as the venue for the contest. If not, they should come clean.

But more than that, how much is this fiasco costing us? No one seems to talk about the cost.

Producing the Eurovision contest is expensive. us , in a 13 May, 2016 article by Sam Dean titled “How much does it cost to host the Eurovision Song Contest and is it worth it?”, estimated an expense of around €32 million, which is somewhat more than NIS 150 million. Is it then worth the investment? us concluded: “The longer-term benefits are harder to estimate but with over 180 million viewers worldwide, the international, positive exposure that comes as part of hosting is likely to dramatically increase tourism-related revenue.” In other words, the expenditure is large, the income questionable.

The truth is that the cost may be much higher in the long term, especially if the IPBC stays one entity. Here we note that in a month or so, according to the IPBC law, it will swallow Israel’s Educational TV. We remind ourselves that the same Eldad Koblenz was the CEO of Educational TV from 2011 to 2017 and took part in the legislation that leads to the dissolution of the station a month from now.

In other words, the legislation whose main goal was to turn the IPBC into a lean and hungry entity is now leading to the establishment of a media behemoth, with the largest broadcasting budget in Israel.

Dr. Michael Mero, a former head of the IBA’s Israel radio, noted in a June 28 comment in Haaretz’s “The Marker Cafe”, “For the first time, the Knesset accepts what it defines as a directive from European countries, repeals the law and is waiting for the Eurovision Song Contest. Without going into the depth of what the members of the European Broadcasting Union were referring to, a government whose members are attacking European aid to Israeli non-profit organizations, the government of Israel is responding positively and happily to the letter, a technical explanation, to cancel the law in order to ensure the Eurovision Song Contest in Israel.”

So what have we? A government in panic because the media claims that the Eurovision contest is important; a broadcasting corporation that takes advantage of the government’s insecurity to further its own interests; and a public, which, as usual, is the victim of a betrayal.

The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imediaw.org.il)