Reforms in Public Broadcasting
Policy Paper No. 1
- Written By: Yaron Ezrahi, Omri Ben-Shachar, Rachel Lael
- Publication Date:
- Cover Type: Softcover
- Number Of Pages: 36 Pages
- Center: Media Reform
- Price: 45 NIS
This policy paper analyses the question of public broadcasting in Israel and asserts that it is necessary for Israel to have an independent public broadcasting system, devoid of political and economic pressures. It proposes a reform that outlines a structure and defines possible funding sources for this type of public broadcasting system.
The existence of pluralistic and even-handed broadcasting is of prime interest in a democratic society. An independent public broadcasting network is an important endowment of democratic government in the Western world and in Israel. This policy paper explores the issue of public broadcasting in Israel and argues that it is necessary for Israel to have an independent public broadcasting system, devoid of political and economic pressures. The reform that it proposes outlines a structure and defines possible funding sources for this type of public broadcasting system.
The existence of pluralistic and even-handed broadcasting is of prime interest in a democratic society. In such a system, there must be a public broadcasting network which enjoys an independent status, and which is generally acknowledged to be responsible and reliable.
An independent public broadcasting network, free of political and financial pressure, is an important endowment of democratic government in the Western world and in Israel.
1. The primary functions of public broadcasting in a democracy are:
- To provide a platform for the expression of different opinions and positions on a wide range of issues.
- To disseminate reliable information that is free of bias on political, social, economic and cultural issues.
- To provide programming for all elements of the public, including broadcasting for sectors that are not attractive to commercial television advertisers, for example: broadcasts aimed at the elderly, the poor, etc.
- To provide a platform for the criticism of actions taken by and policies of the government.
- To offer the opportunity for creativity and original work in all fields of culture, and the broadcasting of such work to the general public.
- To act as a reliable medium for emergency communications at times of crisis, as in the event of war.
2. The potential dangers for public broadcasting in Israel are:
- The transformation of the broadcasting network into an extension of the government and its ministers.
- The privatization of public broadcasts, and their transformation into a broadcasting system motivated exclusively by commercial considerations.
- The progressive degeneration of public broadcasting as a result of managerial failure and cumbersome bureaucratic procedures.
3. The crisis:
Public broadcasting in Israel is currently in the midst of a profound crisis; recently there has been an increase in challenges to the status of the public broadcasting system. The structure of the public broadcasting authority is now and always has been susceptible to political pressure and interference, which have damaged its status and its reliability in the eyes of the public. Ever since the institution of commercially funded broadcasting channels, the managers of the public broadcasting network in Israel have not succeeded in developing an approach to public broadcasting which meets the needs of the entire populace. The absence of a comprehensive approach has led the managers of Channel 1, for example, to follow a futile and destructive course in competition with the commercial television stations.
A popular bid for the highest number of viewers has no place on a public broadcasting channel. This trend toward the erosion of the public broadcasting channel is reinforced by the fact that a separate educational television network exists. By rights, educational television ought to have been included in the public broadcasting system.
4. The principles for reform of the public broadcasting system, as formulated by the Israel Democracy Institute, are:
- The adoption of a comprehensive approach to public broadcasting.
- The accepted view in Western democracies is that, in terms of structure, a national communications system should be composed of one public division, and a number of commercial divisions which function in parallel to one another. Each division should have its own separate source of funding, which dictates, in large part, the character of the broadcasts. (Funding may take the form of a licence fee, it may be based on membership fees or obtained through commercial advertising.) Public broadcasting must be free of concerns about ratings if it is to be capable of concentrating its efforts on types of broadcasts which are not given a full range of expression on commercial stations.
- Each of the broadcasting divisions (both the public system and the private divisions), requires a suitable organizational framework in order to function properly.
- The entire public broadcasting system should be concentrated under a single roof, and be under the authority of a single minister who has limited supervisory power. Broader powers should be granted to independent institutions which provide public supervision and to the professional management staff of the broadcasting authority. Political appointments within the broadcasting authority should be severely limited, as should political involvement in the budgetary decision-making process.
- Too great a concentration of power in the broadcasting authority should be avoided.
- The professional staff of the broadcasting network should enjoy freedom of action, as should the editors in the radio and television divisions. At the same time, public bodies should be able to influence the public broadcasts, subject to the basic principles of decency, fair representation and objectivity.
The possible sources of funding of the public broadcasting system are:
- The television/radio licence should remain an important source of funding for the public broadcasting system. The licence would ensure that the public would maintain a moral stake and that the public broadcasting system would not become an extension of the government.
- The establishment of a respectable and well-organized lottery would enable the public broadcasting system to be self-funding, and not subject to government intervention.
- Taxation of the commercial broadcasting stations' profits.
A balanced combination of these funding sources -- which would integrate a licence fee, a lottery, and tax on the profits from commercial broadcasting -- would ensure sufficient funding, a just division of the burden of supporting the system, flexibility and independence for the public broadcasting system.