YES KAN DO! ISRAEL’S PUBLIC BROADCASTER GETS ITS CLOSE-UP

israel

filed by Antoine de GRANT

If you thought politics in the Holy Land were complicated, how about giving Israeli television a whirl? An American in Israel flipping on the TV at any given moment is likely to find an array of news and entertainment content with a substantive-to-silly range you would normally only ascribe to a much larger country (such as ours). But then Israel is nothing if not full of surprises: how else to explain the recent saga of Israeli public broadcasting?

The old Israel Broadcasting Authority was shuttered last May and replaced almost immediately by KAN (Hebrew for “here”), broadcasting on Israeli’s channel 11 (the IBA used to broadcast on channel 1). Considering that newish and nominally Israeli  i24news, with a studio in Jaffa but business HQ  curiously outside Israel, took months to get going a few years ago–its curious hommes de tête Patrick Drahi and Frank Melloul perhaps better hucksters than visionaries–the swift transition from IBA to KAN was all the more remarkable. Some secret Sabra sauce, perhaps? We were eager to hear from Eldad Koblenz, CEO of the new channel, for the inside scoop.

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AdG: From press accounts the transition, so to speak, from the IBA to KAN was challenging in human terms, especially in light of IBA’s long history. American Jews don’t necessarily understand the politics behind all of this. What made this transition so politically freighted?

Eldad Koblenz: During our establishment we faced attempts to prevent and sabotage from different factors and directions. The struggle created uncertainty and difficulty in recruiting employees, in addition to hurting the onboarding of hundreds of IBA employees who joined Kan only on the day we launched. Despite all of these challenges we launched a continuous broadcast on three platforms: 8 radio stations, 2 television channels, and on digital, we established a strong news division and maintained administrative independence while preventing the possibility of content interference.

AdG: Would it be fair to call this a rebranding, or are we looking at a completely different animal?

Koblenz: IBA was closed according to the law and as a result of legislation by the government and the Knesset, due to lack of efficiency, wasteful expenditure of public funds and irrelevancy among other reasons and all its employees were dismissed. In its place a completely new body was founded, Kan- Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation, at a significantly lower budget, leaner workforce and with the goal to provide new, quality, independent and diverse public broadcasting on three platforms: digital, radio and television. Kan accepted about 500 former IBA employees out of its 800 employees.

AdG: Language difference aside, how is KAN’s programming distinctly Israeli in the way that PBS is distinctly American?

Koblenz: Kan invests about 220 million NIS in Israeli production and producers, unlike IBA which did not budget local productions at all.  Additionally, on all three platforms the content and presenters are picked to represent all facets of the Israeli population and present diverse opinions and angles on the topics covered by Kan’s successful digital division which is rapidly expanding and showcases the content to varied audiences in Israel and beyond. On the radio front, Kan Gimmel broadcasts only Israeli music in all hours of the day.

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AdG: Is KAN editorially independent of any political party’s influence?

Koblenz: The new law setup a clear mechanism that will allow Kan to operate independently and reduces political interference which was prevalent in the past. A committee of judges appointed a public council that appoints the CEO and approves the appointing of Kan’s management. All appointing is done by scouting committees and only out of professional considerations. A yearly budget is set in law and the head of news is the exclusive authority in terms of news content, without dependency on political or commercial factors.

AdG: Language difference aside, how is KAN’s programming distinctly Israeli in the way that PBS is distinctly American?

Koblenz: Kan invests about 220 million NIS in Israeli production and producers, unlike IBA which did not budget local productions at all.  Additionally, on all three platforms the content and presenters are picked to represent all facets of the Israeli population and present diverse opinions and angles on the topics covered by Kan’s successful digital division which is rapidly expanding and showcases the content to varied audiences in Israel and beyond. On the radio front, Kan Gimmel broadcasts only Israeli music in all hours of the day.

AdG: According to an article in The Independent, “The Israel Broadcasting Corporation (KAN), was stripped of a news division during negotiations, leaving a separate entity to broadcast current affairs”….is KAN broadcasting news now?

Koblenz: Kan airs news since the day of launch and the news division is an inseparable part of it. The issue is being debated in the Israeli High Court of Justice because separating the news from Kan is inefficient on every level and will bring to millions of shekels of the public’s money being wasted, leading to encumbrance and lack of efficiency.

AdG: While KAN is broadcasting in Hebrew, part of the Public Broadcasting Law which led to its creation evokes “broadcasts in other languages prevalent in Israeli society.” At the same time, the demise of the IBA also meant an end to English-language broadcasts on Israel’s public service such as IBA News. Is there any provision or plan in the works for resumption of English-language broadcasts?

Koblenz: The radio station Kan-Rekah broadcasts programs and news in a variety of languages, among them is the news in English every night at 8pm.

AdG: In addition to KAN 11, there are 8 radio stations, but are all these really necessary? Especially when there is already Army Radio, which is also publicly-funded, and when so many people of all demographics are getting information from their smartphones?

Koblenz: Out of the 8 radio stations, only one is a news station – Kan-Reshet Beit and it is part of the unified news division that includes radio, digital and television, and is synchronized to bring news to our audience anytime and any place. It is good that even in the public broadcasting there’s competition for the heart of the audience. The other Kan stations are intended for different audiences and it is important that public broadcasting will include a variety of content such that each member of the audience can find his or her favorite content. In that sense Kan-Sound of Music is for classical music audiences, Kan-Heritage is for religious audiences, Kan-Culture which was radically changed deals with all aspects of Israeli culture with an emphasis on oriental culture revolution, the unique Kan-88 which broadcasts alternative music of different genres. Kan-Gimmel provides a stage for Israeli creation and broadcasts only Israeli music all day, and Kan-Rekkah for foreign language listeners among them Russian, Amharic and more. The are 5 additional digital radio stations that broadcast music from different genres. Some of Kan’s radio programs are filmed and can be viewed on television or on mobile screens. All of Kan’s radio and television content is uploaded to the website and digital platforms.

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AdG: A report in The Jerusalem Post said KAN “is now around the the half way mark of its 100 days of grace, so hopefully by the triple digit mark, it will have succeeded in completely getting its act together.”   What has been the biggest challenge so far?

Koblenz: I am proud of our broadcasting from the day of launch. We did the unbelievable and our start in the given circumstances and uncertainty is considered a miracle. 90% of reforms in the public sector fail, but Kan was established and broadcast on three platforms: radio, television, and digital, under a budgetary frame and reduced human resources while maintaining our independence. We contended with accepting hundreds of IBA employees that joined on the day of launch and were asked to operate new systems with no practice or test runs.

Despite everything we are fulfilling our commitment to the public – to bring new, quality, independent and diverse public broadcasting, and the ratings point upwards and us reaching new audiences. The biggest challenge is earning back public trust in public broadcasting and we will earn it.

 

Antoine adds: “Tune in to  KAN on televisions at some of the fine Israeli hotels noted here.”

 

 

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