The Rafael Vardi commission, appointed by Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, has called for an urgent overhaul of the country's public broadcasting sector.
The Israeli Broadcasting Authority (IBA), which operates Israel's First Television Channel and the Kol Israel radio network, has been suffering for some time. Its troubles include poor ratings, budgetary constraints, a talent drain to the competition and widely-publicised internal struggles, often degenerating into scandals in the local press.
The Vardi commission, appointed to look into the IBA's problems, claims none of this is surprising as the chairman and general director are preoccupied with fighting each other and 80% of the authority's budget is spent on salaries and only 20% on production. The commission also found that fictitious overtime is an integral part of an ailing salary system; that equipment is not updated and there are irregularities in dealings with local suppliers of programming and technical facilities.
The commission, presenting its report almost two months after the government deadline, argues that nothing less than a legal redefinition of the IBA's purpose can cure its ails. It claims the authority should keep to its public broadcasting remit, rather than compete for ratings, and also substantially reduce its present staffing levels. The commission is also calling for one union to represent all IBA employees rather than the present situation where there are separate unions for journalists, administration and technical departments, each staking its claim to a slice of the IBA budget.
The commission is recommending the reform process should start immediately, while recognising that legally it will take some time to complete.
IBA chairman Gil Samsonov has said he is willing to quit as soon as director general Uri Porath is relieved of his duties. Porath, whose political position is sensitive as he was appointed by the former Likkud administration and has few friends in the Barak government, claims he has no intention of retiring and will fight any attempt to budge him from his post.
It's unclear whether the government will act on the report's recommendations - particularly as previous reports are still gathering dust. However the IBA section of the Journalists Union has congratulated the commission on its findings and expressed its hope that the recommendations will be implemented as soon as possible.