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Educational TV takes its final breath — what a pity

Israel's oldest broadcast company shaped generations of kids with intelligent, sensitive programming. It was axed for no good reason
"Save Educational TV" (via Facebook)
"Save Educational TV" (via Facebook)

The last nail in the coffin of Israeli public television was hammered the night of July 18, 2018, before the 20th Knesset disbanded for the summer break. It voted once and for all to close Israel Educational Television (IETV). The original Television Reform Law of March 2014 had already legislated the closure of the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA), decimating public TV and radio culture in Israel, including IETV, with one fell swoop. After many delays, IBA was closed on May 14, 2017, and the new broadcasting company called KAN, was established.

Now Hinuchit, as Israel Educational TV is endearingly called, is destined to close on Wednesday. A last minute Knesset attempt to reverse the March 2014 decision regarding Hinuchit was voted down, and Israel Educational TV will become part of KAN.

IETV was actually the first TV broadcasting company established in Israel. In 1966 the Rothschild Foundation, in coordination with the Israeli Ministry of Education, created Instructional TV designed to be used in school classrooms. Eventually, it developed a broader educational vision and was renamed Educational Television. In the latter part of the twentieth century, it had an important influence on the culture of the country. From nursery school through primary grades, children grew up with the puppet heroes “Kishkashta”and “Pupik,”along with English and math-teaching programs promoting inquisitiveness and values. “Should I watch a meteor or go to a pajama party tonight,” inquires the primary school puppet, Pupik. “How do I know what to choose?” A quandary in decision-making as part of the human condition. At another time he asks, “Why do we have to know all the news? it scares me,” a small instance of the need for Israeli-related programming. These programs for young children had an intelligent innocence about them, while many of the commercial TV programs for children that emerged later believed they could only get youngsters’ attention with noise and violence.

The Israel Broadcasting Authority began with radio, and opened Israeli TV in May of 1968. Educational TV shared morning hours with IBA, which was a public channel supported by the government through the “agra,”a television tariff. The IBA, with its one channel, was a virtual monopoly until 1990 when the Knesset passed a law establishing a Second Broadcasting Authority for commercial TV. In the mid-1990’s cable TV began to flourish, providing a plethora of options.

There were also new winds in the air that affected TV, a disaffection with socialist values and government involvement; an almost religious belief in privatization. True, the monopoly of the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the power of the workers committees caused inflated budgets and excessive social benefits. This was less true of Educational TV, but government committees called for reforms, tightening belts at both Hinuchit and IBA. “It was a long process in which they tried to dry us up,” says Limor Zahavi-Vinberger, Director of Children’s Programming at Hinuchit. “Many people were fired between 2003-2004, and it became difficult to produce high-level programs. Ratings fell. But in the last decade, parents tired of children’s commercial TV. Hinuchit came out with new programs in science and history, as well as programs for teenagers. It began planning a recovery program for the future, which would keep it economically regulated. The number of employees had been reduced from 500 to 180. At the same time, IETV moved into YouTube, social networks, digitalization, and was lauded for its efficiency.”

But why, just as IETV is having a renaissance, receiving high ratings, and awards from New Media, is the government sending it to the guillotine?

One can only assume there are personal interests involved. The Israel Broadcasting Authority is the big fish in this story and Educational TV the small one that got caught in the net. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s obsession with greater control of the media started the ball rolling to replace IBA. But he later regretted it. Gilad Erdan, Minister of Communications in 2014, chose Ram Landes as head of the committee to decide the fate of the Israel Broadcasting Authority and Educational TV.

Landes is the founder and CEO of CODA Production Co., which produces films for TV, and his presence on the committee was a quintessential case of allowing the fox to guard the henhouse. Instead of attempting to improve public TV, the Landes committee simply decided to get rid of it.

On June 18, 2017, Yonatan Kitain of Globes Financial news reported that CODA, Landes’s production company, was commissioned to create three TV series for KAN, to the tune of 15 million shekel. The first, a documentary series, “Shetach Hefker” (No Man’s Land), is already being shown.

It is true that this is not technically illegal, as there was a cooling-off period of a year. But how could the Landes Committee’s decision to close Israel Broadcasting Authority not be regarded as a shocking conflict of interests when Landes had so much to gain?

President Reuven Rivlin gets a visit from beloved Israeli Educational TV character Kishkashta (YouTube screen)

The question arises whether there is anything to indicate that a better, more economical Educational Channel will be created under KAN. There seems to be little preparation for the day after August 15, when most of the professionals at Hinuchit will be fired. It seems that Eldad Koblentz, the CEO of the Israel Broadcasting Corporation believes almost everything could be done through outsourcing, and he used that principle well when he was CEO of Hinuchit. It’s the magic word that sounds economical, but where there’s no advertising the government is still paying. Instead of paying for pensions and workers’ salaries, the government is paying inflated sums to production companies (who themselves have to pay for pensions and salaries). “Outsourced material has to be guided no less than in-house productions,” says Zahavi-Vinberger. Every production is meticulously studied for its appropriateness from a cognitive, social, psychological perspective. It’s in the Hinuchit DNA to be responsible to the Israeli child.”

Nothing was mentioned in the Reform Law that dictates quality and values, the human touch that existed in IETV. I must here admit two things: I am related to a Hinuchit employee who will probably lose his job, but even more important, I am a news junkie. I obsessively watched IBA’s Channel One for years, and it is painful to see the confusion that reigns in the new KAN now, almost a year and a half after it took over from IBA. There are, I admit, some improvements. The daily survey of world events with Moav Vardi is one of them. But where is Oded Granot with his large understanding of the Arab world? Thankfully, Geula Even-Saar, is still the main anchor, incisive and intelligent. But why this constant turnover, this parade of inexperienced reporters and commentators? I believe in giving new talent a chance, but they should be slowly integrated into an experienced staff. One cannot help wondering if some of this new KAN staff is someone’s cousin or girlfriend.

With almost two years of birth pangs and little indication of improvement on the KAN 11 news station, what is in store for Educational KAN except for replays of older programs and outsourcing? What about the Israeli touch, the personal, human touch? And if KAN 11 news is any indication, how long will it take to put together sensitive children’s broadcasting at the professional level of Hinuchit? The government has ignored what President Reuven Rivlin said when the iconic Educational TV character Kishkashta came to thank him on Israel’s seventieth birthday. “It’s you, Kishkashta, that the children of Israel have to thank,” declared President Rivlin.

About the Author
Rochelle Furstenberg is a journalist and literary critic who has written extensively on literary and cultural topics.
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