At the end of February, the next chapter in the saga of Kol BaRama began. The story goes back just over a year ago to December 2010 when the LaDaat Right to Know complained to the the Second Authority for Television and Radio about Kol BaRama. The station didn’t have a single woman broadcaster or speaker. Even its women’s shows were hosted by men. Women couldn’t even call in and share their recipes. Instead they had to fax in the recipe so the male anouncer could read it over the air.
The Second Authority regulates Israeli commercial radio and television stations. Although the stations are commercial, they still have to adhere to Israeli law and basic rights. Israeli law prohibts discrimination against women. The Declaration of Independence and the 1951 Equal Rights for Women law govern interpertation. They ensure that any ambiguity in the law regarding gender always be interpreted to mean equality by gender. The Basic law: Human Dignity and Liberaty allows the Israeli Supreme Court to overturn any law that expresses discrimination. Although the law does not explicitly prohibit sex discrimination, it does prohibit violations to human dignity. The term “human dignity”is interpreted according to international law. Under international law sex discrimination violates human dignity.
All commercial stations have a franchise agreement with the Second Authority. To enforce its regulations it has two means of control: it can refuse to renew the franchise agreements or it can exertfinancial pressure. pressure on the station. It can deprive the station of revenue by reducing the amount of time allocated to commercial advertising. It can also withdraw state sponsored financial guarantees. This can put existing loans at risk and make it harder to obtain the working capital needed to finance day to day operations.
Fast forward to the beginning of May, 2011. The Second Authority was sufficiently frustrated with Radio BaRama, that it issued a two week ultimatum: either put more women on the air or risk sanctions. At the same time LaDaat Right to Know filed a complaint with the Israeli Attorney General, Yehuda Weinstein, saying that the Second Authority for Television and Radio was ” helpless in trying to get the station to allow women’s voices to be heard, whether as announcers, talk-show guests or as newsmakers”. Israeli Media Watch (IMW) also filed a suit with the Attorney General .
Kol BaRama officials had insisted that they were merely following the orders of their rabbis when they excluded women. To cut off that excuse a female MK asked Ovadia Yosef for a ruling. Before the first of two weeks was complete, Ovadia Yosef ruled that it was permissible for men to listen to women’s talking voices on the radio. Kol BaRama is a Sephardic radio station. Kol BaRama still didn’t budge. In fact, it blasted the MK on a radio station show for her interference.
The two week deadline came and went. Kol BaRama hadn’t changed its policy. If the Broadcasting Authority took any action, it didn’t hit the news. Finally, in mid July, the Sephardic Kol BaRama grudgingly agreed to a one hour weekly call-in show for women. They told Ynet that Ovadia Yosef’s ruling had no bearing on their decisions.
But after that agreement two months passed and there was still no change. At the beginning of September Israeli Media Watch (IMW) made a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court and issued this statement:
All our attempts to resolve this issue with the Second Authority and the Attorney General have not produced any results, and so we have no choice but to ask the High Court to intervene… Kol Berama is not a private radio station. It is responsible to the state, and is licensed by it. Just as we would not tolerate a radio station that refused to allow blacks or right wingers on the air, we cannot tolerate this situation. It is sad that the state allows this kind of discrimination and illegal activity.
Finally, at the end of October, Kol Barama made a deal with Second Authority at the end of October. Kol Barama agreed to provide one hour a week with women speaking. It would also refrain from excising women’s voices from live broadcasts. By the beginning of February it would start broadcasting a daily show where women spoke. The broadcasting authority agreed to enforce it.
By early November Kol BaRama had stopped claiming that there were halachic issues behind the absence of women. When Kol BaRama was called before the Knesset Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women, they explained their right to violate Israeli law in a number of ways:
- exclusivity: this is our lifestyle and world view. We’re the only radio station in Israel targetting the Haredim market. Shut us down and they’ll have no one.
- extortion: if you shut us down, we’ll run pirate radio stations and jeopardize Israeli airspace and security. One would think the obligation to protect human life would have Rabbis saying that would be forbidden, but apparently not in Kol BaRama’s eyes.
- distortion: we’re only asking for freedom of the press. Normally “freedom of the press” refers to the right not to be silenced. To Moshe Gafni it means the right to silence whomever one wishes.
- financial doomsaying: he threatened that using women broadcasters for shows targetted at women would cause Kol BaRama to lose half its audience.
Up until February, the attitude of both the Knesset and the Second Authority was that any small move forward was of value. But in Febrary, Limor Livnat announced that the ministry of Justice was examining the agreements between the Second Authority and Kol HaBama. She told the press:
It is outrageous that a radio station should ban women, restricting them to the confines of weekly or daily broadcasts and in actuality will not allow them to freely express themselves. This is not something that can be described as unbelievable, because evidence of such can be found on the airwaves
Kol BaRama made good on its promise of a one hour weekly call in show, but their promised daily show for women never materialized.
At the end of February, the Kol HaBama team once again found itself standing before the Committed on the Advancement of the Status of Women. Based on news accounts, the meeting looked more like a bad hockey game than an intelligent conversation. By the end of the meeting over half their team was off the ice.
- Israel Eicher: MK, United Torah Judaism (UTJ) : he called a Reform rabbi an anti-semite and Jew hater; he called female chazzans “heretics” and was expelled from the meeting.
- Moshe Abutbol: Haredi Mayor Beit Shemesh, co-owner : expelled due to inappropriate behavior.
- Shai Ben-Maor, secular representative of station owners: expelled due to inappropriate behavior.
The two left standing were shooting the puck backwards into their own goal, showing their profound respect for women:
- Avi Mimram: Kol Barama Station Director: explained that 9 hours of women’s voices is solely responsible for its 10% drop in ratings during the last half of 2011. Starting in November, Kol BaRama began offering a one hour call-in show for women on Sunday nights. Although this show totalled only 9 hours of programming for the six month period of 24/6 broadcasting, Kol BaRama blamed it for its entire ratings drop. Mimram then went on to say that Kol BaRama had decided not to fulfill its October promise to start a daily women’s hour in February because this ratings drop proved it wasn’t economically feasible.
- Nissim Zeev: MK, Shas: confirmed they were losing listeners by showing his deep respect for women: “I need to hear morality from some rabbi’s wife?…The station has sunk to that?”
MK Limor Livnat (Likud) called the situation “incomprehensible” and lambasted both the station and the Second Television and Radio Authority which was supposed to supervise the deal. MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) threatened that the state always had the option not to renew the franchise when it came up for renewal.