This morning HaAretz reported that the Sephardi Haredi radio station Kol BaRama will be broadcassting women’s voices for only four hours a week with the blessing of the the Second Authority for Television and Radio. The Second Authority is responsible for issuing radio station franchises and ensuring that radio station practices conform to Israeli law.
Orignally the Israeli Broadcasting Association was demanding that they have at least one hour a day of women’s programming (6 hr/wk). Civil rights groups believed that even this amount was too little and filed a suit in the Israeli Supreme Court alleging that the government was not doing enough to fight discrimination against women at Kol baRama.
Israeli law does not allow discrimination except in certain religious situations. However, last May former Sephardi Chief Rabbi and Shas spritual leader Ovadia Yosef ruled that there were no problems with listen to women’s speaking voices on the radio.
Kol baRama’s ownership has close ties with several coalition MKs. In Israel there is a very thin line between the legislative and executive branches of government. Members of the Knesset, the legislative branch, also run the ministries that form the executive branch. They therefore control the ability of the government to execute its laws. This often means that a law that is passed in the Knesset can be effectively nullified as a political favor by the MKs that run specific ministries.
Kol baRama insists that increasing the number of hours of women’s broadcasting would lead to an economic loss. The Second Authority run its own independent study and found that 20% of listeners would stop listening if there were more hours of women’s programming. Kol BaRama claims the potential loss is closer to 1/3 of their listeners.
If this statistic is indeed representative of the Sephardi Haredi population as a whole, it suggests that there is deep rooted prejudice in that community. Given Ovadia Yosef’s ruling one can’t simply claim that the exclusion of women is due to religiously mandated separate roles or some sort of special holiness that sets women apart.
However, it is quite possible that this statistic is not representative. It only reports on current listeners. Given an on-going policy of excluding women, it may be that Kol BaRama is creating a self-confirming illusion. By making women all but invisible it alienates people who want to hear women’s voices. The current listeners are those who already don’t mind exclusion rather than the general public. In that case all the statistic tells us is that 20% of people who don’t care about women’s voices actually dislike them enough to stop listening.
The Israeli Broadcasting Authority defends its decision saying that the differences are not that great and no one should be making a big deal of going down from six to four hours.
Kol BaRama broadcasts 24/6. Four hours a week of women’s voices represents 3% of airtime.
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