Radio studio (illustration)
Radio studio (illustration) Thinkstock

Kolech, the radical Orthodox Israeli Jewish feminist organization, is suing the haredi radio station Radio Kol Barama for not allowing women to be present on the airwaves.

The claim is that the radio station is not allowing women to express themselves, by not having women on their station as presenters of interviewees.

Radio Kol Barama is a publicly funded radio station and therefore, according to Kolech, has to follow the current guidelines set down by the broadcasting authority that allow for equal opportunity of expression to all segments of the population.

In Israel, radio stations are monitored by the government and most of them receive government funding. This is not the case for radio stations in other countries such as the United States, where anyone can apply for a radio license and can receive a wavelength from the government assuming they fit the standard criteria and do not break any laws.

The current understanding is that while private interest groups may maintain their own radio stations, following a Knesset decision in 1995 allowing them to do so, stations must adhere to certain standards that apply to all public and government funded stations. Kolech feels that these standards include having women on the air and that those are modern recognized standards on radio. They are demanding that women’s voices should be heard.

In an interview with Arutz Sheva, Ariel University Professor Yoel Cohen explained in detail the challenges posed to all haredi media by this class action lawsuit of Kolech.

“The suit is for 25 million dollars, and if they are successful, this will send a message to the entire haredi media. It would send shock waves throughout the haredi system, and the entire media framework would need to pay more attention to becoming more equally representative in their output,” said Cohen.

Cohen, who is a professor in the field of mass communication, was the head of the school of communication at Ariel University, and is one of the regular staff members and lecturers, having fulfilled his duties as the head of the department a few years back. He is the author of "Media Diplomacy: The Foreign Office in the Mass Communications Age", "God, Jews and the Media: Religion and Israel's Media", and a number of other books on the topic of media in the modern era, with an special focus on media and religion.

“Some media is already changing,”’ said Cohen. “Kikar Shabbat, for example has begun allowing women’s faces to appear on their website.”

Professor Yoel Cohen of Ariel University Yoel Cohen

Cohen surmised that Kolech can even go further in their suit. “If Kolech is successful, then they could go further to demand that women singing, or songs by women be allowed to be broadcast. So far they have not gone that far, but in principle they could go that extra step.”

However, Radio Kol Barama find themselves in a  bit of a conundrum as they are trying to answer the desire of their audiences which is haredi in nature, and in general does not wish to have women present on the airwaves. They make the point that no one is forced to listen to their station and that it satisfies a real need. Recent research has shown that even the female listeners of Radio Kol Barama do not want to have females on the airwaves.

A poll was carried out by the Sarid polling agency of 500 haredi women. The results came back that over two-thirds of the women who listen to Radio Kol Barama are in favor of accepting the current situation.

So while there are voices in the haredi community that wish to hear women on the radio, namely the one third who responded to the poll in favor of change, the majority of this target audience are not interested in changing the status quo.

“People pick a radio station because they want to hear a certain style of radio, and this audience, even the women, don’t agree with the campaign of Kolech,” Cohen explained.

However, Cohen said that he does understand the argument of Kolech as well. “I can see the logic of the Kolech case. It is nice to say that special interest groups have to live up to the interest of their audiences, but they likewise have to uphold modern standards set for broadcasting in Israel. They aren’t free to simply do whatever they want.”

The radio and television agency which supervises all radio stations in Israel, even the special interest ones such as Radio Kol Barama, told the radio station to involve more women. Radio Kol Barama has somewhat changed their policy on this issue and begun involving women and having them on air. However this is still very much in the minority of cases.

The Yifat company did research into how often women were broadcast or heard on Radio Kol Barama. They looked at 77 programs on the station, after Radio Kol Barama was instructed to make improvements, and surveyed 100 hours of broadcast over a week. They found that 37 women in contrast to 484 men were heard on the radio over that time span. On any given day only five women are heard as opposed to 69 men.

The Supreme court approved the suit of Kolech, which means that the case will go to trial in the future.

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