Thursday, December 17, 2009

You can fight city hall (another guest post!)

My friend Arthur has been having trouble with the IBA--he'll explain what it is--and feels that 'the people' can affect change in the way it handles its customers. Here is his story. I have some thoughts, or rather questions, on the other end.

First of all, thank you Baila for allowing me this platform.

When Baila gave me permission for the guest posting I was actually going to write something very “angry” about my interactions with the IBA Collections Department. Since then there have been some new developments, so here goes.

One more thing before we get to the meat of the matter, Baila thinks that the New York Yankees are the best team ever. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, that is part of what blogging is all about.

The IBA, Israel Broadcast Authority, Collection Division has a particularly thankless task. They are the ones who must collect the Television Tax or "agra". Some background on this: years ago, and I don’t remember exactly when this changed, one had to pay the same type of agra or tax on the radio in one's car. “Am Yisrael Mamtzie Patenttim”—we Israelis are quite creative, especially in getting around things like this. Before going with the car to its annual safety inspection many would remove the radio from their car in order to NOT pay this tax. Today, however, thanks to collective punishment, we pay this tax in the license renewal even if we don’t have a radio in the car.

With televisions it is the same. If, when the letter comes from the IBA people one does not answer it, then quite miraculously one stays off this tax role. If, however you do answer, you pay. We used to live on kibbutz so the kibbutz paid, but once we left, the kibbutz transferred the agra to us. The tax is for owning a TV. Even if you do not get reception, you still must pay the tax if you own a television.

Rewind to 2006,when we left Israel for 2-3 years with my company. Before we left we thought that we had settled up with the IBA. We paid the pro-rated agra for 2006, told them we were leaving; alas the bills kept coming in 2007, 2008 and even in 2009. We recently got the latest collection notice that says they were going to come and repossess furniture, cars etc, G-d Forbid!

Since we have returned we have been writing letters to the IBA and their agents, a law firm in Tel Aviv that just does collections for the IBA. No one wants to pay the tax because it is silly. (Just as an aside, if you have Yes or cable you are paying this tax twice, once directly and once through the content provider).

While we have been writing to the IBA and their agents, we have received no response except more bills, some with higher values and some with lower. Before Shabbat we received the most recent bill and since I have a new all-in-one printer HP J6480, I began to fax the IBA repeatedly in order to get their attention. I also looked on line and found a bunch of e-mail addresses, the ‘Ombudsman’ among them. He replied that this was a collections issue. I replied back to him that it is not a collections issue it is one of harassment.

Enter the web. I posted my story on my facebook page and lo and behold there was someone else with same predicament. I e-mailed the ombudsman on her behalf and I guess there were some that e-mailed the ombudsman for us because this morning I received an e-mail that said that my case and the whole collection scheme of the IBA was going to be re-evaluated!!!!! YAY TEAM!!!!!

I also have in writing an admission that the agra for the first half of 2009 has been cancelled since we were not in the country. I don’t know why they did not cancel the debt for 2008. I also have in writing that they are going to investigate our claim that we do not have a television in order to never have to pay the agra again.

This is only half of the story. More people are needed to e-mail the Ombudsman at OMBUDSMAN @ to explain that the way that the IBA conducts itself is brutal and harassing and should be changed. The ombudsman’s name is Elisha Spiegelman. Letters should be polite and can be written in Hebrew or English. The argument of whether the TV tax is right or wrong is not the issue here; Mr. Spiegelman’s job is to oversee those who collect it. AviK at is the person in charge of the collection division. Please write to him as well.

Together we can recreate the IBA and help them to become transparent, and perhaps lead the way for the rest of Israel’s bureaucracy.

Suggestions for the IBA:
1) Post the rules and regulations regarding the agra on the web site
2) Include all information on both the Hebrew and English Websites, the various fax numbers for the Collections Division and all pertinent e-mail addresses.
3) Increase to 5 days a week 14 hours a day the availability of the call centers. Currently they are only available three days a week
4) Treat the people who pay the tax like the customers that they are and not like criminals waiting to be sentenced

Add your own suggestions as well. Remember to be polite, no bad language when writing. Together we can make change happen!

Arthur Rabinovitz – Guest Post

Here are my thoughts, or rather questions: Why am I paying a television tax if there are so many commercials on television? (I've timed it; there can be 10 minutes of commercials on Israeli TV).

I received a bill from the IBA. It says, "If you have not paid since 2003, pay x, if you have not paid since 2004, pay y". Does this mean I should choose 2009? And, Arthur, if I respond does that mean I am opening up a can of worms? Should I just ignore it and just not answer the door in case Repo-Man comes to the house?

Finally, how come some people get taxed and others don't? My sister-in-law who has had a television from the moment she moved here, (16 years ago) has never received a bill. That just doesn't seem fair.

Readers, how have you dealt with this issue?


Trixie & Jane said...

Hi, I have the same story! This tv tax makes my blood boil !!!!! Count me in on the fight!


The tax is for Arutz rishon and nothing else just the IBA not any other channel

I cant answer number two without seeing the statement

as to number 3 I know many people that get a letter every year that says if they have a TV then pay x for this year and if they dont then ignore, and even though they have a television they ignore it

Batya said...

My complaint is different. We're taxed even though we get no service, Israel's TV Tax, Taxation Without Broadcast Reception.

Arie90435 said...

I preface this statement with the fact that we also "suffer" from taxation without actually watching TV (we use it for our Wii :)). But, I don't think it is a horrible thing. The IBA / Arutz 1 has (or had) some decent original programming that includes Jewish-themed documentaries. That kind of content is not free and not available on commercial channels (as far as I know). Of course they also have garbage like the other channels, but I think that the tax is worth it to ensure that there is some good content available for the masses. Just my 0.02 agurot :)