The Jerusalem Magistrate's Court yesterday handed down jail sentences ranging from three to six months against four former managers of the Arutz Sheva pirate radio station. The four were also slapped with fines of thousands of shekels each.
Considering the many years during which the station's managers, broadcasters and employees broke the law that forbids operating a radio station without a license, coupled with the huge sums of money earned by the station from advertising revenues, the punishments handed down were light.
State Prosecutor Edna Arbel plans to appeal the lightness of the sentences, notably that of Katz, Israel Radio reported.
When the deputy president of the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, Judge Yoram Noam, entered the court yesterday afternoon, the first thing he requested, before handing down his sentences, was to shut the window. While the 10 defendants in the case waited to hear their fate after a trial that lasted five years, hundreds of right-wingers rallied outside the court building, singing songs, making speeches, and handing out stickers and T-shirts with the pirate station's logo.
"The actions of the defendants are serious first and foremost in light of the essence of the offenses and the extent of the broadcasts," Judge Noam wrote in his sentencing. "We are not dealing here with a lone transmission or a local station. Another serious aspect was the attempt to conceal the site of the broadcasts and to obstruct the investigation."
Yaakov Katz, one of the station's top managers, who was also convicted of perjury, was handed a six-month prison sentence, a six-month suspended sentence and a fine of NIS 50,000. Katz submitted two false affidavits to the High Court of Justice, including one that claimed the station was not broadcasting from a land-based studio, even though some of the station's broadcasts emanated from the West Bank settlement of Beit El.
"The defendant unabashedly exploited the processes at the High Court of Justice, and won an injunction of some two months based on the false affidavits," the judge wrote of Katz.
Yoel Tzur, one of the station's directors, was handed a three-month sentence, plus a six-month suspended sentence, as well as a NIS 30,000 fine.
Rabbi Zalman Melamed, another station director, was handed a four-month suspended sentence and NIS 25,000 fine. His wife Shulamit Melamed, the programming manager, received a three-month sentence, along with a six-month suspended sentence and NIS 25,000 fine.
Yair Meir, who provided technical services to the station, received three-month in prison, a six-month suspended sentence and a NIS 30,000 fine.
Head of the station's news desk, Haggai Segal, received a six-month suspended sentence and a NIS 30,000 fine. On leaving the court, Segal said that "there would have been no need for this trial had the authorities allowed anyone to broadcast, and had not handed out permits according to political considerations."
Broadcaster Adir Zik received a four-month suspended sentence and a NIS 20,000 fine. Another broadcaster, Gideon Sharon, was handed a four-month suspended sentence and a NIS 20,000 fine.
The parole service will be asked to recommend in February whether the jail sentences can be commuted to community service.
Defense attorneys argued that the station's managers had "good and legitimate" intentions even if they broke the law. "The punishment should be proportionate," they said. "They didn't want to do any harm and weren't motivated by profits, and even paid royalties."
The defense team had also asked the court to take into consideration what it termed "selective enforcement" against Arutz Sheva.
According to this argument, the authorities only began to clamp down on pirate broadcasts after Abie Nathan's Voice of Peace radio station stopped broadcasting in 1993.
Labor MK Eitan Cabel said he was pleased that the court determined once and for all that Arutz Sheva was illegal, and that even settlers, with their strong lobby, are not above the law.