The former CEO of the Walla News website, Ilan Yeshua, was cross-examined on Tuesday by the attorney for media mogul Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of media giant Bezeq, which owns Walla.
Elovitch and his wife Iris are charged with bribery, obstruction of justice and obstruction of the investigation in the case against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which alleges that Netanyahu made decisions benefitting Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage on Walla.
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Elovitch’s lawyer Jacques Chen confronted Yeshua with evidence that a day before the Communications Ministry approved the deal for the purchase of the website Yad2, from with Yeshua earned 15 million shekels ($4.6 million), Chen said Yeshua had turned to Walla’s editor at the time, Yinon Magal. “You hope that tomorrow (the deal) will close and you write Magal to provide ‘friendlier headlines,’ because ‘the competition’s headlines are friendlier than ours.’”
Yeshua confirmed this, and explained that his cooperation in biased coverage was not restricted to the time of the Yad2 deal, but occurred before and after. “I asked Yinon for friendlier headlines for the prime minister and his family,” Yeshua said, adding that Chen was making it appear as if Yeshua had “initiated everything” but in fact “every day Shaul (Elovitch) asked me (to publish reports favoring Netanyahu).”
Later in the hearing there was discussion of a report by Walla against then-Communications Minister Gilad Erdan. A WhatsApp text was presented that Yeshua sent to Elovitch saying, “Erdan asked for our help.” After the report was taken down at Erdan’s request, Erdan was asked to approve the Yad2 deal. According to Yeshua, this kind of request is legitimate, as opposed to others mentioned in the indictment. “He (Erdan) did not turn to me,” he said. “Yinon Magal reported Erdan’s request.”
Judge Moshe Bar-Am then asked: “Such a request from Erdan is unusual? And how is it different from the requests by Elovitch? Yeshua answered: “Ministers ask, but it’s a matter of quantity and how they ask. In my opinion he turned to the reporter himself, or told Yinon, who passed it on. … It’s the way the request is made. If for example a minister’s communications adviser turns to the reporter, that’s completely all right. Spokespeople do this all the time. It’s their job to lobby. If the request comes from above, … that’s OK too if the editors act out of professional considerations. But if a request is conveyed to the editors ‘do this’ and the editors refuse and they tell them to do it anyhow – that’s not proper.”
It also emerged that one of the reports Walla was asked to take down was about complaints of sexual harassment against former minister Silvan Shalom. The report was removed.
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On Wednesday Chen will cross-examine Yeshua for the last time, and beginning next week Yeshua will be cross-examined by Iris Elovitch’s lawyer, Michal Rosen Ozer. Only after two more days of hearings will the prime minister’s lawyer, Boaz Ben-Zur, cross-examine Yeshua.