Journalists Turn to High Court to Freeze Kan Agreement

Petition by Israel Press Association says PM Netanyahu used all his power to gain political control of public broadcasting

Israeli journalists protest in Tel Aviv against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon's decision to close the news division of Israel's new state broadcaster. April 1, 2016.
Ilan Assayag

The Israel Press Association and political activist Eldad Yaniv petitioned the High Court of Justice on Sunday against the agreement between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to close the new public broadcasting corporation’s news division.

The petitioners want the High Court to issue an interim order to postpone the launch date of the broadcasting corporation (called Kan) and to freeze the compromise agreement. They argue the deal should be ruled invalid due to Netanyahu’s deep involvement in the media.

Those required to respond are Netanyahu, Kahlon, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, Kan, the outgoing Israel Broadcasting Authority and acting Communications Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, as well as Deputy Attorney General Avi Licht, who has expressed opposition to the agreement.

According to the petition, the prime minister used all his power, while threatening to disband the government and call an early election, in order to attain political control of Israeli public broadcasting. “In doing so, the prime minister shattered three high stone walls that were supposed to separate him from intervening: the fact the respondent no longer serves as communications minister; the [police] investigation against him in ‘Case 2000’ [involving taped conversations between the premier and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes, in which they allegedly discussed mutual benefits]; and the conflict of interest arrangement in which he was prohibited from dealing with wide areas related to communications.”

Lawyer Moran Svorai, representing the Press Association, said the Kan arrangements constitute “a blow to the separation of authorities between the monitoring authority and the executive authority, with the press considered the fourth authority,” as well as a blow to press freedom. Svorai added that the compromise also undermines the rights of the employees, who don’t know where they’ll work moving forward. “The situation of a media outlet without a news division is a kind of anomaly,” she said. Svorai noted that the arrangement also undermines the right of association.

Mendelblit has backed the agreement, saying that although it is not free of legal problems, it can be defended in the High Court. In a letter sent on his behalf by lawyer Danny Horin, he wrote that Netanyahu is allowed to intervene in the matter as prime minister, even though he is not communications minister.

Horin wrote that in the media, “There are specific situations the prime minister is not allowed to handle. In any case, there are areas these restrictions don’t include the entire field of communications, and there are issues in which he is allowed to be involved in without a suspicion of conflict of interest.”

However, Haaretz reported yesterday that Mendelblit’s deputy, Licht, is opposed to the compromise agreement struck last week.

Licht is considered the Justice Ministry’s top expert on media matters and was a key player in formulating the 2014 law that founded Kan, but was not asked to consult with Netanyahu on the matter.