Walla’s owner definitely intervened to make the internet news site more favorable to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the site’s former editor-in-chief, Aviram Elad, said on his first day of testimony in Netanyahu’s corruption trial.
Elad was Walla’s editor-in-chief between 2016 and 2018. He also served as head of its news desk from 2011 to 2014.
There was “very clear intervention” on Netanyahu’s behalf, he told the Jerusalem District Court on Monday. “It could be to remove articles, to post articles, to publish articles against his political rivals.”
“As time passed, I got the picture that the owner, Elovitch, needed the prime minister’s goodwill to get regulatory benefits for Bezeq, and that was the goal at that time,” Elad continued, referring to Shaul Elovitch, then-owner of the Bezeq telecommunications firm, which owned Walla. “There were absolutely things with no journalistic considerations. It was clear that this was an order devoid of journalistic considerations.”
The website’s former CEO, Ilan Yeshua, “told me himself that these interventions aren’t good for the site but are good for the [business] group as a whole, and therefore, there’s no choice but to cooperate,” Elad added.
He cited one case in which he was ordered to place as the website's lead headline an article about Netanyahu visiting the Western Wall. “We didn’t think this should be the lead headline; we thought nothing newsworthy had happened. We didn’t think this had a direct impact on people,” he said. “Nevertheless, we got a clear order, and in the end we put it up, after arguments and shouting.”
In another case, Elad said, Yeshua asked him and Yinon Magal, then the editor-in-chief, to prepare a negative article about one of Netanyahu’s political rivals, Naftali Bennett. “We vehemently opposed this," he said. "There has to be concrete material to write about. We made it go away, we rejected it. It didn’t happen.”
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He quoted Magal as saying at the time that “we’re talking about powers greater than Ilan, and this was done by the owners for the sake of personal interests.”
According to the indictment against Netanyahu, Elovitch provided him with favorable coverage at Walla in exchange for regulatory benefits for Bezeq. Both men are charged in the case, as is Elovitch’s wife, Iris.