Netanyahu Aide Named Ch. 10 News Chairman; Journalists Fear for Press Freedom

In surprise move and despite journalists' fears, appointment announced of PR exec and lobbyist Rami Sadan, formerly critical of station and its reporting.

Alon Ron

A close associate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, public relations executive and lobbyist Rami Sadan, has been chosen in a surprise move as chairman of the board of Channel 10’s news division.

Sadan received the support of five of the members of the board who represent the station’s controlling shareholder, the RGE group, as well as Yoav Heldman, the CEO of the Nana10 website.

There are 10 members of the board, six of whom represent shareholders. The other four represent the public, and the chairman is typically appointed from among them. Sadan is one of the four; his selection was opposed by the other three.

Sources at Channel 10 are calling the appointment an underhanded step.

TheMarker has learned that initially Sadan hadn’t even submitted his candidacy for the position. The original candidates were Zohar Kadmon-Sella, who has a doctorate in communications and specializes in regulatory affairs (but later withdrew her candidacy); Orna Lavi-Steiner, a business school dean; and Eitan Singer, owner of the firm ProBook. In the past several days, however, Sadan decided to submit his candidacy and immediately received the support of the controlling shareholders at the station.

Senior journalists at Channel 10 News expressed concern over the prospect of Sadan heading up their operations, saying it was likely to damage their press freedom. RGE declined to respond for this report.

About half a year ago, Sadan was chosen by a nominating committee from the Second Television and Radio Authority, which oversees Channel 10, to serve on the board of Channel 10 News.

Sadan, owner of an advertising, PR and advertising firm, appears on the Knesset website as a regular parliamentary lobbyist. He was involved in Netanyahu’s first campaign for prime minister and worked as an outside adviser to the premier during his first term on matters pertaining the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities. In practice, he also served as the personal spokesman of Sara Netanyahu until 1999. He still maintains ties with the prime minister’s circle of associates.

Sadan was also, in the past, one of the leaders in an effort by a non-profit organization to bring about the closure of Channel 10. The group, Israel’s Media Watch, is a right-wing organization headed by Prof. Eli Pollak. During the period in which Channel 10 was in serious financial straits some time ago, people associated with the group repeatedly insisted that there be no lenience shown to the ailing station and that it should be shut down.

Sadan himself has been highly critical of Channel 10 News. In 2011, after Channel 10 broadcast an investigative report by Raviv Drucker on the “Hamakor” program about alleged irregularities involving Netanyahu’s travel expenses – in what became known as the Bibi-Tours case – Sadan told Arutz 7 media network: “The reporters have been hounding Netanyahu and his wife since 1996. It doesn’t matter how many media advisers and lawyers go up against them, they will continue to obsessively spread the stories.”

Last month, however, information from these sources were mentioned in the report by the state comptroller’s office about the Bibi-Tours affair.

The appointment of a chairman at Channel 10 News has been delayed for quite some time. Initially the RGE group preferred to support the candidacy of another public representative on the board, but then the decision was made, for reasons that are not clear, to support Sadan.

His candidacy, as noted, faced opposition from journalists at the station, but there is also a possible conflict of interest at play here: Sadan represents clients who are the subject of news reports on the station.

In reaction to the possibility that Sadan would be chosen as board chair, prior to announcement of his appointment, economics reporter Matan Hodorov, who heads the workers’ committee at Channel 10 News, tweeted: “Concerned over the intention to appoint an associate of the PM and his wife, who had attacked investigative reports about them, as chairman of the news corporation. Hope RGE doesn’t approve such a step.”