It’s high time to move the corrupt network of ties between politicians, regulators and media barons into the black zone of criminality.
When an emissary for the state proposes a deal to Channel 10 to make its damaging investigative program evaporate in exchange for regulatory assistance to keep the channel on the air, it carries a deep suspicion of criminality. When a news site enlists like crazy to serve the interests of a politician at the top, who in turn pledges to promote the enormous economic interests of the website’s owner, who also owns the largest media monopoly in Israel, that raises suspicion of a serious criminal act.
When a publisher shelves or delays true investigations of prime ministers, finance ministers and the media so they will return the favor with generous government gestures on a rainy day, he is bribing them. When a regulator conditions the existence of a public corporation on planting journalists who are the regulator’s associates and on dismissing senior individuals who have fallen from grace, he crosses the line into a forbidden zone. When an owner of a newspaper treats kindly bankers who have lent him tens of millions and opens an aerial umbrella over them that keeps negative publicity away, he is giving them benefits.
When a publisher and editor-in-chief promise the state’s strongest man that he will enlist his media outlets in the latter’s favor so that he can continue to be prime minister for as long as he wants, he’s making an offer that can’t be refused, an offer worth far more than suitcases full of money, a box of cigars or an expensive bauble. When a prime minister is willing in exchange to enlist the power of his office to pass future legislation that will bring a weakened newspaper back to preeminence, he is making a dark and dangerous deal.
Journalists who don’t understand the true dimensions of the deal affair between the publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth, Arnon Mozes, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and call them an internal industry matter not only have contracted Stockholm Syndrome and are assassinating their own profession, but can very soon themselves become victims of the system uncovered by the Netanyahu-Mozes recordings. The day is not far when they will be like some of their colleagues – indentured maidservants and submissive slaves to extraneous economic and personal interests, marionettes of people stronger than they are.
The damage to democracy by the alleged deal between Mozes and Netanyahu is much greater than allowing a building contractor to add more floors in exchange for fat election favors or the case of a minister who enjoys an overabundance of airplane tickets and uses them to fund personal and family flights. The real injured party in a deal between the two leaders of powerful sectors is the public, which, following a handshake in the dark, can expect to receive a flood of mendacious, distorted, censored, controlled and artificial information about government institutions.
Former Attorney General Menachem Mazuz decided in 2004 that all the warnings of Supreme Court justices and state comptrollers had done no good, and key players were crushing the norms underfoot and indiscriminately funding party members and associates in public service positions. He decided to bring criminal charges against Minister Tzachi Hanegbi.
One day the late Benjamin Ben-Eliezer met Hanegbi, slapped him on the back and said: “If they’re putting you on trial, me they ought to execute.” Ben-Eliezer was kidding, of course, but the ministers who saw the attorney general’s clear handwriting on the wall stopped making their ministries employment bureaus for their close associates.
Attorneys general should courageously lead to the betterment of society when they see a distorted and dangerous relationship, even by making use of criminal proceedings. That should be the last tool that a normal society chooses, but sometimes there just isn’t any choice.
If publishers and media franchisees stop treating their media outlets like a tool to hand out favors to politicians and regulators, if they tremble before they set aside a well-founded investigative report, hesitate before they present a rigged interview or are afraid to reward those who indulge them with benefits in the millions, we will be assured much stronger, freer, more effective and trustworthy journalism than we have today.
Avichai Mendelblit has been given a historic opportunity to change reality: the explosive and dramatic recordings that tell a story that we can only imagine.
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