Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a scathing response to two stories aired by Channel 10 News about the conduct of his son Yair. After the station refused to broadcast his comment, the prime minister resorted to taking it to task in a post on Channel 10's own Facebook page.
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This is the latest turn in an escalating battle between the prime minister and the country's media that has included personal attacks on reporters and media outlets in statements emanating from the Prime Minister's Office.
The first of the harsh responses was in reaction to an investigative report by Haaretz regarding Netanyahu’s relations with the country's media sector. In an apparent reference to the German media group Dumont Schauberg, which owns a minority stake in Haaretz, Netanyahu’s associates responded by saying that “we hope that the owners of Haaretz, who in the past disseminated Nazi propaganda, are not connected to the lies and slanders directed at Netanyahu.”
The confrontation with the media escalated with the broadcast last week on Channel 2 of "Uvda" ("Fact") on Channel 2, hosted by Ilana Dayan, which was highly critical of conduct in the Prime Minister's Office, including allegations that the prime minister's wife, Sara, had routinely intervened in senior appointments, including the naming of security officials. Dayan chose to end the report by reading the very lengthy response from the Prime Minister's Office in full, taking six minutes to do so. The statement, which attacked Dayan personally, claimed that she was leading an assault aimed at toppling Netanyahu's the right-wing government.
For his part, earlier this week on Channel 10, Raviv Drucker reported that a friend of David Shimron, Netanyahu’s lawyer, served as a middleman in Israel's agreement to purchase additional submarines from a German company. In other reporting the same evening focusing on Netanyahu's son Yair, the station made reference to a purported stay by Yair Netanyahu at the home of a billionaire friend of his father's.
On Wednesday evening of this week, Channel 10 reporter Akiva Novick reported that Yair Netanyahu was behind a pending bill that would ban the use of loudspeakers by houses of worship – an effort to silence the call to prayer at the country mosques, which in some locations is said to present a noise nuisance.
Channel 10 refused to air the prime minister's response to the report, claiming that it did not address the merits of the station's broadcast and was only aimed at tarnishing the station’s image. Channel 10 said that it would report Netanyahu’s response if it addressed the issue, not if it attacked its reporters.
Netanyahu’s full response which he then posted in Hebrew as a comment late Wednesday on Channel 10's Facebook page included the following: “Channel 10 no longer even tries to pretend that it is objective and not a propaganda tool against the prime minister. Your daily trickle of venom against the prime minister and his family is transparently aimed at brainwashing the public. Broadcasting two negative stories about the Prime Minister’s son in one evening speaks for itself. There is hardly anyone in Israel who takes your propaganda broadcasts seriously and that may explain your low ratings.”
Explaining the station's decision not to broadcast the prime minister's response, news anchor Tamar Ish-Shalom said: "We deliberated over what should be done with the response we obtained from Prime Minister Netanyahu. In the past, we were careful to read out his responses word for word, even when they didn’t address our arguments. We believe Mr. Netanyahu has the right to respond, but we can no longer be a partner to an assault on one of our reporters. Regrettably, we have not yet received a response that addresses what was reported by Akiva Novick. We will be happy to provide it when we receive it.”
Netanyahu posts on Facebook
In his Facebook comment, the prime minister also made reference to regulatory problems which had beset Channel 10 in the past, a period during which the prime minister sought to shut the station down. “Channel 10, which complained about muzzling when it faced closure – in accordance with the law when it failed to pay its millions in debts from public coffers to the state – then petitioned to take [Jewish heritage station] Channel 20 off the air. Today [Channel 10] showed the same kind of hypocrisy by muzzling us and censoring our response.”
Netanyahu’s post was not entirely accurate. Channel 10 faced closure mainly due to debts relating to its franchise fees to the Second Television and Radio Authority rather than money directly from the public. The station also did not file a petition to close Channel 20. This was done by the RGE group, which owns Channel 10 in addition, for example, to the Channel 5 sports stations.