Israel's Channel 10: From Independent Journalism to Friend of the Powerful

Rafi Ginat wasn't above using his investigative show 'Kolbotek' to help his friend Ehud Olmert. Now he's the director of Channel 10.

A month after the immense struggle to save Channel 10, it turns out that far from the limelight, Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Noni Mozes and his big-money associates are planning a takeover of the channel.

The recent appointment of Rafi Ginat, the host of the investigative consumer-affairs TV show "Kolbotek," to the post of director of Channel 10 is the last stage in the metamorphosis of the station that began when U.S. billionaire Ron Lauder's Israeli representatives, Avi Balashnikov and Michal Grayevsky, took over Channel 10's board of directors. The two seem to be running the station as part of a local web of interests.

Is this what so many people fought for? Will this promote the independent journalism that the channel has espoused since its founding? Is this the reason Lauder invested more than NIS 100 million to save Channel 10? And as for Ginat, is the man who was disqualified from running Channel 2 News really fit to be appointed director of Channel 10?

"Rafi Ginat produces journalism of a very particular vein," Nir Bachar, the former editor of Yedioth Ahronoth's weekend supplement, who worked under Ginat, said in 2007. "A form of journalism that deals with small-time criminals and kleptomaniacs who steal bras from a department store. And I believe that a man who is in charge of a large editorial desk such as Channel 2 News should have a cultural and public viewpoint that would enable him to perform his duty with a pure journalistic perspective, without any other interests – but Rafi Ginat represents the complete opposite ethos."

Yitzhak Livni, who was then director of Channel 2 News, led the opposition to Ginat's appointment as his replacement. "I believe Ginat does not have the mix of talent and personality traits necessary for the post," Livni wrote in an affidavit to the courts.

Instead of serving as innovative, alternative voice to Channel 2's mainstream one, Channel 10 (which will also be "Kolbotek"'s new home) is now expected to become more establishment-friendly, less of a threat to those in power, whether politicians or businesspeople. The man who had no qualms about using "Kolbotek" to help his friend Ehud Olmert will now take care to straighten out the rebel media outlet in accordance with the ethical lines of Yedioth, which refuses to join the Israel Press Council.

Still, Channel 10 is not a completely independent body like the mass-circulation daily is, since it is in debt to the public that saved it from extinction. Balashnikov and Grayevsky must explain to the public how Ginat's appointment promotes its interests.

Clause 17 of the Israeli Press Council's journalistic ethics guidelines reads as follows: "A journalist shall not deal in any occupation, work, service, public relations, advertising or soliciting of advertisements that give rise to the suspicion or appearance of conflict of interest or of misleading the public." Clause 19 states: "A newspaper and a journalist shall not be instructed in the fulfillment of their functions by any external body that is not disclosed and in particular not by advertisers or governmental, economic or political bodies."

Ginat, as a journalist and director, cannot abide by these conditions. For the past decade Lauder has transferred funds to Channel 10, supporting the ethical and independent journalism led by journalists such as Raviv Drucker and Miki Rosenthal. The values of the station that Lauder pledged to save six weeks ago are about to change radically. Is Lauder fully aware of the underhanded opportunism evident in Balashnikov and Grayevsky's move?

Jini