More Israeli Reporters Gravitating to the Tycoons

Why did Shelly Yacimovich say she was shocked when Yitzhak Tshuva hired a journalist?

Guy Rolnik
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Nadav Perry.
Nadav Perry.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Guy Rolnik

MK Shelly Yacimovich tweeted last week that she was “in shock” when she heard that Channel 10 News star Nadav Perry is joining energy baron Yitzhak Tshuva’s group as a “head of media” – meaning, a lobbyist.

I doubt that Yacimovich was really shocked. I suspect she felt that the congratulations she’d tweeted to Perry two hours earlier looked weird, given her battle against Tshuva’s natural gas monopoly.

When Perry announced he was leaving Channel 10, I told TheMarker media correspondent Nati Tucker to check whether he was actually going to work for Tshuva or for one of the big banks (Hapoalim or Leumi). I didn’t have any foreknowledge. But what were the odds? And so why would Yacimovich, a journalist-turned-Labor politician, have been shocked, when any journalist could have made the same guess?

I don’t know Perry. I only met him once and never saw his show, but I have heard good things about him in recent years. I see that a long list of top-ranking media people congratulated him and said nice things after his announcement – he must have done really good work.

The story isn’t Nadav Perry anyway. The story is the structure of the Israeli economy and media sector, which unfortunately too many politicians and journalists conceal from the public.

Perry, like a long list of journalists before him, went to work for Yitzhak Tshuva-of-the-banks because that’s how the country’s economy is structured: There is a small group of giant corporations, banks and insurance companies – whose profit stems directly from convenient regulation or, often, its absence – some of which control newspapers or television channels, openly or covertly. It’s worth it for this group to hire former journalists and pay them big bucks. Why?

This group is essentially a club that controls the people through the people’s money. For more information, Google all I have written about economic concentration.

As long as this economic structure is maintained, the chance of Israel having a free, independent press is slim (naturally, stories on left/right, territories/occupation, Haredi/Arabs and political corruption are okay; in those realms, serious, combative journalism may continue to operate and it doesn’t bother the tycoons and the various tax militias).

It isn’t because the press is corrupt or unprofessional. Far from it. Most of Israel’s papers boast excellent, honest journalists. Certainly Channel 10 news has plenty.

The problem here is one of forces: The press is weak, fragile and crumbling, and against it is a small, unified, violent club that controls two trillion shekels (a trillion is a thousand billions) of the public’s money. (For the sake of proportion, the national budget for 2015 is 328 billion shekels.)

The only parts of the press that are not weak belong to groups that have so far been on the side of the tycoons (for example, the Yedioth Ahronoth news group with its websites), or which belong outright to the monopolies or tycoons. Some papers are owned de facto by the banks that finance the tycoons, and would do anything to avert a revolution in the public agenda.

Since the social protest in 2011, many newspapers bark and occasionally bite, too, but they haven’t tried to help foment real change in the public or economic agendas. Indeed, they’re part of it. That is why, before that protest, almost all the newspapers served – in deed, and mainly in omission – the tycoons. Some even claimed Israel has no problems of economic concentration or competition, or a high cost of living.

But why does Yitzhak Tshuva need Nadav Perry? Because the entire profitability of his gas monopoly relies on decisions by regulators and politicians who are highly influenced by the media. The media set the agenda, and hand out sticks and carrots to politicians who want to materially change issues that affect the tycoons. Therefore, the economic game in Israel derives directly from the way the press handles the monopolies and the financial system that supports them.

Like all veteran journalists, Perry knows how the media works inside and out. He has good friends in all the TV channels and knows who calls the shots. He knows about the ties between journalists and politicians. Now Tshuva will have access to that knowledge: how to make it seem as though there is an independent press while it actually serves the current agenda, leaving the power in the hands of the powerful.

I have no complaint against Perry. He fulfilled his duty as a journalist according to the norm in television, and now he will fulfill his duty to Tshuva. My complaint is to the journalists and politicians who do nothing to break up this economic-political structure and who continue to hide the truth about the ties between big money, government and the media.

There was one single case in which journalists spoke up and exposed the truth: when Nochi Dankner went broke as Maariv went broke. Then the true system was exposed: how interests of tycoons and bankers were promoted by top journalists at Maariv. But otherwise the journalists generally stayed silent, as did the politicians, not wanting to explain that economic concentration isn’t just about the cost of living – rather, it’s a structure of power, gaps, and norms.

But why would Yacimovich be in shock? Where did she think Perry would go, with half the economy owned by that gang? (He could have gone to a public monopoly as VP of regulation or something, but like the gas monopoly, they maintain ties with the press in order to preserve their power).

I have high esteem for Yacimovich’s battle against the private monopolies (though she hasn’t mentioned the banks) – and also disagree with her on many issues. I’d like to see her fighting public-sector corruption as she fights the tycoons. Without quality government and a professional public sector, Israel will never be a welfare state or have a free market, which cannot exist over time without each other.

Instead of descending into “shock,” I suggest that Yacimovich, from the opposition benches, urge the current finance minister, Moshe Kahlon, to take action to break down that oligarchy – not get away with cosmetic reforms.

I suggest the same to my colleagues at the other newspapers: It’s time for an unprecedented campaign against the oligarchy and the concentration in the banking system, because as long as the banking system remains concentrated, the entire business section will be too, with all that implies for democracy.