Channel 14 is offering Likud candidates vying for a Knesset spot a paid “primaries package” with alerts to cellphones and flattering stories masquerading as regular news, Army Radio reported on Thursday.
According to a detailed package proposal sent to Likud Knesset members and other candidates, the “primaries package,” offered by Channel 14, who targets right-wing audiences, includes a long list of benefits for the price of 50,000 shekels (almost $15,000). Among the benefits offered are flattering stories on the Channel 14 website, promotions on the channel’s social media pages, two alerts to be sent to the phones of people with the station’s app, and more.
Until the Army Radio's report, articles posted on the website as part of the package were not marked for as sponsored or shared content, but appeared to be regular news stories with the author credited as “Digital 14.”
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Advisers for two Likud lawmakers told Army Radio that Channel 14 ask to discuss some of the details of the offer face-to-face – and in that meeting told the advisers that purchasers of the package would also receive an interview on the television channel close to the date of the primary. After telling the representatives of Channel 14 that such an interview was problematic, Channel 14 amended the package to exclude the interview, said the advisers.
Channel 14 also created a separate site devoted to the Likud primary, in which viewers can watch interviews with Likud members, read articles about them and get to know the candidates.
A day after the Army Radio's story broke, Channel 14 was quick to change the byline on it's paid-for stories. For example in a story which credited MK Yoav Kisch of Likud with “the historic achievement of bringing down the government within just one year“ and declared him "one of the central figures in bringing down the government,” the byline was promptly changed to read "in cooperation with Yoav Kisch.”
The changes seem to show that Channel 14 realized they were toeing a risky line and better change their articles quickly. According to the Consumer Protection Law, websites are required to mark content that has been paid for clearly as paid or shared content. It is also forbidden, according to the rules of the Second Authority for Television and Radio, to use paid for content as part of current events programs.
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The law on election campaign advertising – according to the most recent amendment that was passed by the Knesset just a short time before it dissolved and called a new election – stipulates that the identity of campaign ads' sponsors, in traditional media and on social media, be made known to the public. The law explicitly applies to primary election advertising. In the past, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu prevented amending the law in this way, and it is assumed that he did so out of fear it would damage his own campaigns.
Following the report, Lawmaker Gilad Kariv (Labor) who chairs the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, and who promoted the amendment, asked that Channel 14 be investigated for the alleged violation of the law. Kariv reached out to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, chaired by Supreme Court justice Isaac Amit, and to the Second Authority for Television and Radio regarding the investigation and asked to expose which Likud candidates paid Channel 14 for “hidden and manipulative campaign propaganda.”
The Second Authority for Television and Radio said Thursday it had opened an inquiry into Channel 14 "following reports in the last week which raise concern over inappropriate action and breach of law on behalf of the channel. Should these reports be proven truthful the Authority will not hesitate to take action by any means at its disposal."
Channel 14 said, “An advertising package was offered only for the website and app, as many candidates use to for advertising on many sites. There is not and there has never been any connection to the channel’s programs and this was made clear to all those who showed interest in the package. It can be easily shown the channel holds interviews with all the candidates regardless of digital campaigns. As for the articles on the website, they obviously have the appropriate indicators of paid for content or shared content,” said Channel 14.