A reporter for Israel’s right-leaning, pro-Netanyahu Channel 20 was fired on Wednesday evening after declaring, live on-air, that he was disappointed that no Arabs were killed after a rocket hit a soccer field in the northern city of Shfaram.
“One (rocket) has fallen on a soccer field in a large Arab community. Regretfully for us, it did not result in mass deaths there,” military commentator Kobi Finkler said, setting off a firestorm of criticism.
Channel 20, which started broadcasting in 2014, has been widely compared to Fox News in the United States for its rightward slant and employing many conservative journalists and commentators.
The network initially released a statement saying that Finkler had apologized for his statement, which he did not mean. It also stated that it had accepted his clarification, asserting that the the reporter had been “mistaken in his language and did not mean, God forbid, the serious things that were said.”
Later that evening, however, the station backtracked, announcing that it had “decided to immediately sever its its connection with Mr. Finkler and summon those involved in the broadcast to clarify matters and draw conclusions.”
“The management of Channel 20 takes the harsh words of the military commentator Kobi Finkler very seriously and completely rejects them,” it said.
Finkler’s comments were also condemned by Channel 20 host Shimon Riklin, who claimed that he had not heard it during their broadcast.
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“I did not hear these things during the long broadcast because of talking in the studio,” he tweeted, adding that “if I had heard him on the broadcast, I would have reprimanded him.”
He subsequently tweeted that he saw the controversy in a “slightly ridiculous light” because “the Imam of Lod… who sees Israel as an enemy, [has] not [been] arrested yet.”
Contacted by media website The Seventh Eye, Finkler initially refused to back down, accusing Sharam residents of supporting the rocket fire before blaming his comments on “emotional turmoil” caused by non-stop work during the crisis. He also said that he apologized if he was misunderstood. “That is certainly not my opinion and not the opinion of the channel,” he said.
In a post on Twitter, Finkler doubled down on his fatigue explanation, asserting, “Obviously, I intended to say fortunately” instead of unfortunately.
“Imagine Furat Nassar (Channel 12) or Ali Mugrabi (Channel 13) or Suleiman Maswada (Channel 11) saying something similar to that,” tweeted Joint List chairman MK Ahmad Tibi.
Retweeting Tibi, Maswada, who serves as the Kan public broadcaster’s Jerusalem district affairs reporter, called Finkler’s comments “a shame and a disgrace.”
Channel 20 has been embroiled in a number of scandals for its coverage, coming under harsh criticism and racking up fines for violating the conditions of its broadcast license.
In February 2016, the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council issued a warning to Channel 20 after the station equated Reform Jews with imitation sneakers and fake watches in a Facebook post. Several days later, the council criticized the network for a sexualized satirical portrayal of MK Stav Shaffir.
That August, it was fined 151,200 shekels ($500,000) for broadcasting live from the scene of a terror attack. At the time, its license only allowed it to broadcast news if it obtained advanced written permission. It received permission to begin broadcasting news programs several months later.
The following year, Channel 20 was fined an additional 100,000 shekels for failing to give broadcast time to non-Orthodox Jewish groups. The fine was preceded by several warnings following complaints on the matter. Channel 20 was given its license conditional on a commitment to give proper coverage to all branches of Judaism.