'We've Become Russia or Turkey': Israeli Journalists Protest Netanyahu

After political deal to kill new state broadcaster's news division, hundreds protest strong-arming of media in Tel Aviv.

Israeli journalists protest in Tel Aviv against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon's decision to close the news division of Israel's new state broadcaster. April 1, 2016.
Ilan Assayag

Hundreds of people rallied Saturday evening in Tel Aviv against the decision to shut down the news division of Israel's new state broadcaster as part of what protesters say is an attempt to exert political influence on Israel's press.

Protesters held signs against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon who agreed last week to an arrangement that would see the new broadcaster go live without the news division.

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Tomer Mamia, a reporter who attended the rally, said he left an "excellent" position with Channel 10 to work at the condemned news division: "I was asked to create a new broadcast and I agreed. They  can't do whatever they want."

Mamia is among several employees who said they will come to work on Sunday as planned.

"When the corporation was established I felt it was an opportunity to restart public broadcasting," said Tzachi Biran, the news division's head of digital. "Unfortunately, two months later they want to shut us down without a tangible reason. It looks like they want to close us because we are doing too good a job. 

"On Sunday, we go back to work," he continued. "This is not normal. We have families too." 

Earlier, the chairman of the new public broadcasting corporation, Gil Omer, said that hundreds of employees would lose their jobs over the agreement “only because three or four of them aren’t to the prime minister’s liking.”

Speaking on Channel 2’s "Meet the Press," Omer said: “The government has come and taken control of a public broadcasting agency, and the prime minister has decided that he'll appoint the anchors and the editors and the reporters.”

“We have become Turkey or Russia,” the broadcasting corporation chairman added.

Responding to claims that the broadcasting corporation has a political slant, Omer denied that there was any such agenda. “We are professionals,” he said, adding that he had never expressed a political opinion or participated in a demonstration.

The timing of the announcement that Geula Even-Sa’ar would anchor the corporation’s main evening newscast was not motivated by politics, Omer stated, a reference to one of Israel's most prominent anchorwoman who is married to a former rival of Netanyahu.

Coalition whip David Bitan, of Netanyahu’s Likud party, who is considered by some to be a media surrogate for the prime minister, took the employees of the new public broadcasting corporation to task, saying “the main problem is that senior journalists in the State of Israel think they are the foundation of democracy and that they are indispensable.”

Speaking at a community forum in Ramat Yishai in the north, Bitan added: “This matter is more serious when young journalists from the [public broadcasting] corporation, who haven’t produced a single report yet, think they [represent] the public.”