Journalists Union Petitions High Court Against Ben-Menachem's IBA Posting

Appointment of PM's friend seen as move to politicize broadcasting authority.

The Tel Aviv Journalists Association petitioned the High Court of Justice yesterday against Yoni Ben-Menachem's appointment as director general of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

The association alleges that the appointment was political - namely, that Ben-Menachem was selected due to his close ties to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Yoni Ben-Menachem

Ben-Menachem's appointment is on the agenda of next Sunday's cabinet meeting and is expected to be approved. The journalists association therefore sought an interim injunction that would forestall the appointment until the court has considered the merits of its petition.

About two weeks ago, a search committee unanimously recommended the appointment of Ben-Menachem, who is a long-time journalist, commentator and editor at the IBA. Ben-Menachem's candidacy also got the nod earlier this week from the IBA's plenum and from Netanyahu, who is the minister responsible for overseeing the IBA.

A short time after the search committee issued its recommendation, the Tel Aviv Journalists Association sent a letter taking exception to the appointment. However, the letter had no effect.

The petition claims that when Ben-Menachem submitted his candidacy to head Channel 1 television in 2002, he was given particularly poor marks for suitability for the post by the Pilat management consulting firm. The petition also cites an investigation by the Civil Service Commission in which Ben-Menachem was said to have been found deficient in his job performance.

The petition also detailed critical comments about Ben-Menachem that appeared in court rulings on lawsuits filed during the period in which he headed Israel Radio. In addition, it noted that his name had arisen in connection with a NIS 4 million embezzlement case involving taxi receipts on which Ben-Menachem's signature appears.

To support its claim of political ties between the nominee and the prime minister, the petition noted that the committee that approved Ben-Menachem's appointment was headed by IBA chairman Amir Gilat, who once served as Netanyahu's spokesman. Another committee member, Yoav Horovitz, headed Netanyahu's primary campaign headquarters, while a third, Esti Applebaum Polani, worked for Netanyahu between 1994 and 1996.

The petition claimed that Ben-Menachem was Netanyahu's clear choice, and in fact, his only choice. It also said there was never any serious discussion of Ben-Menachem's candidacy. "The discussion in the [IBA] plenum ... was essentially 'for the record only,'" the petition alleged.

The Israel Broadcasting Authority said the accusations were not worthy of a response.