Every Israeli journalist has at least one story about Sara Netanyahu. Lots of stories, but no reporting. That is the way it was with Moshe Katsav, the way it was with Ehud Olmert. Reporters knew even before the police knew, but did not have the courage to publish or the strength to investigate. Nowhere in their contracts is it written that journalists must be brave. Courage is needed in order to write against someone who can hurt you, and Sara Netanyahu has such ability.
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The law does not protect a reporter just because s/he is a journalist. What protects him is the good will of the employer, and this will is constantly shrinking. It is not worthwhile for the owners of the newspaper, television channel or website to be courageous. Their freedom of movement is limited, calculated and cautious. That’s how you move when they’re holding you tightly by the balls.
The identity of the one doing the holding is well known: It is none other than our very own prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who also happens to be the communications minister and is also responsible for the telephone reforms, television broadcasters and public broadcasting. Only a stupid media tycoon would make such a man angry with him.
Is it necessary to warn journalists not to anger this man? No need. Journalists are already wary, and they know why. They know who passes out franchises for telephone companies, who is splitting up Channel 2 and who is delaying the license for Channel 10. Reporters always know. Journalists at the Walla! website know who is their boss’ best friend, and the reporters on Channel 2 News know to whom the owner makes political contributions. They know and move carefully and with deliberation, as if it were their own balls.
Bravery has no reward. Raviv Drucker’s revelations did not help Channel 10, and Ben Caspit’s exposés did not save Maariv. They did not change the political map and did not attract great ratings. They only brought trouble.
Anyone who reports about Sara Netanyahu knows the bill is on the way. The bill arrives in the form of a libel suit. The libel lawsuit is not easy for the plaintiff either – no plaintiff wants to be questioned in court and exposed, not Sara Netanyahu either. So no trial will be held, she says, because in the end we will withdraw the suit (six such lawsuits have already been filed and withdrawn), but in the meantime we will bully you around, exhaust you and wring out the very last drop of desire to write about us. Because we have time and money, and you don’t.
Standing behind Sara Netanyahu’s good name are not just time and money. An entire army defends her. She has a daily newspaper that worships her, a radio station that protects her, and a television station that bows down before her. She and her husband have hands too: In one they hold the licenses and permits, and in the second they squeeze where they need to.
You don’t have to tell a journalist who holds what and where, and what they could possibly do with it. The last thing a journalist wants is to stand before his editor and explain to her why he got himself into such trouble with the Netanyahus. The reporters are as careful as porcupines making love, and the result is a careful and considerate major news program similar to the local news shows in Springfield, Ohio – a little crime, a few sexual harassments, reports by PR people and information on cheap hotels overseas.
Is it possible to expect free and relevant journalism from someone who learned journalism in the army? Their journalism is not relevant. The public dialogue is no longer held on television but on social networks. On Facebook, there are no tycoons who need broadcasting licenses, and there you can find information on Sara Netanyahu’s control over the prime minister. Such control is not just their private business, but our business too. Everyone knows how much it is our business, but they all remain silent. They don’t write and don’t broadcast. It starts with silence and will end in silencing.
Igal Sarna is a journalist who wasn’t afraid, did not remain silent and was hit with a lawsuit. After the lawsuit came the silence. No one investigated, wrote or broadcast. In days without fear Sarna’s defense brief would have had all the media fighting over it. It is both interesting and important, in a place where not every important report is interesting and not every interesting item is important.
It is important to know that the prime minister was thrown out of his car at night; it is important to know that his wife is involved in senior appointments, and interesting that the prime minister is suing an Israeli citizen. It is important and interesting, but not here and not now.
The journalists are afraid and silent. Not just scared, but the terror that paralyzes anyone who hides in the attic from the storm troopers below.
Seven years ago Netanyahu said about the journalists that “they are scared,” now this has become reality. It is a process. First you shut your eyes, after that you keep quiet, after that the fear becomes a second skin and in the end you discover how easy and pleasant it is to live inside that skin.
On September 18, Sarna and Netanyahu will meet in court. Hard questions will be asked. It will be important and also interesting, but who will have the courage to write about it?