One of the purposes of punishment in a criminal case, which also allows a court to stiffen the penalty of the convicted defendant, is to protect the public. But in the arguments over the charges against Benjamin Netanyahu for fraud and breach of trust in Case 2000, this purpose may have been forgotten.
Amid the noise over the emerging plea bargain with Netanyahu, another bargain is racing ahead, with Yedioth publisher Arnon Mozes. The latter, who is accused of offering Netanyahu a bribe in Case 2000, would be given leniency because, as the amended indictment would say, he offered Netanyahu a change in the newspaper’s coverage of him, but he didn’t intend to actually carry it out. This is meant to allow Mozes to continue his management duties in the Yedioth Ahronoth group as editor in chief as well.
The recordings of conversations between Netanyahu and Mozes, the transcriptions of the police investigations and the evidence heard in court reveal a noxious relationship between that newspaper and government, crushing the values of journalism and freedom of expression. Mozes proposed changing the coverage of Netanyahu and at the same time attacking opposing politicians. The recordings revealed that the two men had contacts for years aimed at reaching understandings regarding Israel Hayom, Yedioth’s pro-Netanyahu rival.
For more than 20 years, the authorities have been trying to deal with the unhealthy structure of ownership in the media market, knowing that concentration of power is a danger to democracy. The 2002 law on media cross-ownership was intended to prevent newspaper owners from multiplying their power by controlling commercial television as well. Mozes was the key individual affected by the law, and had to restrict his holdings. Case 2000 revealed how important this law was for freedom of expression in Israel.
Nevertheless, leniency is under consideration in the Justice Ministry: The case would be removed from the indictments against Netanyahu and its weight would be reduced with regard to Mozes. Clearly it would be improper to drop the case for Netanyahu, and a deal with Mozes would legitimize trampling journalism underfoot and turning it into a means of political-economic horse-trading.
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Mozes fortified his control of the Yedioth Ahronoth group over the past year by buying out his partners, and he expanded his influence by means of the websites he owns. As if that were not enough, legislation might soon include the lifting of significant regulatory restrictions, including permission for cross-ownership and the possibility for newspaper owners to own commercial television stations and news channels.
A plea bargain with Mozes would accelerate the decline of journalism in Israel and legitimize the wrongful ties between government, capital and journalism. Case 2000 should go through the legal process to its end, allowing the court to determine the right norms to guard the public’s welfare.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.