Strange things are happening in connection to the merger of Israeli television broadcasters Channel 10 and Reshet, which operates Channel 13. The shareholders have agreed to the merger and the antitrust commissioners has approved it, but the chairwoman of the Second Authority for Television and Radio, Yulia Shamalov-Berkovich, is trying to thwart it using various pretexts.
Who is pressing for the merger? None other than the employees of the Channel 10 News Company. Employees usually oppose mergers because they realize that jobs will be lost. Moreover, the closure of a media outlet results not only in fewer jobs, but also in less competition and freedom of expression. That the journalists at Channel 10 are working to get the merger approved quickly shows how worried they are that without the merger the news company will be closed altogether. The delays are evidence of hidden motives and forces that play a role in the decision-making concerning the merger and are serving to block it.
The Netanyahu government’s behavior is not based on an assumption that preventing the merger between Channel 10 and Reshet is meant to protect competition and freedom of expression. Just the opposite. The various investigations of Benjamin Netanyahu show his efforts to limit both, whether in Case 2000 (his conversations with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes on reducing competition from Israel Hayom and providing favorable coverage of the prime minister in Yedioth) or Case 4000 (in which Netanyahu is suspected of receiving favors in the form of complimentary coverage on the Walla website for himself and his family).
Netanyahu’s intentions regarding Channel 10 are not yet clear. One possibility is that he or a proxy is trying to force it and its news division to close. Another possibility is that frustrating the merger is aimed at leaving three money-losing, weak television channels that will be dependent on favors from politicians, especially as an election year approaches. There’s also the possibility that the merger is begin delayed so that Channel 10 will fall into the right hands (from Netanyahu’s perspective), which could improve the situation of some of the players involved in the merger.
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All these scenarios are directly related to the fact that in recent years the media market has undergone abuse as well as an unusual degree of interest-based political meddling. Even though Netanyahu has become skilled in the use of social media to communicate directly with the public, his behavior betrays an enormous interest in traditional media and a desire to bend it to his needs. This desire has already landed him in police interview rooms several times. Such conduct poses a danger to him and to the public interest, which needs independent media outlets that are not beholden to politicians. The authorities must clear all the obstacles and approve the merger.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.