Public attention focused this week on the police recommendations concerning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. However, the police’s opinion that they have sufficient evidence to indict Yedioth Ahronoth publisher and managing editor Arnon Mozes for bribery cannot be ignored. The recordings in which Netanyahu and Mozes are heard concocting a deal that would benefit both of them — favorable coverage for Netanyahu in exchange for weakening the paper’s chief competitor, Israel Hayom — reveal not only a prime minister who would stop at nothing, but a publisher’s corrupt journalistic culture, which is sullying the entire Israeli media.
The recordings show Mozes’ lack of good faith. From his perspective, the craft of reporting current events — the cornerstone that underlies the public trust — is a function of economic interests and political calculations that have nothing to do with the public good. In this respect, Netanyahu and Mozes are mirror images of each other: The former dissolved his government and dragged the entire country into an early election solely in order to stop the so-called Israel Hayom bill, while the latter was willing to give his readers a distorted picture of reality, as long as his bitter competitor is weakened.
No decision has yet been made in the disposition of Case 2000, but the law is not the only factor in the practice of journalism. The profession is subject to a code of ethics and independent standards. It is already clear that Mozes has violated egregiously a number of the Israel Press Council’s rules of professional ethics, including: “A newspaper and a journalist shall not make improper use of their position, their work or their power. ... A journalist shall not ask for and shall not accept a benefit in relation to a matter connected with his journalistic work. ... A newspaper and a journalist shall not be instructed in the fulfilment of their functions by any external body which is not disclosed and in particular not by advertisers or governmental, economic or political bodies.”
Any attempt to trade in journalistic coverage and distort it for ulterior motives for the benefit of an external body is wrong. When that external body is the most powerful man in Israel, it is impossible not to reach extreme conclusions. If Mozes is genuinely guided by what is best for journalism and by concern for the reputation and the credibility of the journalists who work for him, he must relinquish his position.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.