Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s deep involvement in the media market was discussed last year by several gatekeepers. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit ordered him not to get involved in any issue relevant to Shaul Elovitch, owner of the phone company Bezeq and the Internet news site Walla, due to the conflict of interests that their friendship creates. Later, following a petition to the High Court of Justice, Netanyahu was forced to temporarily give up his role as communications minister altogether and transfer the ministry to Tzachi Hanegbi.
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In addition, Netanyahu’s unacceptable attempts to influence his media coverage by exploiting his governmental powers have been at the center of a police investigation into his meetings with the publisher of the daily Yedioth Ahronoth.
Nevertheless, Netanyahu continues to be involved in legislation aimed at increasing his influence over Israel’s media. As TheMarker’s Nati Tucker reported yesterday, a bill sponsored by the Communications Ministry would give Netanyahu and his government unprecedented control over all broadcast media in Israel. Its goal is to set up a new regulatory agency that would supervise all commercial television stations, including the Channel 2 and Channel 10 news corporations, as well as the multichannel platforms Hot and Yes, the regional radio stations, Army Radio and the new public broadcasting corporation, which includes all the radio stations currently operated by Israel Radio.
The way appointments would be made to the new agency constitutes a significant retreat from the attempts of the last few years to create a buffer between the government and the media. The chairman of the new regulatory body, who will also be its chief executive, is slated to be a direct political appointee of the minister in charge. In addition, the agency’s governing council will be an internal government department operating under the minister’s direct authority. Via this agency, Netanyahu also seeks to erase the achievement represented by the establishment of the new broadcasting corporation, and in effect to oust the entirety of the corporation’s governing council and management, thereby killing the attempt to establish independent public broadcasting in Israel.
Netanyahu’s obsessive desire to control the media reveals undemocratic tendencies. The prime minister wants to reduce criticism of himself and weaken the power of ordinary citizens, while strengthening the government – and especially its head – at their expense. The proposed legislation would deal a mortal blow to freedom of expression in Israel and seriously undermine the foundations of its democracy.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.