Netanyahu Is a Danger to Israel's Media

In light of technological developments and change in consumption patterns, the financial situation of broadcasting companies has significantly worsened and in order to survive they woo politicians.

Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, May 8, 2016.
Ronen Zvulun, Reuters

The appointment of lobbyist and public relations firm owner Rami Sadan, a close associate of the Netanyahu family, as chairman of Channel 10’s news division, is the last link in a chain of failures in the media market undetected by the public eye.

The Second Authority’s decision to appoint him six months ago as public representative on the board of directors and the decision of the channel’s controlling shareholders to name him chairman make plain the extent to which the commercial media market is not free and is dependent on the political echelons.

The controlling shareholders of Israel’s commercial broadcasters are tycoons who own giant local companies and financial institutions. The Wertheim, Tshuva, Ofer and Strauss families own Channel 2. Yossi Maiman held Channel 10 for years, together with Ron Lauder and others. Now, Leonard Blavatnik, Aviv Giladi and the Recanati family control it. They continue to hold media companies although most of them lose money because they constitute a source of power and help them foster their relations with the government.

The control of capitalists well connected to authorities over the media market is tightening. Sheldon Adelson’s freebie Israel Hayom, which practically serves as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mouthpiece, is gaining higher exposure and threatening its rivals. The owner of Bezeq, Shaul Elovitch, who is very dependent on regulation regarding competition in the landline market, also holds the Walla website, which provides Netanyahu with favorable coverage.

The growing dependence of media companies on the political echelons is becoming an existential need not only for shareholders in media companies but also the companies themselves.

In light of technological developments and change in consumption patterns, the financial situation of broadcasting companies has significantly worsened. In order to survive they need lenient regulatory decisions, and so they woo politicians.

All decisions regarding the media market are in the hands of the prime minister. He is also the communications minister and is empowered by the coalition agreement to pass all legislation in the field.

The fact that the owners of RGE, which owns Channel 10, surprisingly decided to appoint Sadan as chairman bodes poorly for the way media companies cope with threats against them. Even if Sadan won’t serve in the position in the end, his very appointment is a dangerous sign of self-deprecation before the prime minister.

The media market must undergo significant change to become more competitive, without obstructions and without excessive regulatory intervention. However, at this stage it seems that Netanyahu, who talks loudly about reforms to amplify competition and pluralism in the market, is acting only to tighten his control of the media and to prevent criticism against him.