MK Ophir Akunis .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Science, Technology, and Space Minister Ophir Akunis resigned as the minister in charge of the Israel Broadcasting Authority Saturday to protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s intention to amend the Public Broadcasting Law. Netanyahu announced Friday that he would work toward amending a controversial clause inserted into the new law that would prevent IBA journalists from broadcasting their personal opinions.
Akunis expressed outrage that Netanyahu did not support him when he was under fire regarding the amendment and did not even inform him before he released the statement opposing the clause.
“The clause was never intended, at any stage, to forbid expressing opinions on radio programs,” Akunis said. “Its only purpose was to sharpen existing ethical standards in news broadcasts.
The law was not intended to silence anyone.”
Akunis wished Netanyahu well in his continuing additional role as communications minister. He added that, after he finished passing the law, he would focus solely on science and technology.
The controversial clause was proposed by United Torah Judaism MK Israel Eichler during the second reading of the amended bill on Thursday. The Prime Minister’s Office’s statement said Netanyahu does not believe journalistic ethics should be governed by law, but rather by moral considerations.
Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi, chairman of the special Knesset committee that formulated the amendments to the bill, said on Friday the clause was untenable and that he would try to remove it from the books.
Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai, who opposed the clause, said he would motion on Sunday for it to be rescinded, which is likely to happen given the flurry of anger and concern it has aroused.
The clause and its potential repercussions caused enormous consternation in Israel’s media community, which has long accused politicians of trying to gag journalists who are attempting to live up to their professional role of keeping the public informed.
Eichler, a former journalist, said it was an interim clause until such time as the public council overseeing the new Israel Broadcast Corporation would determine the ethical rules under which the IBC will operate and not intended as a means of muzzling the media.
What he was trying to achieve, he said, was to keep personal opinion out of news reports.
His own haredi community, he charged, is frequently the butt of unilateral opinion, and is often silenced by the media.
Israel Press Council president Dalia Dorner, a retired Supreme Court justice, characterized the clause as very problematic and stated that it was formulated in haste without proper legal oversight.
It should be annulled, she said, adding that the subject is so important it should be opened up for public debate before any legislative move is made. Aside from that, she pointed out that the code of journalistic ethics is already enshrined in the Press Council’s articles of association.
Akunis told Israel Radio the studios that have been the IBA’s professional home will remain intact and be taken over by the new public broadcasting entity, counter to the Finance Ministry’s insistence that the IBA vacate its premises and sell the buildings in its possession.