Legislation would keep journalists out of Knesset

MK David Rotem: Justin Bieber wields more influence than any journalist. What would happen if he were to announce he’s running for office?

By RON FRIEDMAN
May 17, 2011 04:06
4 minute read.
Yair Lapid

yair lapid 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

The Knesset Law Committee on Monday postponed a vote on a new version of the “Lapid Law,” which calls for the introduction of a suspension period for journalists who wish to run for office.

The bill, named after the popular anchor and possible Knesset candidate Yair Lapid, was submitted by MK Ronit Tirosh (Kadima) and echoes a similar bill submitted by MK Carmel Shama-Hacohen (Likud) in the previous Knesset seat.

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Both Tirosh’s and Shama- Hacohen’s bills aim to impose a waiting period that would prohibit journalists from working in the media in the months leading up to the elections.

The concern, according to Tirosh, is that the journalists have an unfair advantage over their competitors, using their role in the media to bolster themselves in their election campaign.

Both bills, for the purpose of the law, define a journalist as someone who carries a Government Press Office Identification card, works as a paid reporter, presenter or anchor in an outlet that reaches the national market, and someone who provides coverage or analysis on political matters.

The bill would require a change in the Basic Law of the Knesset.



In Tirosh’s bill the suspension period would be six months and in Shama-Hacohen’s a full year.

“Unlike other citizens, journalists and other people who work in the media have the tools and power to shape public opinion and they can use that power to their own advantage,” Tirosh said.

As an example, she cited the case of journalist-turned-MK Shelly Yacimovich, who on the day prior to joining the Labor party, gave a favorable interview to then party chairman Ehud Barak.

Tirosh said that like government officials, judges and military officers who have suspension periods ranging from 47 days to three years, journalists who want to enter politics should also be forced to suspend themselves from their roles prior to elections.

“We expect the media to be as objective as possible in its coverage, even though we realize that like all people journalists can never be completely objective. The moment the media intervenes in politics it creates problems. We want the two worlds to be kept as separate as possible, just like we do with the military or the judiciary,” Shama-Hacohen said.

Opponents to the bills included MK Daniel Ben- Simon (Labor) and MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), both former journalists who made the shift to politics.

Ben-Simon, who left his job at Haaretz a year before joining the party, said journalists interested in entering politics should impose a suspension on themselves, but that there should be no law ordering them to do so.

“I don’t want to see any laws that limit participation in politics. In light of the current chaos in the Knesset, I believe we can use all the help we can get,” Ben-Simon said.

Horowitz rejected the proposal altogether. He said there was no difference between journalists and other high-profile people in other sectors.

“A journalist has no more influence over public opinion than a business leader, a high level academic or an influential rabbi,” Horowitz said.

He reminded the committee that notable politicians in Israeli history, like Theodor Herzl and Ze’ev Jabotinsky, also worked as journalists and there is no reason their latter-day colleagues should be excluded.

Committee chairman David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) also opposed the law, saying it would prevent all journalists from running for office.

Rotem said the law established that elections must be held within five months of the dispersal of the Knesset, and that a six-month suspension would mean journalists could not run at all.

Rotem also said the bill was at risk of producing a slippery slope for keeping members of other professions from entering politics.

He gave as examples other professions that influence public opinion, like surveyors or columnists, and asked the bill’s proponents if they would exclude such professionals as well.

“If Justin Bieber announced during one of his concerts that he would get an Israeli citizenship and run for office, he would wield far more influence than any reporter. Can we expand the limitation to all fields?” Rotem asked.

Rotem suggested that instead of looking for a legislative solution to the issue, the bill’s sponsors meet with the Israel Press Council to develop a professional code of ethics and other means of limiting media abuse by journalists aspiring to politics.

Other journalist who turned to politics include Education Minister Gideon Saar, Deputy premier Silvan Shalom and MK Uri Orbach (Habyit Hayehudi).


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