A win for freedom of the press: Court rejects Regev's NIS 1m. slander suit

Likud minister must pay Channel 13’s legal fees.

July 5, 2019 01:37
2 minute read.
Miri Regev

Miri Regev. (photo credit: MARK NEYMAN/GPO)

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court rejected Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev’s approximately NIS 1 million defamation lawsuit against Channel 13 - formerly Channel 10 - and some of their star reporters. As negative Channel 13 reports about Regev date back to 2015, she hoped to even the score with her detractors by framing their reporting as false.

Responding to her claims, the court ruled on Thursday that the reporting has been serious and responsible, which entitled Channel 10 and reporters Baruch Kra and Sefi Ovadia to full absolvement from the defamation claims. The court also ordered Regev to pay NIS 25,000 to the defendants to cover their legal defense fees. The defeat is striking in light of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu winning similar defamation lawsuits against media outlets in recent years.

At the heart of the case were Ovadia and Kra’s reports alleging that Regev improperly hired TBWA Yehoshua, headed by Rami Yehoshua, to perform public relations for the ministry. According to Channel 13 reports, Regev and her advisers had prior connections with Yehoshua and that they hired him based on that personal relationship, disregarding the standard open and public bidding process. This meant millions of shekels for Yehoshua.

The report also said that Regev overpaid Yehoshua as he was unable to utilize all of the funds allocated to him. According to the report, once Regev was made aware of this, she held a telephone conference call with her advisers to figure out how to explain and potentially cover-up the situation. Channel 13 acquired a recording of the conference call, airing segments of it live on television while adding negative commentary against Regev for having violated conflict of interest principles and attempting to cover it up.

Regev claimed that she had no prior connection with Yehoshua and hired him because of his connection to other organizations involved in the events. She said that Channel 13’s portrayal of her as violating the law were false.

The court mostly backed Channel 13, ruling that the conflict of interest issues raised in the reports were of clear public importance. Furthermore, the court wrote that the audio recording of Regev and her team discussing the unspent funds objectively reflected poorly on the minister and her staff as some of the ideas raised by the staff during the call were improper.

Channel 13 praised the court ruling while Regev slammed it, alleging that it used the concept of “responsible reporting” to avoid a decision on whether all of the reports had been true. Although the concept of “responsible reporting” has clear precedent in case law, Regev said that she might appeal on the grounds that the concept is not cited in the statute about defamation law.

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