Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Knesset cabinet meeting.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit back against those accusing him of trying to control the country’s media market, saying he wasn’t trying to close television networks but rather open new ones.
“I have heard much verbiage recently about my attempts, as it were, to take control of the communications market,” he said on Sunday at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting, perhaps a reference to Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who has made such claims. “The opposite is the truth.”
Netanyahu came under harsh criticism from both the right and the left last week for agreeing with Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn to delay the launching of a new public broadcasting corporation from October to January 2018, to replace the much maligned IBA.
The prime minister denied that he wanted to “darken” Channel 1’s screen, saying that had he wanted to do that, he would have allowed the new Israel Broadcasting Corporation go on the air before it was ready.
“An extension was needed to enable the new corporation to organize as needed and go on air when it is ready,” he said, adding that during the interim, Channel 1 will continue to function as it is now.
But the main reform in the communications area, said Netanyahu – who along with his other duties also holds the country’s communications portfolio – is to allow more television networks dealing with news into the television market.
“Israel has a centralization of television broadcasts that is almost unprecedented in the free world,” he said.
The prime minister said that states with similar or even smaller populations have more networks than Israel, citing Finland with eight networks, Denmark six, and Belgium with five. Israel has four commercial networks, with Channel 20, which began broadcasting two years ago, having joined Channels 1, 2 and 10.
“The Israeli public has the right to have free choice in television, and that is what I am working toward,” said Netanyahu, whose critics accuse him of using his authority as communications minister to muffle a free press. “Once there were only two cellular companies, two bus companies, and two airlines; now there are more, because we opened the market to competition. That will also be the case with the television market.”
Netanyahu said that any investor who wants to invest in television networks – be they from the right or the left – will be able to do so, and “the Israeli public will decide what to watch, it will not be decided for them.” He said that opening the market is the reason he is holding the communications portfolio.
“I want to make something else clear,” Netanyahu said. “I will not be bought or deterred, not by criticism, nor by being smeared, nor by flattering screen time,” which – he said sarcastically – “as you all know, I receive endlessly.”
Netanyahu said that the greater the criticism of his moves to open the market, “the more I understand I am doing the right thing.”