Coalition chairman tracking IBC journalists’ Facebook posts

Left-wing MKs compare Bitan’s comments to KGB and Stasi.

November 5, 2016 21:23
3 minute read.
DAVID BITAN seen at the Knesset last year

DAVID BITAN seen at the Knesset last year. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) said at a political event on Saturday that he can prove the incipient Israel Broadcasting Corporation is left-wing, because he has examples of journalist’s Facebook posts.

Bitan has been a longtime opponent of the IBC’s establishment, proposing a bill to reverse progress made months before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he was backing the policy.

The coalition chairman often argues that the emerging broadcaster is left-wing.

Last week, Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon formed a committee of their top staffers to find a way to keep the Israel Broadcasting Authority, which is meant to close in January, and cancel the IBC, without spending more money than originally planned, which concerns Kahlon. The committee is meant to present findings within three weeks.

One proposal discussed by the committee is to close both broadcasters, leaving only Israel Radio, as suggested by Amir Levy, the budget director of the Finance Ministry, Channel 2 reported. Netanyahu, who was present, did not reject the proposal.

At Saturday’s event in Holon, Bitan said about senior IBC journalists: “We followed their Facebook messages. Tomorrow I will present what they wrote to the media.”

IBC has also recruited well-known right-wing media figures, including Ma’ariv columnist Kalman Liebskind and Avishai Ivri, a former writer for the now-defunct media criticism site Latma.

MK Hilik Bar (Labor) said Bitan “took a crash course with the KGB. Labeling journalists after searching their Facebook pages is crossing a line by the deteriorating democratic rule of the Netanyahu government.”

MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) said Bitan’s “despicable methods” are like those that the Stasi used.

“Those who talk about the need for better governance are instead looking for opportunities to incite and threat journalists,” Gilon added.

The Union of Journalists in Israel said it will ask Attorney-General Avihai Mandelblit to investigate the legality of Bitan’s actions, saying it violates the journalists’ privacy.

The union also said what Bitan did is a “McCarthyist attempt to label journalists and threaten them and violates the Equal Opportunity in the Workplace Law.”

In response to the criticism, Bitan said journalists are hypocrites, because they look at right-wing people’s Facebook posts and report on them. The example he gave was Ran Baratz, whose appointment as Netanyahu’s top media adviser was frozen after Facebook posts he wrote, including one calling US President Barack Obama an antisemite, were exposed in the media.

“The media rummages through Facebook pages to find even a trace of an expression that could harm a candidate,” Bitan argued. “But when it comes to them, they can curse and harm people and incite without bother, in the name of freedom of expression. I accuse the media of hypocrisy.”

Bitan also said he did not look for the aforementioned left-wing Facebook posts, he was sent them, “apparently by people who are sick of the hypocrisy of those who lead ugly campaigns in the name of freedom of expression... [and are] funded by public funds and by law are supposed to be varied.”

At a protest by journalists in Tel Aviv’s Habimah Square Thursday night, Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn warned that if the Public Broadcasting Service is harmed, he will call a national strike that will be far more expensive than closing either the IBA or the IBC.

“Whoever thinks that he can close down public broadcasting is greatly mistaken,” Nissenkorn told various electronic media outlets. “I will not allow that to happen and I will strike the whole country, with every sector of the work force joining the strike.”

IBA journalists who had prepared themselves for the closure of what for many has been a second home for decades are now in limbo, especially those who signed contracts to transfer to the IBC once it becomes operational.

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