It was but 15 months ago that Ayala Hasson-Nesher was appointed editor of the TV Channel 1 news department.
Hasson-Nesher is a 23-year veteran at the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
She started her career as the criminal affairs correspondent, afterwards being appointed a political reporter for Channel 1, and currently is the channel’s main political correspondent, the presenter of the weekend primetime Yoman news and current affairs magazine as well as host of political interview radio program Hakol Diburim (It’s All Talk) on Kol Yisrael’s Reshet Bet.
She is known for her sensational revelations on some of the biggest names in Israeli society. She came to the front of the journalist pack in 1997 when she claimed that the appointment of Roni Bar-On as attorney general was part of a deal between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Shas, whose ultimate goal was to prevent the incarceration of Arieh Deri. That story was fully backed by the IBA’s news editor Rafik Chalabi, who famously claimed that her report was “as solid as a ton of cement.” She almost brought about Netanyahu’s resignation, but he was saved by then attorney general and today Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein who decreed that there was nothing in the story which justified criminal proceedings.
A second scoop came in 2004 when Hasson-Nesher got hold of a recording of then MK Yossef Paritzky of the (now defunct) Shinui Party headed by Abraham Poraz. Paritzky was heard alluding to fabricating a case aimed at bringing the downfall of Poraz. In this case, too, the police file was closed without steps taken against any one of the people involved, although it certainly damaged the reputation of both Paritsky and Poraz.
In recent years, Hasson was one of the figures who revealed the difficult relations between former army chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi and former prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak.
Some of the allegations, relating to fabrication of evidence by Ashkenazi aide Boaz Harpaz aimed at torpedoing the appointment of Yoav Galant as chief of staff following Ashkenazi’s retirement, are still under investigation.
Last April, she publicized the fact that president Shimon Peres received outrageous sums, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, for lectures arranged by Jewish organizations in the US. In the aftermath of these revelations and others, Peres had to annul a PR contract with Bank Hapoalim to promote the bank.
Perhaps what differentiates Hasson-Nesher from most journalists in Israel is that her journalistic work seems to be apolitical. She almost brought about the downfall of Netanyahu, but at other times damaged left-wing figures such as Peres and Ashkenazi. When Tzipi Livni joined Isaac Herzog prior to the past elections, in an attempt to replace Netanyahu in the premiership, it was Hasson who did not hesitate to ask her all the tough questions concerning her frequent political changes and leaving behind her partners in the Hatnua Party, which she headed after leaving the Kadima Party. She did not hesitate to censure Geula Even, wife of former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar, when she thought that there was a conflict of interest between her work at Channel 1 and the fact that she was the spouse of a leading Likud figure.
Hasson was considered one of the icons of public broadcasting. Her presence in the Friday night weekly news roundup was arguably the only reason the program had the highest rating (six percent) of all Channel 1 programs. Her appeal went far beyond the pensioners who are the staple of Channel 1 viewers. She considered her work at the public broadcaster as a public service.
Last year, upon receiving the Israeli Prize for Media Criticism from Israel’s Media Watch, she made the following comments: “The true work of a journalist touches open nerves and naturally can damage... But there is something incredible: there are people who when caught accept the fact, they are not happy, but appreciate the rules of democracy. But there are those who do not accept this and usually these are the people who are defended by your colleagues in the media. This is unprecedented and the most difficult to cope with.”
Was Hasson alluding among others to Nachum Barnea of Yediot Aharonot? Just this week, Barnea literally cursed out Hasson in a chance meeting in the Knesset, using vile language. Hasson, in retort, accused Barnea for putting pressure on her to refrain from further publication on the Harpaz affair. Indeed, her public argument with Barnea shed light on the rather difficult relations between journalists.
Perhaps, however, we are doing Barnea an injustice; he is not a journalist but rather a propagandist working for Arnon Moses, his newspaper’s owner.
This week, after 20 years, Hasson left the public broadcaster to head the news division of Channel 10. Is this good news or bad news? It is certainly bad news for the IBA and the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) which is to replace the IBA. It means that Hasson does not see her future within the IBC and leads to some very serious questions concerning whether the IBC will be able to attract quality people to its ranks.
But perhaps this is good news for Channel 10. As long as the future of this channel was questionable, it had to “behave.”
But ever since it received a license for another 15 years of broadcasting last year, it seems that all pretenses of fairness, balance and pluralism have been dropped.
Emily Amrusi, former spokesperson for the Yesha council, who was hired by Channel 10 to present the Friday morning news program, was summarily dismissed by the channel due to her “primitive” views. She did not hesitate to criticize actor Tal Kalai, noting that “she would not take her children to watch an act starring a drag queen, I would not want to explain to my children at the age of five issues having to do with sexual identity.”
Amrusi wasn’t a special case. Efrat Shapira- Rosenberg, also a religious woman, was chosen to present the same program together with former Netanyahu aide Yoaz Hendel. But it took only three months and both were booted out. Nowadays, the channel’s “celebs” include Netanyahu- basher Raviv Drucker, Yaron London and Oshrat Kotler who, among many other unprofessional acts, claimed publicly that the Jewish attempts at visiting the Temple Mount lead to the terrorist acts against Jews.
The real question then is whether Hasson- Nesher, who in her acceptance speech at the IMW prize ceremony claimed that “I respect every person’s opinion provided that the person is fair, honest and conscientious,” will be able to turn Channel 10 News into the model of pluralism and fairness it should be, or will it continue to be the feeble emulator of its big brother Channel 2 News? Time will tell and we wish Hasson-Nesher success in her new endeavor.
The authors are vice chairman and chairman respectively of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imediaw.org.il).
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