The politician’s criticism of the press was harsh, biting and even threatening. As reported, he said: “Some of our national newspapers had sunk to depths of unethical and illegal behavior that disgraced the name of journalism... these weren’t just isolated incidents. They were habitual, and sometimes even matters of policy... a small group of media moguls, executives and senior journalists...enjoyed extraordinary power... They themselves, in my view, have become the power in this country. They have operated like a mafia, intimidating here, bribing there, terminating careers when it suits them and rewarding their most loyal toadies....
“For years, they could ‘fix’ any legislation that affected them, in a way that no other industry could. But it didn’t stop there. Their influence was so great that it became impossible to know who was really running the country... [media publishers are a] little group of greedy, cruel men. They don’t want fairness, they don’t want change. No catalogue of the wrongdoing they have overseen would be long enough to shame them....”
No, those were not the words of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They were spoken by Tom Watson, a Labour MP in Great Britain, during his speech at the second annual Leveson lecture on December 3, 2014.
Watson is the author of Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain, and in 2004 won the New Statesman New Media Award under the category of the use of an elected representative using his weblog to further the democratic process.
Here in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu this past Monday launched an all-out and direct attack on Arnon (Noni) Mozes, the publisher of the Yediot Aharonot
newspaper and its affiliated news website Ynet. As reported in this newspaper, he published his thoughts on his Facebook page, writing: “In recent weeks, the attacks on me do not just appear once a day, in the morning, when Yediot Aharonot
is distributed. They are published almost every hour and sometimes every half hour on Ynet. These two platforms initiate time and again ridiculous, false and biased slanders against me and my wife as part of a media campaign to replace the Likud government by a left-wing one and allow Noni Moses to take over the media market again.”
Many pundits claimed that this was the first time ever that the prime minister, in the midst of an election campaign, identified someone not running for office as his major target. In the past Netanyahu has attacked the media (as have many others), but did not name anyone specifically. This, according to people like IBA’s political commentator Yoav Krakowsky, was crossing a red line.
The post immediately received a response from Yediot’s most celebrated columnist, Nachum Barnea, an Israel Prize recipient. Defending his paper and place of employment, he was interviewed on IBA’s Reshet Bet 8 a.m. morning program and said, “I don’t understand the style, nor the tone nor why the prime minister has to trouble himself with this type of paranoia... he needs to be hospitalized... he is full of it... he has the ability to decide everything but is full of fears. This war is so strange; it belongs in the psychological ward.”
One notes that Barnea, as is usual for him, did not even attempt to answer Netanyahu’s accusations.
Facts are not important; he preferred to attack the prime minister, using language which certainly does not befit an Israel Prize recipient. Another irrational media view was Sefi Rachlevsky’s writing in Tuesday’s Haaretz
that Netanyahu “took control of nearly all Israeli media outlets.”
Netanyahu’s post is part of a much deeper struggle, one between two media moguls, Arnon Mozes and Sheldon Adelson. Later in the day, a lawyer named Shachar Ben-Meir petitioned Judge Salim Jubran, who chairs the Central Elections Committee, demanding that the Israel Hayom
newspaper be instructed “to refrain from and to stop publishing election propaganda.” The brief bases itself among other things on the opinion of Anat Balint, a former media reporter for Haaretz
and a contributor to the Israel Democracy Institute’s Seventh Eye website.
Her message was that Israel Hayom
’s “coverage of the prime minister is aimed foremost to glorify the politician Netanyahu, his family and his surroundings and to eliminate and blur any criticism of him.
As such, it is preferable to consider it as propaganda rather than journalistic reporting.”
She also appeared on Channel 1 TV’s HaMussaf program this past Monday and stated that Netanyahu is hostile to the media, does not defend freedom of the press and incites against the media, which is, to her mind, the basis for democracy. The next day she was interviewed by Ben Caspit on Channel 2, repeating her views. Former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner, president of Israel’s Journalists Association, noted that any newspaper has a right to take a position and that this is part of the democratic process.
However, we cannot fathom what makes Justice Jubran tick. He did not hesitate to stop foreign minister Avigdor Liberman and his Yisrael Beytenu party from handing out free copies of the Charlie Hebdo magazine, as this he deemed to constitute bribing the electorate, which is prohibited by law.
In previous election campaigns, the standard practice was the free distribution of propaganda material under the guise of a newspaper. Liberman has taken the case to the Supreme Court, which will consider it next week.
The truth is that Yisrael Hayom
does support the prime minister. It is also true that Yediot Aharonot
is out to get him, and there is nothing wrong with this per se. A privately-owned newspaper has the right to have a political line. For example, it is very clear that Haaretz
is a post-Zionist newspaper while Makor Rishon
, its main competitor, is Zionist in orientation.
Some claim that Israel Hayom
is “different” because it is distributed freely. But so are many newspapers all over the world. Moreover, Ynet is also distributed freely. Does this make it any less newsworthy? The real issue is not the pulling of the wool over the eyes of the public. Yediot Aharonot
has the audacity to call itself the “state’s newspaper.” 20 years ago it was a monopoly and could formally claim this.
Today, not only is it no longer a monopoly, Israel Hayom
beats its circulation. Yediot
is in truth a left-wing paper. It is not neutral; it is not “the state’s” newspaper. Its pretensions, however, tell us all that is wrong about it. The paper is not really interested in purveying the truth, least of all about itself. One thing positive which might result from all this brouhaha is that the public has been made more aware that Yediot does not live up to its self-made and false image.The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il).