Sheldon Adelson vs. Channel 10

Though both Channel 10 and the freedom of speech received an unpleasant blow, it is Adelson’s reputation that has suffered most.

Guy Zohar (photo credit: Channel 10 news)
Guy Zohar
(photo credit: Channel 10 news)
Demands for apologies seem to be in vogue these days. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded an Israeli apology for killing nine Turkish citizens in May 2010 on board the Mavi Marmara during its attempt to break Israel’s naval blockade on the Gaza Strip, threatening serious sanctions if Israel refused. But Israel refused to apologize, for reasons that might be justified, but not necessarily wise.
American billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the owner of a world-wide gambling empire, and of the pro- Netanyahu free daily Yisrael Hayom, was more successful than Erdogan. Last January, Channel 10’s Friday night news magazine Ha’shavua broadcast a 20-minute profile of Adelson which included two items that upset him: one was the claim by an interviewee that Adelson owed him money, and the second was an insinuation by another interviewee that Adelson had received special treatment from the Gambling Commission in Nevada in connection with his gambling establishments in that State.
Adelson has every right to get upset about what is said about him, and to demand an apology. However, in this case he insisted on dictating the exact wording of the apology, which merely stated that the two allegations were false without providing any proof.
Adelson managed to force Channel 10 to broadcast the dictated apology by getting another American billionaire, Ron Lauder – one of the shareholders of Channel 10, and the only one currently pouring money into the financially unstable Channel – to act on his behalf. As a result of Lauder’s intervention the director-general of Channel 10 News Company and the editor of Ha’shavua resigned. After the apology was read out at the beginning of the program last Friday, the show’s presenter, Guy Zohar, announced that he was resigning from the show in protest.
Though both Channel 10 and the freedom of speech received an unpleasant blow, it is Adelson’s reputation that has suffered most. If Adelson believes that as a result of the apology anyone who had a negative opinion of him as a man who made his fortune from the gambling business, and is using his wealth to meddle with Israeli public opinion, has changed his mind, he is wrong. On the contrary, he emerges from this affair looking like an egotistic bully. Had he sought to get Channel 10 to broadcast a reaction on his behalf – just as Channel 1 broadcast a filmed reaction by the Ofer family to an investigative documentary by reporter Mickey Rosenthal, which attacked the manner in which the family had acquired the Dead Sea Works, Zim and the Oil Refineries from the State, and its conduct following the acquisitions - he would undoubtedly have created a little less antagonism.
The question is why Ron Lauder acted as he did. One possibility is that it was a simple act of personal friendship, and that he truly felt Adelson had been wronged. Some have suggested that since, like Adelson, he is a personal friend of Netanyahu’s, he was furious as a result of persistent attacks on the prime minister by some leading Channel 10 reporters, and the current affair was a way of telling them that there are red lines. I rather doubt this explanation. Despite his friendship with Netanyahu, Lauder is not a captive supporter, and recently chose to differ with the prime minister publicly on the Palestinian issue, calling upon him to sit down with them at the negotiating table rather that sit back passively and wait for developments in the Arab World and at the UN. There is no reason to believe that Lauder would deny Channel 10 the right to do what he did.
However whatever the explanation might be, Lauder’s conduct might prove to have been a mistake. Article 46 of the Second Authority for Television and Radio Law deals, inter alia, with restrictions on interference by those who hold a radio or TV broadcasting license in what is broadcast by the radio station or TV channel. While article 47 ensures the right of reaction to those who feel they have been personally hurt by something which was broadcast, Lauder’s intervention in favor of a dictated apology might prove to have been out of line, and possibly even illegal.
How this affair will end is not yet clear. Hopefully it will remain an isolated event, which will not affect the freedom of speech in the media, but at the same time will encourage broadcasters to be more vigilant with regard to what they broadcast, and shareholders to use their power in a more judicious manner. As to those who demand unconditional apologies, and those who decide to resist or give in, the saying “don’t be right – be wise,” certainly applies.
The writer is a member of the Labor Party, and is currently engaged in research and lecturing on the Knesset.