Channel 14 actively promoting Likud, Yesh Atid claims in CEC appeal

The Yesh Atid party filed a petition to the Central Election Committee, demanding that Channel 14 news outlet be categorized as a political platform working on behalf of Likud.

 Opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening broadcast of Channel 14, November 27, 2021. (photo credit: MEIR ELIPOUR)
Opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening broadcast of Channel 14, November 27, 2021.
(photo credit: MEIR ELIPOUR)

The Yesh Atid party, led by Prime Minister Yair Lapid, filed a petition to the Central Election Committee (CEC) on Wednesday, demanding that the right-wing Channel 14 news outlet be categorized as a political platform working on behalf of the Likud.

The petition was filed on behalf of the party by two of its members, Economy Minister Orna Barbivay and Energy Minister Karin Elharrar. The two demanded that the channel and its owner, billionaire Yitzchak Mirilashvili, be treated as an active political organization, and thus be required to notify its viewers that they are receiving “propagandist messages” on behalf of the Likud.

“This is a real threat to the basic principles of the election in Israel,” the petition read. “A media outlet is fully harnessed in favor of a candidate and a party, without balances and contrary to every standard of reasonableness, fairness, and common sense.”

The CEC is composed of representatives of the different parties based on their size in the outgoing Knesset, and is headed by High Court Justice Yitzhak Amit, whose rulings are legally binding. Parties may appeal his decisions to the High Court.

What was the petition?

 THEN-PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a Channel 20 conference in Jerusalem earlier this year. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) THEN-PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a Channel 20 conference in Jerusalem earlier this year. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

The petition included many examples as evidence, including claims that the channel’s executives participated in Likud propaganda; that one of the channel’s anchors and political analysts Yaakov Bardugo took part in negotiations on behalf of the Likud; that people who appeared on the channel went on to work in the Likud or become Likud Knesset candidates; and explicit calls by the channel’s reporters to vote for the Likud and not for Yesh Atid.

The petition included precedent. In 2019, the CEC ruled that a left-wing organization called “Darkenu” was a political organization for election purposes, since the “reasonable voter” saw its publications as being “for or against clearly defined political parties.” The case of Channel 14 is even more clear-cut, since its activity was “intense, day-to-day, funded by an ample amount of money and presented as objective news,” the petition read.

“Channel 14 uses a platform licensed by the government to broadcast election propaganda in favor of the Likud party,” Barbivay said. “It should be made clear that, in the petition, we do not seek to influence the content of the broadcasts, but demand that the channel transparently report to the public that the content constitutes election propaganda, as the law requires.”

According to Elharrar, “The petition seeks to reveal the fact that Channel 14 pretends to be a news channel, while its entire purpose is improper propaganda for [opposition leader] Benjamin Netanyahu. This is a situation that tramples the media in Israel, whose job it is to report the truth [and] to serve the public, and for that reason, also harms reporters who do their job faithfully. Allowing the channel to continue lying to the public is a real danger to the press in Israel and to democracy as a whole.”

Originally known as Channel 20, the channel began broadcasting on June 30, 2014 and was marketed as a “heritage channel.” At first, it was not licensed to broadcast news, and was fined twice for violating this clause. It also aired an interview with Netanyahu before receiving approval to do so.

In February 2018, a law known as the “Channel 20” law passed in the Knesset, which, among other exemptions, enabled the channel to broadcast news without opening an official news agency. The channel began airing news on March 25, 2018. In August 2017, it was fined for refusing to host Reform and Conservative Jews in its programs. On November 28, 2021, the channel moved to Channel 14 and rebranded itself as “Now 14.”

What were the responses?

Channel 14 said, “In the last month, a message was conveyed from a senior official to the channel’s management that if there is no change in the broadcast schedule, including reducing the appearances of various presenters and commentators, legal proceedings will be taken that will lead to the closing of the channel. Yesh Atid knows fully well that declaring Channel 14 as a political entity will result in its license being revoked and the channel being closed even before the elections. A day when a transitional prime minister uses a High Court judge to shut down a media outlet that criticizes him is a black day for Israeli democracy. We invite Prime Minister Lapid to stop his boycott and come for an interview on the channel, instead of trying to shut it down.”

The Likud responded on Wednesday afternoon by threatening to file a similar petition against Channel 12 News, accusing it of “intense election activity” on behalf of the Center-Left bloc in general and Yesh Atid in particular.

The party listed a number of examples to prove its claim, including a recent parody skit by Eretz Nehederet that depicted MK Itamar Ben-Gvir dancing to the tunes of Mel Brooks’ Springtime For Hitler; a consistent agenda by the weekly Ofira and Berko show, allegedly promoting the Center-Left; and a “warm” and “sympathetic” interview of Lapid’s wife, Lihi Lapid.

The petition also argued that Channel 12’s shows carried more weight than Channel 14 because its rating is significantly higher, and therefore the significance of each show was “far-reaching” and had “tremendous” importance weeks before the election.