JPost Editorial: Public broadcasting imperative

We need journalists, not sycophants. A free press is the foundation of any healthy democracy.

Illustrative: The media (photo credit: REUTERS)
Illustrative: The media
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s clashes with the news media are well known. His ongoing battle to prevent the creation of an independent public broadcasting corporation seems to be motivated by a desire to control and intimidate the press.
In the latest salvo in his offensive against the news media, Netanyahu called for yet another delay in the launching of the new corporation, which is referred to in Hebrew as Kan. At an event at a Hadera hotel that was supposed to be a celebration of the solidarity of the government coalition, Netanyahu clashed with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who has publicly supported the creation of Kan, calling on him to put off the launch for another six months. Kahlon walked out in protest, vowing that he would not back down again.
On Thursday, Netanyahu and Kahlon reportedly agreed that Kan’s launch would proceed as planned on April 30, but government oversight over Kan and other media outlets would be strengthened meaning that the editorial independence of Kan would be compromised.
If reports are true and media freedoms will be curtailed under the legislation, Kulanu – under Kahlon’s leadership – has a moral obligation not to cooperate with Netanyahu.
The prime minister seems to believe that the media have enormous power to influence public opinion. And he also seems to believe that the “Israeli media” – a huge generalization considering the diversity of journalistic outlets here – is intentionally giving his coalition bad coverage.
At the event in Hadera, according to economics daily Calcalist, Netanyahu again lashed out at Israel’s news media, claiming that, “When you turn on the television... you hear the Left, when you turn on Channel 2 – Left, when you turn on channel 3 – Left interviewing Left... This government has had many successes, but there is one place where you will not hear about them – the media.”
Netanyahu has a long history of outrageous declarations against the news media and against specific individuals and outlets. Respected journalist Ilana Dayan has been dubbed by Netanyahu’s office “an extreme leftist.”
The Israeli news media as a whole were referred to as “bolshevist”; Netanyahu and his wife have invested time and energy in a lawsuit and have appeared in court against journalist Yigal Sarna over a Facebook post that disparaged the couple; the prime minister is being investigated in the so-called Bibi-Noni affair, in which Netanyahu is suspected of attempting to collude with Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes to receive better coverage for himself and his family in Mozes’s paper.
Just this week Netanyahu interrupted his busy schedule to blast a tweet by Samah Wattad, 24, a low-level employee of Kan, which has yet to begin broadcasting. Wattad shared a tweet from the Palestinian Information Center about the death of suspected terrorist Basel al-A’araj, who was killed in a gunfight with Israeli troops on March 6.
The offending tweet featured a picture of A’araj and the words, “The intellectual is the first to fight and never to give up.”
In response, Netanyahu posted on his Facebook: “What will public broadcasting look like under the corporation? A reporter from the corporation of the left praised a terrorist.”
Wattad – a researcher, not a reporter – was suspended for her retweet and said in her defense that she had no intention of praising A’araj and was just resending his tweet.
But even if she was, is it the prime minister’s job to personally oversee the social media of Kan’s rank and file employees? Kahlon and Kulanu’s lawmakers, as well as Naftali Bennett and Bayit Yehudi, should not give credence to Netanyahu’s fears. Kan should be established in accordance with the legislation passed back in 2014 by a Netanyahu- led government, which exempted Kan from government oversight rules. The communications minister and other politicians should not be allowed to decide who is hired by Kan. Nor should politicians be allowed to control Kan’s governing council.
We need journalists, not sycophants. A free press is the foundation of any healthy democracy. A strong, independent public broadcaster shielded from political influences and intimidation would be a major contribution to Israeli society. Kulanu and Bayit Yehudi can make it happen.