MEDIA COMMENT: Netanyahu, first blame yourself

Prime Minister Netanyahu had 10 years to provide the electorate with a free media market.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a rally. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a rally.
Last Wednesday evening, we witnessed the latest round of the slugfest between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the media.
In what The New York Times termed a “pugnacious” event, and described as being in “Trumpian fashion,” Netanyahu came out swinging in response to the role of the media in pushing, framing and highlighting the allegations that he has acted criminally in various cases now under police and state prosecutor investigation.
Some of his remarks included: “You remember that the fake news media have been hammering us in a unified choir ... because both the Left and the media – it’s the same thing, you know – they are enlisting now in an obsessive, unprecedented hunting trip ... with the goal of carrying out a government coup ... The media and the Left contrive endless scandals ... to apply unacceptable and incessant pressure on law enforcement authorities ... The thought police in the media are working full time ... The media and the Left that it serves.”
As prime minister, Netanyahu should know better. Criticizing the media is too often a necessary exercise; in our column we do it all the time. Yet there is a fine line that divides between criticism and sensationalism, and Netanyahu crossed it. A serious journalist is not allowed to ignore for example tape recordings of the prime minister’s conversation with Arnon Mozes, Yediot Aharonot’s owner/publisher.
Here too though there is a clear line between reporting events and attempting to manage them. Just as Netanyahu should stay calm in his criticism of his detractors, so too the media should not paint the prime minister in unacceptable colors. Too many senior members of the “branja,” the Israeli term for the media elite, provided disconcerting examples of extreme bias and cheap, unacceptable rhetoric.
Dan Margalit, fired by Israel Hayom and hired by Haaretz, tweeted “Bibi [Netanyahu] ... described the media just as antisemites describe Jews.” Raffi Mann, associate professor in the School of Communications in Ariel University, tweeted a poster mentioning nine leaders, such as Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Iran’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, together with Netanyahu and added a caption: “Conclave of the Knights of Democracy: we have made it to the finals.”
We all know Netanyahu has not touched a journalist, let alone jailed one. The comparison calls into question Prof. Mann’s professional judgment.
Haaretz’s Doron Rosenblum posted a wellknown 1930s picture of a large crowd of Nazis with only one person not raising his hand in the Sieg Heil salute, with the caption: “Already tonight he’ll be hearing from [MK David] Bitan.” Bitan organized the Likud Netanyahu support rally. Comparing Likudniks with Nazis is a bit strong.
As if linking Nazism to Netanyahu was not enough, Israel Prize for journalism laureate Nahum Barnea of Yediot Aharonot wrote, “... Bibi is back on the balcony. As he was then, in October 1995, at Jerusalem’s Zion Square. The same hand-waving....” He was referring to the false charge that Netanyahu was identifying with a photo-montage of then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin dressed in an SS uniform and encouraging those shouting that Rabin was a traitor.
Barnea insisted there was now as then “the same demagoguery, the same incitement... the same sarcasm, the same manipulations.”
We can attest that in every demonstration at that time, Netanyahu immediately admonished publicly and clearly anyone who called Rabin a traitor. But for Barnea, Netanyahu is Rabin’s murderer.
Haaretz guest columnist and Hebrew University professor Daniel Blatman, who sees almost everything the Likud and the Right does as Nazi-linked, sure enough warned in Friday’s edition that Israel is close to a Weimar Republic collapse.
Just last Thursday, CNN severed ties with Jeffrey Lord, a regular network pundit, after he had tweeted “Sieg Heil!” in what Lord characterized as an attempt to “mock” Nazism and fascism in a tangle with the president of Media Matters for America, a liberal media watchdog group. Even though Twitter accounts are considered private expressions of opinion, CNN took another view. In Israel, it seems, the responses depend on who makes them.
Despite all this media misbehavior, the real question is not how bad our media is, but rather whether it isn’t the prime minister himself who is responsible for failing to protect Israel’s citizens from the media’s bias? Wasn’t he, until May 28, communications minister? A post he held for two years? As prime minister doesn’t he have a say in what is happening in the communications ministry? Netanyahu has had ample time to fundamentally change Israel’s media market yet has not. Netanyahu, former communications minister Gilad Erdan and his government relinquished control of Israel’s public broadcasters.
They established the Kan conglomerate such that it is controlled by an elitist board and not by the taxpayer and her representatives. This perpetuated the stranglehold of opinionated, amateurish staff on the public broadcaster.
Had Netanyahu done his job and eliminated Army Radio and limited Israel Radio, the media scene would have been much improved.
Public radio broadcasters in Israel are not only subsidized by the state, they are allowed to sell advertisements. This hits the consumer twice. First, we are the victims of unreasonably long advertising slots on the airwaves. Secondly, and more important, the public broadcasters control the advertising market. They set the rates and the private radio broadcasters cannot compete; they do not get state subsidies. The result is that Israel does not have an open radio market.
The TV situation is not much better. Why in this day and age are we limited to Channels 2, 10 and Kan 11? The three TV channels have consistently made it a point to cover sensational and sometimes unsupported news about the various Netanyahu-related investigations.
They can do so because there is no serious competition which would expose them.
One can only wonder why to this very day Israel’s electronic media is controlled by regulatory boards who prefer their own self-serving interests. For years, they have done everything possible to prevent true competition on the airwaves. But Netanyahu and his governments, who appointed these boards, sat on the sidelines. How does it happen that TV Channel 20, which had to struggle to be allowed to broadcast news, is fined for not balancing a program while TV channels 2 and 10 are subsidized by the government to the tune of hundreds of millions of shekels despite their daily violations of the regulations requiring balance and pluralism? For the past 10 years, the only real action by our prime minster to uphold media pluralism was his defense of the Israel Hayom newspaper.
Even here though, he did not defend it out of ideology, believing that Israel needs a free media market. He defended it only because it supported him.
Prime Minister Netanyahu had 10 years to provide the electorate with a free media market.
This would have provided many new perspectives on the news, better and perhaps more informed sources and commentators.
The boring media chorus of today is a direct result of a prime minster who refused to govern.
He is eating today the cake that he baked for so long.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, stop crying – do something! If you only wanted to, you could.
The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch (