Media freedom

Netanyahu shouted at Kara for working together with then-justice minister Ayelet Shaked, whom the prime minister famously despises, to save that same right-wing Channel 20.

Former communications minister Ayoub Kara (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Former communications minister Ayoub Kara
On Monday night, Channel 13 aired the latest chapter in the endless saga of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s war against the media. This time, it was recordings of his conversations with former communications minister Ayoub Kara, in which Netanyahu repeatedly inserted himself into the ministry’s dealings even though his actions while holding the communications portfolio were under investigation at the time.
Netanyahu instructed Kara to try to shutter the Cable and Satellite Council, a regulatory body, at a time when it was moving toward closing the right-wing Channel 20, on which Netanyahu enjoys highly favorable coverage. The apparent reasoning for the move was that Channel 20 was meant to be a “heritage channel” that would deal with Jewish matters, but was dedicating too many hours to current events, with a nightly news broadcast and political talk shows.
In another recording, Netanyahu shouted at Kara for working together with then-justice minister Ayelet Shaked, whom the prime minister famously despises, to save that same right-wing Channel 20.
The Kara-Netanyahu calls have brought up a tool constantly used in the news, but rarely discussed: Secret recordings.
It is legal in Israel for a party to a conversation to record it without notifying the other side or sides – with some exceptions. And there are many cases in which the recording can be made public, including if there is a public interest in knowing about it, such as if it exposes corruption. This situation is, of course, favorable for journalists, though it has contributed to cyberbullying and other negative phenomena.
In 2016, Netanyahu unsuccessfully attempted to pass a law that would make it illegal to record phone calls without permission from both sides. Now he’s fallen victim to the legal situation, and probably regretting not following through with his proposal. If his political situation becomes more precarious, it won’t come as a surprise if additional embarrassing recordings of his conversations with senior members of the Likud become public.
This recording has particular significance because of Netanyahu’s legal woes. Kara said in an interview that accompanied the report that he stopped Netanyahu from intervening in the merger between Channel 10 and Reshet – now known as Channel 13 – because it would have been illegal, and was subjected to the prime minister’s wrath.
As Channel 13 reporter Sefi Ovadia pointed out, these phone calls took place during the then-ongoing probe of Netanyahu’s policies as communications minister benefiting Bezeq major shareholder Shaul Elovich, allegedly in exchange for positive news coverage on the Bezeq-owned Walla! News website. Next month, Netanyahu is expected to have a hearing before Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, who recommended indicting him for bribery, breach of trust and fraud regarding this matter.
Not long before the conversations with Kara, Mandelblit told Netanyahu that he is not allowed to involve himself with Channels 12 and 13, then Channels 2 and 10, or the YES satellite TV company.
Netanyahu’s suggestion to cancel the Cable and Satellite Council would have a direct impact on YES, and Channel 10/13 had petitioned the High Court of Justice to shut Channel 20 down.
Therefore, it seems that Netanyahu defied the attorney-general’s instructions.
This is further proof of Netanyahu’s obsession with the media. It seems that nothing can stand in the way of his crusade for better press. Not the law and not common sense, which would dictate that he should take it down a notch while he’s being investigated.
Netanyahu complains that the media is biased against him, and the lament has some justification, though in recent years there is a much greater variety of opinion within the major outlets, and the availability of niche outlets catering to different political views has only grown.
The bitter irony is that while Netanyahu repeats over and over that the supposedly leftist media is trying to bring him down, it seems more and more like his own relationship with the media is what might end up causing his downfall. A news report like this, only a month before Netanyahu’s pre-indictment hearing, cannot help his chances of avoiding charges.