Netanyahu's Plan to Kill Israel's Media Enters Its Next Phase

The new communications minister plans to shut Israel's public broadcaster among other media authorities and supervisory bodies ■ The new government also aims to block publication of 'sensitive information'

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Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu being interviewed to the American TV network ABC, 2014.
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu being interviewed to the American TV network ABC, 2014.Credit: Haim Zach

Anyone among the 100,000 or so protesters in Tel Aviv Saturday night couldn't help but notice a new sticker on the backs of some demonstrators: “Lying son of a liar.” That’s what Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a recording played by a reporter on the Kan public broadcaster a few days before the November 1 election.

The recording greatly embarrassed Netanyahu. It challenged his standing and the unity of his bloc. But don’t worry. Netanyahu and his partners are doing all they can to guarantee that a recording like this will never be broadcast again; one of their ploys is the egregious move to shutter the public broadcaster.

The bill submitted Sunday by Likud lawmaker Boaz Bismuth, who previously did Netanyahu’s bidding as editor-in-chief of free tabloid Israel Hayom, aims to block publication of an embarrassing recording anywhere. The bill would prohibit the release of a recording that includes “sensitive information” as defined in the Privacy Protection Law.

Far-right politician and Minister of National Security of Israel Itamar Ben-Gvir, left, and Likud lawmaker Boaz Bismuth pose for a photo.Credit: Emil Salman

According to this legislation, sensitive information includes “data on the personality, intimate affairs … opinions and beliefs of a person.” In other words, any opinion recorded in a conversation is banned from publication – for example, about the credibility of a prime minister who has been charged with crimes.

We wanted to ask Bismuth whether recordings such as the “Lying son of a liar” quip could be published after the law is enacted. Bismuth refused to speak with us but the response from his office was decisive: According to the bill, the “Lying son of a liar” recording may not be aired.

It appears that not only Smotrich’s remarks concern Netanyahu. The law would also apply, for example, to recordings that have been released to the media during Netanyahu's corruption trial by witness Nir Hefetz. These include his conversations with Sara Netanyahu and senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office, some of which have been broadcast on the investigative news program “Hamakor.”

Shlomo Karhi. The new communications minister.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Curbing media outlets – and journalists

The plan to eliminate the free media is being carried out by Shlomo Karhi. The new communications minister has already announced his intention to close Kan; the plan is also to shut the Second Authority for Television and Radio as well as the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council, and set up a new supervisory body for the commercial channels. Of course, it will controlled by insiders who know who needs to be silenced. Karhi’s office also has plans to help Netanyahu’s favorite media outlets, Channel 14 and Galey Israel Radio.

Netanyahu knows that his and his partners’ malicious intentions could stir a strong countermovement in the mainstream media, at a time when endless information is also available online – and cannot be controlled.

Bismuth’s bill, which Karhi signed, reflects a new phase in Netanyahu’s efforts to destroy freedom of expression and the pursuit of truth. This time the goal isn't a direct attack on disobedient media outlets but a broadside measure against freedom of expression throughout the industry.

The ban on publishing a recording is much harsher than it seems. Such information is the most powerful instrument for exposing injustice against ordinary citizens. Sometimes recordings are the only evidence of discrimination, harassment and even grievous violence. Without them, caregivers who abused helpless elderly people and preschool teachers who mistreated small children would never have been brought to justice.

The headquarters of KAN in Jerusalem, this week.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

This is where a behind-the-scenes peek at a reporter's work may be edifying. In many cases, information published as part of journalists' investigations, even if it doesn't include recordings, comes to the public’s attention only because the reporters have a recording that backs up their words. A lot of evidence like this is kept solely for backup. If Bismuth’s bill is passed, much investigative journalism based on recordings will never see the light of day.

If all the plans of Netanyahu, Karhi and Bismuth are realized, the media will be damaged in all arenas. Do you have a recording that should be made public? The commercial media will be afraid, the public media won't exist and now even those who publish it in the digital arena will risk prosecution.

It was Netanyahu who over a decade ago tried to pass a law to silence the media by increasing the fines for violating the Anti-Defamation Law, without proof of damage. That move was blocked after a public protest. Now Netanyahu is trying to complete his mission to silence the media. If he succeeds, no one will dare publish what his partners really think about him: “Lying son of a liar.”

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