Media: the next bogeyman

November 24, 2016 23:21

Few politicians enjoy long honeymoons with the media.

Few remember that Benjamin Netanyahu enjoyed a relatively prolonged one when he entered politics in 1987.

He was an aspiring candidate for the Likud list, a deputy minister and then ran for the Likud leadership. For most of this period, "Bibi" was seen as a fresh and even sexy new arrival on the scene, viewed positively by many journalists who were not Likud voters.

The mainly left-of-centre Israeli media only fell out of love with Mr Netanyahu in 1993 when he led the camp opposing the Oslo Accords. The antipathy solidified two years later when much of the media blamed him, at least in part, for the toxic atmosphere that preceded Yitzhak Rabin's assassination.

Since then, it has been open warfare between Mr Netanyahu and the Israeli media. Eight years ago, he launched Yisrael Hayom, the freesheet financed by his supporter, billionaire Sheldon Adelson, to change the public agenda. But it failed. Despite flooding the market with free newspapers, it never managed to put Israel's three main dailies, all of them critical of Mr Netanyahu to different degrees, out of business.

Now Mr Netanyahu is trying to do the same to the television industry. By delaying the reform of the public broadcasting sector and paving the way for new privately-owned TV channels in the name of "diversity", he is jeopardising the two existing stations.

Such moves risk coalition crises with his partner party leaders. So why do it? After all, he defied the media to win four elections and is becoming increasingly adept at bypassing establishment journalists and connecting to his voters through social media.

Like every other politician in the world, Mr Netanyahu craves good press. He has won many more elections than most politicians and is aware that he does not need the Israeli media to get his message across.

The current campaign against the media is not just about trying to control the media. Mr Netanyahu is the sort of politician who is in constant election mode and an election campaign is defined not only by the candidate, but also his opposition. With Israel's left wing all but vanquished, Iran largely off the agenda and the Arabs currently less of a threat to Israel than at any time in its history, he is looking to the media to serve as his next bogeyman.

November 24, 2016 23:21

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