Netanyahu's now hoping for craven news coverage - he should not bet on it

The PM succeeded in removing the news section from Israel's new public broadcaster. Journalists will bite back

April 03, 2017 12:45

The best compromises are the ones where no-one is clear who has won.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon won last week when he got Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree that the new public broadcasting company, Kan, would begin operating more or less on schedule.

Mr Netanyahu won when Mr Kahlon agreed that the corporation would not include its planned news division and that the current affairs department would be hived off as a separate organisation, staffed by journalists from the existing Israel Broadcasting Authority who were supposed to be out of a job at the end of this month.

Ever since the compromise was announced on Thursday morning, Mr Kahlon has been under attack by opposition politicians and journalists for having betrayed the free press.

One senior adviser to the Finance Minister replied that “no-one outside the media bubble even cares about the latest crisis. Mr Kahlon’s got better things to fight about with Netanyahu”. As far as Mr Kahlon is concerned, the future of public broadcasting is a minor issue; he needs another two years to prove he can bring down Israel’s spiralling house prices. He saved face and averted an early election. Win-win.

A source close to Mr Netanyahu insisted this week that the prime minister had also won. “We prevented yet another nepotist and corrupt news channel from coming into existence,” he said. Which is one way of looking at it. Some senior Likud ministers, on the other hand, believe Mr Netanyahu was actually interested in early elections; in the belief that he would win yet another mandate before his many rivals could get their act together and before one of the corruption investigation against him yields an indictment. If they are right, the prime minister has failed and is still stuck in a government filled with his enemies.

Meanwhile, where did the Israeli media stand? There were hopes that Kan’s news division, which under the new broadcasting law was allowed both freedom from political interference and secure funding, would be a valuable addition to the Israeli journalism.

Instead, the moribund IBA, long on life-support, will be given a new lease of life in a framework which is still not clear. It is too early to say whether the Israeli press has lost. Kan’s news division has already hired dozens of talented journalists, some of whom may still find their way in to the old-new news corporation.

Israeli journalists have an adversarial ethos. Twenty years ago, it was the IBA’s Channel One which broke the Bar-On-Hebron bribery case which nearly brought down Prime Minister Netanyahu in the first year of his first term. Last week it was Mr Netanyahu who gave the same news department the kiss of life. He expects it to be a craven and grateful shadow of its former self. But you can never trust an Israeli journalist not to bite the hand which feeds him.

April 03, 2017 12:45

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