Roman Bronfman
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Did you think they wouldn’t go after the free press?

Communication Minister Karhi's proposed media reform is a terrifying attack on the independence of Israeli news outlets
Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi seen before the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office, September 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi seen before the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office, September 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

It is astonishing to see time after time how determined the current government is not to leave any earth unscorched. Liberal democracy, of course, is dead center in this mafia’s crosshairs, along with the justice system, of course. Now it’s the turn of the free media. Did anyone think they would overlook the free media? Don’t make Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi and his boss, the Kingpin from Caesaria, laugh.

Under the pretext of enhancing competition and diversity in the market of opinions, the new broadcasting reform launched by Karchi actually seeks to introduce hyper-politicization in the regulation of the media. This contrasts with the situation in almost all Western countries, which are moving in the opposite direction, toward complete independence. It’s a clear sign of the anti-democratic mindset of the person who gave the green light for the proposed reform: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. People can argue whether this mindset took hold in recent years or was always in evidence. What is obvious is that proposals that were once forwarded discreetly in anonymous instructions and deleted text messages from the prime minister’s fomer advisor Nir Hefetz to former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua are now rained down on us in full public view.

Together with his colleagues in the ministries of justice and education, Karhi will appoint third-rate politicians to the new Media Authority, a subsidiary unit in the Ministry of Communications, to make sure the broadcasts are “accurate, reliable, and balanced.” Is this a “primarily symbolic” provision, as some would have it? I’m happy for anyone who can believe that. After all, what did the Netanyahu family want from the Walla newssite? Just to give a bit of balance to the site’s leftwing bent.

Driven more than ever by a thirst for vengeance, Netanyahu is now seeking through Karhi to bring not just Walla to its knees, but the entire free media in Israel. He is equally determined to crush the judicial system, which had the audacity to prosecute him for the alleged criminal distortion of media reporting. He wants to make sure that from here on, such distortion – by himself and his lackeys – will be absolutely aboveboard, de jure and de facto.

As shown in the position paper published by the Zulat think tank and written by Prof. Amit Schejter and Attorney Adi Shay (and they are not alone in their view on this), the 134 pages of Karhi’s legislative memorandum reflect a determination to leave no stone unturned.

In addition to the direct and total subjugation of this new Media Authority to the political echelon, the proposal would also empower this authority to impose what amounts to financial sanctions against broadcasting outlets, abolish the structural separation between news and commercial broadcasts, oblige the Public Broadcasting Corporation to transfer any requested information to the communications minister, and prohibit it from broadcasting advertisements on radio, alongside a substantial reduction in the scope of elite niche broadcasts on the various channels and platforms.

In its place, the legislative memorandum outlines alternative original creative output: replacing the current ratings body with a government commission that will issue data to the best of its statistical understanding. Sorry, but this isn’t an original blue-and-white idea – they’ve already got this type of committee in Russia.

The overall picture is one of a terrifying, systematic, and deliberate attack on the independence of media outlets, freedom of expression, and original Israeli creativity – another unique and successful preserve that, from the standpoint of the Kohelet Forum and hard-core supporters of the judicial coup, should have been demolished long ago.

The cheers from supporters of the judicial coup are well-founded. The media reform is an integral part of the coup. It’s hard to crush the judicial system without a parallel campaign to suppress the media, which as long as it can breathe freely will never accept the coup itself. It’s impossible to reduce democracy to the dimensions that suit the ruler without shrinking the media to a convenient size. These are two abominations that were born to be wed.

At the end of the process, Netanyahu and Karhi apparently fantasize, Israel will have media with low-grade content similar to the kind of slop Silvio Berlusconi broadcast for years on his television stations in Italy. Public awareness will be dulled in the absence of journalists with a conscience and professional ethics.

In order to prevent this nightmare scenario, the judicial system must continue to defend the free media and freedom of expression without fear, and the media must continue to struggle to support an independent justice system. Not for their own sakes, but for Israel’s sake.

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A Hebrew version of this essay appeared in The Seventh Eye, 4 September 2023 

About the Author
Roman Bronfman, Ph.D, is a Ukraine-born author, university lecturer and former member of Knesset in the Labor Party. He is coauthor, with Lily Galili, of “The Million That Changed the Middle East” about the impact of the mass immigration of Soviet Jews to Israel. (Matar, Hebrew)
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