Israeli Prime Minister Fights Local Media

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a long, rocky relationship with the Israeli media.

On Tuesday, March 29th, Netanyahu filed $300,000 libel suits against an Israeli TV station and a newspaper over reports of his excessive lifestyle.

Although these reports are on incidents that allegedly occured during Netanyahu's time in Parliament and unrelated to his term as prime minister, Netanyahu claims that they were false and reported to ridicule and humiliate him.

"[The reports] were disparaging," says an aide from Netanyahu's camp. "[They were] very hurtful and created a negative portrayal of him, depicting him as a felon."

The libel suit claims that Israel's Channel 10 falsely reported that Netanyahu failed to report financial contributions from foreign donors.

The suit against newspaper Maariv claims the newspaper reported that Netanyahu and his wife paid $17,000 for a meal abroad, as part of a pattern of extravagant behavior. Israel's State Comptroller has stated that these allegations will be investigated.

Other Channel 10 reports accused Netanyahu of allowing wealthy foreign benefactors to pay for private flights, expensive meals and luxury hotel rooms for him and his family. Other news outlets have published similar allegations. The libel suit does not address these allegations.

These reports and similar ones by other local newspapers, have seriously damaged Netanyahu's reputation. Netanyahu has responded with hostility, claiming that Channel 10 and other media outlets have begun a campaign to besmirch his name.

Aluf Benn, editor-at-large for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz Daily, believes this is largely unnecessary. "Netanyahu is portraying himself as a victim of political persecution on the part of the left-wing media," says Benn.

"[But] it's doubtful that Netanyahu will now be perceived as having ... seriously violated the rules of ethics, or that this episode will hang over the rest of his term of office."

Many Israeli journalists have long been frustrated with Netanyahu's suspicion of traditional news outlets. Rarely holding news conferences or granting interviews, Netanyahu has recently embraced YouTube, Twitter and Facebook to bypass local journalists and speak directly to the people.

As Netanyahu joins President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron in YouTube's World View project, answering questions directly through the popular video-sharing website, some journalists believe this is a way of evading questions that Netanyahu views as annoying or biased.

"He doesn't want to deal with uncomfortable questions and he doesn't like to be interrupted," said Nahum Barnea, a political columnist at the Yedoit Ahronot Daily. "There is no dialogue anymore. It's become a monologue, with no back and forth."

Netanyahu has also restricted access to foreign journalists as well. He took only four questions at his annual meeting with foreign correspondents in January and subjected many of the journalists there to invasive strip searches by security guards.

"He's constantly trying to find ways to bypass us," said Danny Zaken, chairman of Israel's press association. "We believe that every public servant should make himself available to journalists and their questions."

Despite these claims, Netanyahu's office maintains that this is not the case.

"We understand the importance of new media in the modern world - it allows the prime minister to speak to the people without filters," said spokesman Mark Regev. "But I don't think it has to come at the expense of the traditional media."

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Abe Bird March 30, 2011 at 11:04 PM  

Netanyahu is right. His opponents just jealously observing his success without the ability to reach and touch him!

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