This Article was originally published in “The Seventh Eye” web magazine, 5 September 2023
(Translation from Hebrew)
For eight months now, Israel has been embroiled in the most serious democratic and social crisis in its history. The judicial coup the government is advancing seeks to erode not only the independence of the judicial system, fragile liberal democracy, and human rights, but also the existence of free media in Israel.
Control of the media is a critically important component in the planned judicial coup. The regime is using it to justify its actions and to create despair and apathy among its subjects – the two archenemies of democracy. How will this work? Through a two-pronged siege.
An examination of the Legislative Memorandum: Communications Law (Broadcasts), tabled by Communications Minister Dr. Shlomo Karhi, exposes the process, one that has been planned for over a decade by its initiator in the office of the Prime Minister. The goal: to control the media in order to amplify his political strength and public image; and at the same time – to terrorize the media by enacting laws to curtail their activities and ensure that they will become obedient and disciplined supporters of the ruling party and its leader.
The steps I am referring to here, , relate to the politicization of the body that is supposed to supervise the media and the elimination of public broadcasting. The proposal to abolish the Council for Cable and Satellite Broadcasts and the Second Authority and to establish in their place a single
Authority (the “Broadcast Media Authority”) that will effectively be accountable to the Communications Minister and the Government is designed to remove the independent regulators and replace them with a governmental unit in which politicians will be able to make political appointments as they wish.
In orderly democracies, regulatory bodies are isolated from accountability to the government and enjoy an independent and unbiased status, free of alien considerations. Here, however, Minister Karhi is seeking to empower a body under his direct control to impose heavy fines on medial outlets on the basis of vague criteria. The purpose of this authority is to create a balance of threat against broadcasting outlets. This is exactly what has happened in Urban’s Hungary, where the government has managed to bring media channels under his control and become electorally “invincible.”
Minister Karhi’s decision to oblige the Public Broadcasting Corporation to provide its content free of charge to anyone who wishes, and to prohibit advertisements on radio, will damage the Corporation’s income and the income of those who produce material from the sale of its content. This move is intended to placate Prime Minister Netanyahu’s obsessive hatred for the Corporation and his desire to eliminate public broadcasting.
It is in the public interest that Israel have a strong, independent public corporation providing high-quality news broadcasts and free of commercial or political considerations. This is an
essential cornerstone in the maintenance of freedom of expression and opinion, the right to information, and the survival of democratic culture. But Netanyahu and Karhi do not want journalism or media pluralism. They want to control and dictate the content of broadcasts. They want propaganda channels along the lines of Channel 14.
Netanyahu has always interfered behind the scenes in the Israeli media, making sure to hold the Communications portfolio himself or hand it to one of his trusted associates. This is the move that Netanyahu’s representative in the Ministry of Communications is currently seeking to complete: On the one hand – establishing a “Broadcast Media Authority” accountable to the Communications Minister and the government in order to tame the commercial media; on the other – bleeding public broadcasting dry. The goal: to remove the presence of independent public broadcasting in Israel.
This move by Netanyahu has already been implemented in two countries that serve as his models: Hungary under Urban and Poland under the Law and Justice Party. The goal: to prevent the possibility for citizens to replace the government by flooding them with propaganda they have no tools to confront, since no independent media outlets remain.
Steve Bannon, Trump’s former strategist, described the goal of this tactic as being “to flood the zone with shit” – to publish endless false stories with the goal of exhausting citizens, burying them under a heap of information, until they abandon any attempt to understand what is really going on.
This is the overarching goal of the planned judicial coup: to create citizens who no longer trust anything, and accordingly do not even trust their own ability to influence their fate. Netanyahu already has Channel 14, which is performing this task very successfully. Now all that remains is to encourage the politicization of the body that is supposed to supervise the media and to annihilate public broadcasting.
In an , Prof. Amit Shechter and Atty. Adi Shai warn that “Minister Karhi’s memorandum constitutes a further stage in the attack on Israeli democracy and the right to freedom of expression, information, and creativity – rights that are an essential condition for democracy – and the right to a press free of political pressure whose function is to criticize the institutions of government and their actions without fear.”
“If the memorandum is approved,” they continue, “or even if only some of its arrangements are adopted, the core characteristics of Israeli society will be damaged: human and minority rights will be violated, as will the liberal character of Israeli society which will plummet into an abyss, harming even those who naively imagine that they will hold power forever.