Turning a vice into a virtue comes easy for the Israeli prime minister. Bibi (as Benjamin Netanyahu is nicknamed) is in the United States now selling the idea that the anti-reform protests in Israel is a sign of its vibrant democracy. President Joe Biden is likely to disbelieve him as television images of street protests in Israel continue to assail the eyes of Americans day in and day out. Unfortunately for Bibi, his attempts to be too clever by half will not work.

Systematic Subjugation of the Free Press

Unfazed and power-hungry, Bibi seems not satisfied with his controversial judicial reforms. He is now gunning for journalists and his new target is Israel’s free press. Marking Israel’s independent media for a string of fresh attacks is raising the hackles of Bibi-bashing journalists. Practitioners of Israeli journalism are alarmed as the nation’s famed free press seems fading gradually under Bibi’s scorching attempts to silence the media. https://poliphoon.com/israels-democracy-begins-to-decay/

As intimidatory actions are heaped on Israeli journalists, the outrage is hitting the headlines across the world, particularly in the United States. The world watches with impotent rage as Bibi goes about emaciating the free press, the independent judiciary and an enlightened political opposition. The sole objective of subjugating the free press systematically is to convert the Israeli media into Bibi’s personal propaganda platform. https://www.cjr.org/the_media_today/netanyahu_media_ov erhaul_israel.php

Video Courtesy: YouTube/Al Jazeera English

A Grand Rehearsal for Takeover

Bibi is claiming his eyes are not on propaganda, but on striking a balance between free press owners and journalists. Not surprising that most Israelis do not buy his claim. On the contrary, they know he is trying to make subjugation of the free press a part of his authoritarian agenda. Mr Biden too seems keen not to miss this opportunity to pull up Bibi on the issue of the Israeli press losing its freedom and independence.

Calling Bibi out cannot wait longer. He has already proposed to eliminate media regulators and replace them with his own agency for news supervision. His plan is to put in place a State-backed ratings measurement. Effectively, this seems a grand rehearsal for Bibi’s takeover of the free press. Not the one to be satisfied, Bibi has set his sights on subjugating Israel’s assorted channels and interfering with their ownership. https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/judgment/2023-09- 10/ty-article-magazine/.premium/can-israels-independent- media-stave-off-netanyahus-media-coup/0000018a-6a1f- d256-ad9a-6f7fb4ca0000

Cancelling Press Accreditation

The Netanyahu government also wants to show the door to Kan, the adored version of BBC in Israel. Officially, Kan is known as the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation. Towards hitting the goal of expelling Kan, Bibi is toying with the idea of putting an end to the mandatory requirement for cable-providers to lend content to the two independent television channels in Israel which are famed for their bare-all journalism.

More woes are in store for Israel’s free press. Bibi is planning to pump more funds into Channel 14, a right-wing channel with overwhelming religious content. He is almost sure to do a follow-up by cancelling press accreditations for Bibi-bashing foreign scribes. This will make Bibi an abominable bugbear for global media. The writing on the wall is big, loud and clear: Bibi wants to throttle free press, censor news and squeeze their broadcasts. https://www.jpost.com/opinion/article-757425

Taking Israel to the Primitive Age

Confirming his autocratic and free press-hating credentials, Bibi has 225 unilateral anti-democratic laws on the anvil. These laws will enable him to turn Israel into a free-press-banished dictator state. Outrageous among these laws are those that heap insults on LGBTQs and bestow supreme power to non-secular Jewish courts, which place men’s rights above women’s. These rusty laws will take Israel back to the primitive age. https://poliphoon.com/israel-is-no-longer-a-democracy/

Strange that Bibi is upending media laws when he heads a coalition which lacks a straight majority. Yet, Bibi is enacting outrageous laws that would empower his government to kick off criminal probes against journalists for critical social-media posts. Going a step ahead in his media overreach, Bibi is planning to dissolve the self-regulating Cable and Satellite Council and the Second Authority of Television and Radio. https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2023-08-30/ty- article/loyalist-netanyahu-minister-reportedly-seeks-to-restrain- foreign-journalists-credentials/0000018a-4559-d192-abaf- 675fe4d20000

Constituting a Lame Authority

Keeping in step, Bibi’s communications minister Shlomo Karhi threatens members of the free media like the print-publisher Haaretz with punitive action. The national broadcaster Kan too was told its State funding would be stopped soon. Taking his anti-free press agenda forward, Bibi is said to be commissioning physical attacks on dissenting journalists. A heartless Justice Minister Yariv Levin was even against legislation to shield scribes from such attacks.

What is hugely threatening to free press in Israel is Bibi’s proposal to form a lame regulatory authority with no power to intervene in content. The authority is meant to be stuffed with Bibi-backers. Upset, Kan and N12 issued an explosive joint statement saying “Minister Karhi’s plan is another stage in a move that includes destroying free media in Israel. Implementing it will severely harm Israel democracy and freedom of speech and journalism in Israel.” https://www.msn.com/en- ca/money/topstories/communications-min-unveils-plan-to- change-media-field-in-israel/ar-AA1eaSZG

Pernicious to Public Broadcasting

The changes Bibi has in mind are almost certain to ensure networks do not need licenses to broadcast news content. This will bring news and other media content under corporate pressure. As a result, corporate exposes would be elbowed out of the media, thereby harming public broadcasting. This will be true in the case of Channel 12 and Channel 13, the most watched networks in Israel, which are already controlled by corporate families. Malevolent corporatisation of free media will become inevitable.

Already, Channel 12 is held by the Wertheims, the family that owns several banks. The family has a large presence in the distribution of bottled drinks, including Carlsberg, Coca-Cola, Fanta, Guinness, Neviot, Prigat and Sprite. Channel 13 is majority-owned by billionaire Len Blavatnik, who has interests in diverse businesses ranging from oil to petrochemicals. The Strauss family, Israel’s largest food maker, partly-owns Channel 13. Such cases will now increase.  https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/13/world/middleeast/isra el-tv-news-channel-14-netanyahu.html

Bibi has Often Boycotted

The control corporates enjoy in Israeli media is a logical corollary of the link Bibi’s government has with news media. The relationship is complicated at best. Bibi has never shied away from demonstrating his hatred for the various organs of the Israeli free press, particularly the dissenting scribes working for them. He has often boycotted news networks for their anti-Bibi content, control and the critical journalists they employ. He practises untouchability in the case of networks that exercise undue influence on what they could and they would like to broadcast. https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/is-this-the- end-of-benjamin-netanyahu

The Poliphoon’s Last Word

Disturbed, Israel’s Organization of Journalists is decrying that Bibi’s desire to slash the budget of the Public Broadcasting Corporation is “declaration of war” on socio-cultural broadcasting. As high-value content is on threat, protagonists of free press in Israel are agitated. They are now set to rally in protest against Bibi’s insidious attempts to throttle free media. Chapter 2 of Israel’s uprising against Bibi’s anti-democratic moves is just beginning to unfold.