Israeli Media Concerned About Possible Curbs by Government

The Israeli media, especially television, has become increasingly concerned that the Likud government plans to exercise greater control over broadcast content and mold it to conform to the views of the present coalition.

That possibility was seen as implicit in the remarks of Education Minister Zevulun Hammer of the National Religious Party (NRP) who told a meeting of coalition leaders last night that if they wanted a television service in tune with their line of thinking they had to make sure that “talented, decent people of a height standard” would “take over” key posts in the Broadcasting Authority.

Hammer’s words were viewed as significant and ominous by observers as for as the present media officials are concerned because the Education Minister recommends who sits on the board of directors of the semi-autonomous authority. New directors will be appointed next March. According to some sources, the new board will be packed with coalition supporters with only a third of the seats going to opposition elements.

Journalists in television and the printed media are well aware that Likud regards many of them as “hostile.” A new wave of criticism has arisen from coalition sources alleging that the media deliberately distorted and misrepresented the government’s controversial new economic program. It followed a bitter altercation at the Jerusalem TV studio Saturday night, Oct. 31, between Premier Menachem Begin, newscaster Daniel Peer and Dan Shilon, head of the TV news department.

ALTERCATION WITH BEGIN

Begin, who had just gone off the air after addressing the nation on the new economic measures accused Peer of deliberately preceding his address with a news bulletin describing a demonstration outside the Premier’s home by groups opposed to the economic program. Begin refused to leave the stage where the live news broadcast was still in progress. Shilon the walked from the wings and pulled Begin out of camera range. The Premier left the studio in a rage.

The incident raised an outcry of “hostility” from coalition MKs and demands that the Education Minister take steps to restrain the broadcasters. The TV directors and managers have categorically denied accusations of anti-government bias and insist that television gave a balanced view of reactions to the new economic policy. When Begin accused the broadcasters of failing to cover all of his speeches to various groups, he was told by Shilon that television deals with news, not “posters and information services.”

the Broadcast Authority has zealously guarded its independence in the presentation of news and other programming. It frequently incurred the wrath of previous Labor governments for satirizing the foibles of certain politicians. Begin, while in the opposition, was one of its most constant and vociferous critics as were some members of the Orthodox religious factions that are now his coalition partners. In the past, however, the Broadcast Authority was usually allowed to go its own way in the interests of freedom of speech and press.

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