JERUSALEM (Jan. 13)
Premier Menachem Begin, still confined to a wheelchair because of a hip injury last month, appeared in the Knesset today to defend his intervention to kill a radio news broadcast critical of Defense Minister Ariel Sharon. Motions critical and supportive of the Premier’s action were presented for debate.
The Kol Israel news item that aroused Begin’s wrath quoted former Chief of Staff Haim Barlev, a prominent figure in the opposition Labor Party, as saying that he could not sleep peacefully while Sharon held the Defense Ministry post because Sharon was mentally “unbalanced.” Barlev’s remarks were taken from an interview to be published in a forthcoming issue of the Labor Party’s monthly magazine Migvan.
Begin instructed the chief of the Prime Minister’s Office, Yehiel Kadishai, to demand an “apology” from Kol Israel for broadcasting the item. There was no apology but the item, broadcast at 2 p.m. Saturday, was not repeated in subsequent newscasts.
PREMIER ACCUSED OF CENSORSHIP
Opposition factions promptly accused the Premier of censorship. Labor MK Ora Namir and Mordechai Virshubsky of Shinui said his intervention threatened to return Israel Radio to the “dark days” of the State’s early years when it was a department of the Prime Minister’s Office and took its editorial orders from the Prime Minister. They recalled that Begin, as leader of the opposition at that time, bitterly criticized what he called an anti-democratic state of affairs.
Begin told the Knesset today that he agreed that a full-scale debate should be held on “whether a State media should be an anti-government media.” He claimed the issue was not “freedom of expression” but “freedom to cast shame and insult.”
Israel radio and television is run by the Broadcasting Authority, a quasi-independent agency modeled on Britain’s BBC. Funding and statutory responsibility fall on the government. A supervisory body made up of public figures is responsible for content.
In the case of the Kol Israel item, Begin said he had to defend Sharon’s honor. He noted that it was Barlev, as Chief of Staff, who appointed Sharon to command of the critical southern front with Egypt in 1969.