Tens of thousands back effort to stop Lapid’s party from censoring right-wing news channel

Left-wing Ha’aretz joins opposition to ruling Yesh Atid party’s bid to have right-leaning television news channel regulated as election campaign propaganda.

By World Israel News Staff

Over 30,000 Israelis, as of Monday evening, have signed a petition backing a right-leaning news channel against efforts by the ruling Yesh Atid party to have the channel listed as a political platform and placed under heavy government regulation.

Last Wednesday, Minister of Economy Orna Barbivay and Energy Minister Karine Elharrar, both of Yesh Atid, petitioned the Central Elections Committee to formally list Channel 14 as a mouthpiece of the Likud party.

The petition also targets Channel 14’s owner, billionaire Yitzhak Mirilashvili.

Elharrar and Barbivay noted that a number of contributors on the channel later joined the Likud, either as Knesset candidates or party activists.

Furthermore, the petitioners claimed that the channel’s content is blatantly biased in favor of the Likud.

“This is a real threat to the basic principles of the election in Israel,” they claimed. “A media outlet is fully harnessed in favor of a candidate and a party, without balances and contrary to every standard of reasonableness, fairness, and common sense.”

If accepted by the committee, the channel’s content would be forced to adhere to the regulations on political ads, requiring the channel to notify viewers that its programs are “propagandist messages” for the Likud.

Channel 14 said in a statement, if the outlet is categorized as election propaganda, it would ensure that the channel’s license will be revoked.

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“A day when a transitional prime minister uses a High Court judge to shut down a media outlet that criticizes him is a black day for Israeli democracy. We invite Prime Minister Lapid to stop his boycott and come for an interview on the channel, instead of trying to shut it down.”

The bid to restrict Channel 14 drew criticism from right-wing lawmakers, some of whom responded by planning similar requests to the Central Elections Committee to have left-leaning outlets registered as election propaganda.

The Likud threatened to file a similar request with the committee to list Channel 12 as election propaganda, citing, among other things, a comedy show on the channel that compared Religious Zionist Party MK Itamar Ben-Gvir to Adolf Hitler, a “sympathetic” interview with Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s wife, and the left-wing slant of the channel’s “Ofira and Berko” show.

The Religious Zionist Party has made a similar threat to have the left-wing newspaper Ha’aretz listed as a political platform.

On Monday a petition by Channel 14 against the Yesh Atid bid received the backing of some 30,000 Israelis.

The Ha’aretz newspaper also expressed its opposition to the effort to have Channel 14 placed under political campaign regulations. In a piece published Sunday, the paper’s editorial board slammed the Yesh Atid initiative, calling it “superfluous regulation intervention.”

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“By law, the practical implication of such a label could be to halt the channel’s broadcasts during the campaign.”

“By ostensibly seeking to soften this risk by demanding that the channel’s content be flagged, Yesh Atid is playing dumb,” the paper said.

While the Ha’aretz piece repeatedly criticized Channel 14 – accepting much of Yesh Atid’s criticism of its content – the editorial board argued that “we should be leery of media outlets being flagged as campaign advertising.”

“The border between expressing an opinion and campaigning is a fine line that can’t always be cleanly drawn. It ought to be permissible for media outlets to support a political position or a person who advocates that position, and also to vehemently oppose other positions and the people who advocate them, without that being considered electioneering,” Ha’aretz said.