Although the journalists targeted by the layoffs include such well known Netanyahu critics as Barak Ravid and Nir Becher, members of the TV channel’s management say the reasons are economic. For months, they had been thinking of shifting the channel’s emphasis from news to entertainment and the coronavirus crisis has accentuated their financial problems, they say.
Many commentators nonetheless regard the firings as political motivated. “Is the latest purge of journalists an attempt to appease Netanyahu?” an article in the daily newspaper Haaretz asked.
Several of the fired journalists were responsible for revelations that embarrassed Netanyahu to the point that in June he went so far as to call for the jailing of Raviv Drucker, a journalist who has broadcast recordings showing that a telecom firm and his wife, Sarah Netanyahu, has leaned on the TV channel to provide him with more favourable coverage.
The channel, which used to be called Channel 10, was bought by Leonard Blavatnik, a billionaire businessman close to Netanyahu, in 2015. According to a leak published in Haaretz last month, Blavatnik told the police at the time that Netanyahu had suggested that he should buy the channel in order to turn it into an “Israeli Fox News.”
Blavatnik reportedly added: “He always complained about the media, about the leftists (...) and that Channel 10 specifically is anti-Israel and anti-business.”
“In view of the government’s many attempts to influence Channel 13’s editorial line, it is legitimate to suspect that these firings are politically motivated,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk.
“It was precisely the presence of journalists critical of the government that made this channel so credible and important for the Israeli media landscape. These dismissals are regrettable for investigative journalism in particular and for Israeli media pluralism in general.”
In August 2019, srael’s Channel 12 had to provide one of its journalists, Guy Peleg, with a bodyguard when Netanyahu and his supporters repeatedly branded him as a source of “fake news” after he published leaks from criminal investigations into alleged corruption involving the prime minister.
Israel is ranked 88th out of 180 countries and territories in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.