ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 147

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Former top editor at Walla describes ‘unusual’ interventions on Netanyahu’s behalf

Testifying at PM’s trial, Avner Borochov says stories about premier or his family had to be vetted by editor-in-chief, were purged of criticism

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on June 11, 2023. (Menahem Kahana/Pool/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on June 11, 2023. (Menahem Kahana/Pool/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial heard Tuesday from a former senior editor at the Walla outlet, who described what he called unusual and systematic intervention from management on behalf of the premier and his family.

Avner Borochov, formerly the deputy head of news at Walla, testified in Case 4000, considered the most serious of the three cases against Netanyahu.

Borochov told the Jerusalem District Court that “no other coverage at Walla got the treatment received by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family.”

“It was unusual by any systematic standard,” he said. “An editor-in-chief can ask to do an assignment, but there is always a discussion about it. Here, in these issues it was ‘because it is necessary,’ without showing professional considerations.”

He said that when he was on a shift as the desk editor, it was up to him to decide which stories to run.

“Whether the story is exclusive to us or not, alongside the importance of the public interest — there is the rating element,” he said. “This is of course not the only consideration.”

However, when it came to Netanyahu, “there was censorship of criticism of the prime minister and his family members, spiking of items on the prime minister’s wife, without my having the ability to oppose it, without journalistic justification. Without any factor that could justify it.”

He said all stories about Netanyahu had to go through the chief editor first, even breaking stories, contrary to the news desk’s ethos of trying to get “fresh news up as quickly as possible.”

“The freedom of the press was absolute until it came to the prime minister and his family members,” he said.

Borochov described the first time he experienced direct intervention regarding Netanyahu, when the prime minister’s Likud party launched its 2013 election campaign. According to Borochov, staff were instructed to remove a story about a poverty report released by a nonprofit.

He said staff were openly told that “Likud has an advertising campaign on Walla, it’s a lot of money and we have to be sensitive.”

In Case 4000, Netanyahu faces charges of bribery and fraud and breach of trust. Prosecutors in the case allege that Netanyahu, who was prime minister at the time, approved regulatory decisions benefiting controlling Bezeq shareholder Shaul Elovitch to the tune of hundreds of millions of shekels. In exchange, he is accused of soliciting positive media coverage from the Bezeq-owned Walla news site.

Netanyahu is also on trial for two additional counts of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000, which concerns gifts he allegedly inappropriately received from billionaire benefactors, and Case 2000, in which he allegedly negotiated to obtain positive media coverage in a newspaper in exchange for curtailing its competitors.

Netanyahu has said he is the victim of a wide-ranging conspiracy and has called the allegations baseless.

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