Photo: ben hartman
The government is obliged to prevent scenarios such as the current one in which Ma’ariv workers have not received payments owed to them by law, Knesset Economics Committee Chairman Carmel Shama-Hacohen (Likud) said Thursday.
“Should such scenarios occur, justice must be found so that not one shekel is owed to even one worker, and if somebody knowingly acted against them, they must be brought before the law,” Shama-Hacohen said at a special hearing on the fate of Ma’ariv employees.
Shama-Hacohen argued that the government must examine whether there is a public interest in supporting the media, saying that otherwise “the trend is obvious.” He added that on top of the imminent entry into the job market of around 2,000 Ma’ariv employees, the fact that all Israeli media outlets are at risk of closing “does not strengthen democracy.”
Last Thursday, Ma’ariv Holdings filed for a stay of proceedings at the Tel Aviv District Court, reporting a debt of NIS 408 million – of which almost one-quarter is owed to employees. The company filed the application after completing the sale of Hebrew daily Ma’ariv and associated publications to businessman Shlomo Ben-Tzvi for up to NIS 74m.
Court-appointed trustee Shlomo Ness told the committee that “there are all sorts of complicated allegations,” and promised that he and co-trustee Yaron Arbel are trying to examine all of them. He elaborated that Judge Varda Alshech has frozen the Ben-Tzvi deal, and that the trustees are looking at “other options.”
Tal Raz, CEO of Ma’ariv Holdings, said that he too has more work to do, given that he has only been at the newspaper for eight months, and that parent company IDB Holding Corp only took control of the newspaper one year and three months ago.
IDB has made all allocations and deductions in an orderly manner since taking control, Raz said, adding that he is certain this was also the case under the newspaper’s previous owners. He stated the problem was not what was deducted from workers’ salaries, but that in the past they were not paid retrospective supplementary income.
Veteran Ma'ariv Knesset reporter Arik Bender was the first speaker at the Economics Committee meeting, saying that after 27 years of covering committee meetings, this was the first time he has participated, and that he hoped this would be the last.
“We need to save the print media,” Bender said, his voice trembling.
“We need a free, established, strong media. Otherwise, all we will be left with is a pro-government newspaper that is handed out for free,” he added, referring to Yisrael Hayom.
Bender suggested that the government look to France for ideas to support the print media, such as giving free newspaper subscriptions to citizens for their 18th birthdays and increasing government print advertising.