Benjamin Netanyahu is the first sitting Israeli prime minister in the country's political history to face indictment on multiple counts of corruption and media manipulation.

One of the cases alleges the prime minister agreed to limit distribution of one newspaper, Israel Hayom, in exchange for positive coverage in another, Yedioth Ahronoth. Netanyahu is accused of offering a telecoms company, Bezeq, lucrative government contracts - buying, in effect, positive news coverage on a website owned by the same company, Walla.

The attorney general handling the case says Netanyahu even had a hand in choosing which editors and reporters Walla would hire or fire. Netanyahu is using the fake news defence, calling the case a witch-hunt cooked up by political rivals and their friends in the media.

Netanyahu has turned the media into the biggest demon. And this indictment, in my opinion, is only making his campaign stronger.

Gali Ginatt, former reporter at Walla! and investigative reporter for Channel 13

"All the cases have to do with the media," points out Shimon Riklin, a political correspondent for Channel 20 and Netanyahu supporter. "Why was Netanyahu so involved in the media? Why did he try to meddle so much with it? Nobody's asking that question. Could it be that Netanyahu is vilified by the media more than any other prime minister in the western world?"

The prime minister's contentions that he is up against some kind of left-wing media conspiracy fail the scrutiny test. The attorney general leading the investigation, Avihai Mandelblit, was appointed by Netanyahu himself. Two of the prosecution's key witnesses, reported to have provided the most incriminating evidence, are former confidants of the prime minister.

Police say that from 2012 to 2017, the prime minister or his staff "blatantly intervened" hundreds of times and on a near daily basis, often calling the telecom and media baron Shaul Elovitch in the middle of the night to demand changes in the coverage.

According to Oren Persico, writer for The Seventh Eye, "There are recordings in which Netanyahu speaks with Elovitch, who then passes messages on to Ilan Yeshua, the CEO of Walla. So it's obvious that Netanyahu tried to intervene."

The communications between Netanyahu and Elovitch is just one of the corruption allegations under investigation, among others.

In response, Netanyahu's team has launched an aggressive media campaign to "throw the fake out". That has convinced many that the indictment can play in Netanyahu's favour.

"They often say that after each Netanyahu scandal, his party gets an extra two seats in the elections," explains Gali Ginatt, former reporter at Walla! and investigative reporter for Channel 13. "This time we are right in the midst of an election, and the indictment helps Netanyahu push the idea that the leftist media, the patronising media, is trying to dethrone him. Netanyahu has turned the media into the biggest demon. And this indictment, in my opinion, is only making his campaign stronger."

Previously, media-savvy Netanyahu has used external threats to garner support on the campaign trail. Now, "the situation isn't one that enables him to build an enemy from the outside, and therefore he is building up the media and the justice system to be the enemy, saying 'They're trying to bring me down'," says Persico.

Contributors

Oren Persico - writer, The Seventh Eye
Shimon Riklin - political correspondent, Channel 20
Gali Ginatt - former reporter, Walla! & Investigative reporter, Channel 13
Nomi Levitzki - former senior journalist, Yedioth Ahronoth
Tal Schneider - correspondent, Globes

Source: Al Jazeera