Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev's NIS 1 million defamation suit against Channel 10 and two of its journalists was rejected by the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on Thursday. The court also ordered Regev to pay the defendants' legal costs in the amount of NIS 25,000.
The background of Regev's case dates back four years ago, when one of the defendants revealed an embarrassing recording in which Regev is heard consulting with her ministry staff on how to present their decision to appoint the advertising company TBWA Yehoshua, despite the lack of a legal tender by the ministry. The exposé also claimed that the CEO of the company, Rami Yehoshua, is a close associate of Regev, which influenced her decision to transfer NIS 2.5 million of public funds to a private entity without a legal government tender.
Regev claimed that the publication of the recording constituted libel. She countered that the Ministry of Culture's legal advisor confirmed the transfer of the money. Furthermore, Regev said that Yehoshua is not a close associate of hers and she was not personally involved in transferring the money.
Judge Abbas Asi ruled that although the publicized report was indeed damaging to Regev, the report revealed "significant criticism of a public issue regarding the allocation of public funds, the proper and legal procedure required for it, and the conduct of a public official in an important position along with her ministry staff, which justifies the publication of the report."
The judge rejected Regev's claims based on evidence produced by the defendants, such as the fact that Regev had met with Yehoshua three times before the money was transferred; the fact that the ministry's legal advisor had not properly presented an opinion on the transfer of the money; and the fact that Regev and her ministry staff did try to find a legal reason or justification for transferring the money to Yehoshua.
"I believe that the conditions for the applicability of responsible press protection are met," Asi said. "This was a public publication through traditional media - television - carried out by journalists as part of their work. This is a typical case in which there is a journalistic duty to publicize a report as long as there is significant public interest in it. Listening to the recording reveals that the public has a significant interest in knowing about it. The recording shows that the plaintiff and her advisors raise questions and difficulties regarding the legality and proper conduct of the contract with Yehoshua."