In the first major salvo of the Israeli election campaign, the opposition Labor Party today accused Prime Minister Menachem Begin's government of an unprecedented abuse of the state broadcasting authority by masking party propaganda on television as an "emergency" government announcement.
The political furor broke out after Finance Minister Yoram Aridor broadcast on prime time television last night a speech praising his own economic recovery program, after requesting use of the state-owned television for an official government announcement.
It was the first time since the 1973 Yom Kippur war that the government has exercised its right to requisition time on Israeli television to make an emergency announcement, according to officials of the opposition Labor Party. e
Broadcasting authority director Yosef Lapid, a staunch supporter of Begin's policies, criticized Aridor's use of their air time, and said he had thought the finance minister was going to issue an announcement of a major change in economic policy. Israeli television director Yitzhak Shimoni, branding Aridor's speech an "unreasonable" use of the law permitting emergency announcements on demand, said he was afraid that between now and the June 30 election the television network will be "put in an impossible situation."
Labor Party leader Shimon Peres called the broadcast a "scandal" and an abuse by the government of a right reserved only for extreme emergencies.
Lapid said he was forced to allow Aridor to speak after Cabinet secretary Aryeh Naor made an official request. The 10-minute speech was essentially a reiteration of the Likud's economic platform and an assessment of what the government was seeking to do about 150 percent annual inflation.
In the speech, Aridor alluded to a Labor Party plan for a price freeze, calling it a "totalitarian" measure, and he praised recent monetary reforms. Likud officials, rejecting the charge that the Begin government had abused broadcast rights, said Aridor's speech was intended to present a "balanced" picture of the government's policies, to offset what they called biased reporting by television reporters.
Independent legal observers, including Hebrew University Law School chairman Claude Klein, said the Aridor speech may have violated an election law prohibiting the broadcasting of party propaganda on television during the 150 days before an election.