June 19, 2013
by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 19/06/2013
Through the use of media tools, the public is told who it should appreciate, who to admire and who it can ignore.
Media outlets report the news. They also serve as a platform for public debate and the exchange of views. Many critics see the media as also managing the news and setting agendas.
“The news” then morphs from being a collection of facts into an opinion-driven manipulation of events. A reporter and his/her editor, if biased, can alter reality.
The academic literature has long recognized that mass media possesses codes and conventions that shape its messages and so construct a sense of the world and how it works. This creativity is employed not only for politics and economics but culture as well. “Media creates culture,” it has been claimed.
In today’s media-saturated world, there really is no “blank canvas” anymore. Through the use of media tools, the public is told who it should appreciate, who to admire and who it can ignore in cultural activities such as art, literature and music. The media creates the icons – the people we are taught to recognize, who last in our collective memory and who we are persuaded have meaning as humans and as citizens of our country.
Last week, two famous authors died. One of them was a novelist and the other wrote religious tracts.
Both sold a large number of their books over a period of decades. Both were household names, albeit in their respective publics.
One of them, Yoram Kaniuk, was born in Tel Aviv, joined the Palmah, was a crew member of a clandestine immigrant ship, studied painting, left Israel in 1951 for Paris, became a sailor, resided in America for a decade, adventured in Mexico, Guatemala and Las Vegas and was twice married. The mother of his children is non-Jewish.
Two years ago, he succeeded in a legal move to change the religion clause on his Israeli identity card from “Jewish” to “no religion” out of solidarity with his non-Jewish grandson. Many of his novels were made into films.
The other was Rabbi Yehoshua Neuwirth. Born in Germany, he fled to Holland during World War II and stayed hidden with his family for three years. During that time he managed to conduct an Orthodox lifestyle despite the Nazi conquest.
He then immigrated to Mandatory Palestine clandestinely by boat.
Rabbi Neuwirth was a Torah scholar, taught in a leading Jerusalem yeshiva and became one of the foremost authorities on the complex laws of Shabbat. His three-volume opus can be found in the libraries of the vast majority of Orthodox Jews across the world irrespective of their religious identity as haredi, national Orthodox or modern Orthodox.
He was also very highly regarded as an expert in medical ethics. He was sought out as a consultant on the design of modern electronic appliances, with an aim to assuring their strict compliance with Jewish law, and many of which assisted the sick. Rabbi Neuwirth was a renowned leader in adapting modern technology for the practice of Torah Judaism.
The number of people attending Rabbi Neuwirth’s funeral vastly outnumbered the number of those attending the funeral of Kaniuk, attesting to the depth of his influence on his appreciative public.
Similarly, in the days following their deaths, the media’s treatment of the two convincingly demonstrated that the media had its cultural favorite.
Israel’s Media Watch reviewed the media during the 24-hour period following Rabbi Neuwirth’s death.
The review included the June 11 radio programs, covering the headlines and four news programs on Galei Tzahal and five central programs on Reshet Bet. No mention was made of his death. Neither the Mabat Channel 1 TV program nor Channel 10 news included an item on him.
The Internet was a bit broader in its coverage. Ma’ariv, Ynet, INN and various religiously-oriented sites mentioned the deaths of both Kaniuk and Neuwirth. To be fair, several of the sites included withering criticism of Kaniuk’s anti-religious attitude as the justification for noting his passing. Sites that ignored Neuwirth but reported on Kaniuk included Haaretz, Globes, Walla, Reshet Bet, Galatz and Calcalist.
This inability of too many of Israel’s media outlets to deal with topics not immediately connected to their own private world is not new. Much criticism has been voiced in studies and at conferences over what is perceived to be the blindness of the media to anything happening outside of Tel Aviv – and some even draw the line from Shenkin Street in north Tel Aviv to Yehudah HaYammit Street, where the Galatz station resides, in the south.
In the past, funerals and for that matter the lives of outstanding Orthodox personalities were completely ignored by mainstream media, as were, until recently, traditional Jewish musicians. Too often, only if a rabbi was involved in a sharp dispute with the secular public did that rabbi “merit” coverage.
Scores of left-wing demonstrators were assured coverage for the most trivial of issues, but tens of thousands visiting the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron are ignored or at most perfunctorily mentioned.
The problem is even more serious when some of the media stations are publicly funded as state-sponsored broadcasters who, by law, are obligated to faithfully represent the pluralism of Israel’s society. They should be providing programming that reflects Israel’s heritage, which does include religion.
In this connection, we are happy to learn that Galatz has made steps to change built-in prejudice.
Galatz’s chief, Yaron Dekel, speaking at the Yesha Council Conference on Public Diplomacy this week, announced that his instruction to alter the test on cultural recognition led to significant change in the social makeup of the incoming cadets. Of 30 recruits to the station, nine, that is, almost one-third, are from the religious sector of the population.
As policies of affirmative action are very much preferred by the liberal camp, we presume that this development will be welcomed by all.
Last year, on March 28, we pointed out that there are too many elements within Israel’s media that suffer from what we termed “cultural autism.” Their general knowledge and education is rather limited, their appreciation of others could use improvement. Rabbi Neuwirth was not only a courageous intellectual, he was a moral example to all.
It is sad that our media does not understand how important it is, especially for our youth, to be exposed to such people. Sadly, we all will pay for this ignorance.
The authors are, respectively, vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il).
Please note: In last week’s column, we wrote that a possible reason for the early retirement of senior Haaretz columnists was fear of not receiving pension funds. Ehud Ein-Gil of the Haaretz staff committee has informed us that Haaretz employees have an arrangement whereby their pension payments are held by an outside company, and that their money is fully insured for them upon their retirement, even if they voluntarily retire, in which case the law does permit the employer to seek the return of those payments, although Haaretz management never has done so.
June 12, 2013
Media Comment: The self-perception of ‘Haaretz’
by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 12/06/2013
Its professional shortcomings, such as its publisher’s narrow focus and the clique-like character of the editorial staff, have turned Haaretz into an organ injurious to free, open and pluralistic thinking.
It is no secret that the printed media is in financial trouble across the globe; what is referred to as a probable “collapse of daily print journalism.” Newspapers are as much (if not more) an economic enterprise as sacred institutions defending and campaigning for freedom of expression and the public’s right to know. Is there a danger that a lack of money will severely curtail the ability of newspapers to continue to serve as platforms for honest reporting? The dire prophecies that appeared four years ago in The Atlantic magazine’s “End Times” piece by Michael Hirschorn, who wrote that “it’s certainly plausible” that The New York Times could go “out of business,” have proven very wrong. But other journals have fallen, filing for bankruptcy, and others have drastically altered their business models while trimming staff to reduce expenditures. And, of course, there is the “pay wall.”
Even journalists think of money; it’s their livelihood.
Haaretz, which presents itself as providing “extensive and in-depth coverage,” distributed a letter last week from its publisher Amos Schocken, who wrote: “We have maintained our commitment to provide our readers in Israel and abroad with the most relevant and professional news, opinion and analyses. We have enlisted top-notch reporters, editors and writers and have significantly expanded our unique, English-language coverage…. We have continued to serve, we believe, as an indispensable cornerstone of Israeli liberalism and democracy and to stand firm against shortsighted and often dangerous winds of the day.”
We have, in several of our previous columns, noted the dismal record of Haaretz with regard to professional standards of reporting and principles of media ethics. To claim to be providing relevant news, rather than, say, disproportionately highlighting supposed facts that bear on the far-left agenda of Schocken and his crew, is pure chutzpah.
Haaretz is not so much a newspaper as an ideological tract. Its professional shortcomings, such as its publisher’s narrow focus and the clique-like character of the editorial staff, have turned Haaretz into an organ injurious to free, open and pluralistic thinking.
Gideon Levy trumpets his non- Zionism. Amira Haas was quoted saying to The New Yorker “my tribe is leftists, not liberal Zionists.” Regular columnist and Israel Prize laureate Prof. Ze’ev Sternhell in 2001 wrote in Haaretz’s pages “There is no doubt about the legitimacy of [Palestinian] armed resisitance”.
The same is true of Haaretz’s former columnist Akiva Eldar, an uncritical propagandist for Peace Now, B’tselem and Yesh Din, the most egregious of pro-Palestinian Israeli NGOs. His pro- Palestinian stance led him into legal entanglements which compelled him to apologize.
Amir Oren’s columns on the military are colored by antipathy. The English-language edition of Haaretz literally misrepresents and corrupts news items appearing in the Hebrew version. If there is any shortsightedness and danger in Israel’s press today, it is in Haaretz.
Israel’s Media Watch, almost 20 years ago, began to include Haaretz in its media reviews and was the first to track its sinister alterations of news content and headlines from its Hebrew edition for publication in its English one. This practice has only worsened over the years, and includes simplistic translation errors, with no evidence of proofreading.
In the February 2011 New Yorker piece by David Remnick, Schocken was asked the possibility of Haaretz folding or having to be sold to someone with different principles.
He replied that his paper was being published “in the best interests of the country” and then said that “shouldering the burden of Haaretz is like carrying a cross.” No doubt there are many more Israelis who consider Haaretz an albatross around their necks.
Joshua Muravchik has now written in Commentary magazine of Haaretz’s “adversary culture,” by which he means the promotion of an outlook “that finds one’s own country to be the embodiment of all that is wrong and evil.”
A. J. Liebling once quipped, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”
Unfortunately, not everyone has the chance to own a paper. Their only option is to hope those who do to adhere to professional ethical standards. And that is not the case here in Israel.
A few recent examples of the problem with Haaretz, as listed by CAMERA’s local agent Presspectiva, include: • In mid-May, for two consecutive days, the English edition of Haaretz falsely reported that Jewish prayer is permitted on the Temple Mount.
• On March 31, Gideon Levy falsified the number of Gazan Arab deaths during Operation Cast Lead, sourcing it to Amnesty International – which didn’t report it.
• On June 6, a teenage girl who had been raped by Arabs when she was 13 (and who was involved in the recent controversy involving Judge Yeshaya) was erroneously called a “Palestinian” in the English translation, although she is Israeli and Jewish.
• And lastly, the paper had to correct a grievous translation error: it mistakenly reported on April 23 that a judge in the trial of administrative detainee Samer Issawi agreed that the appearance of the prisoner could be compared to that of a Holocaust survivor.
What the judge was shocked about was Issawi’s own claim that he should be compared to a Holocaust survivor.
Despite gross inaccuracies such as these; basing editorial columns on misrepresented data; unreliability and political bias, the paper is still widely quoted by the state-funded public broadcasting radio and television outlets, especially the early morning programs. They in turn rarely, if at all, include the subsequent corrections, thus multiplying the damage to the media consumer.
The German investor group DuMont Schauberg purchased 25% of the paper’s ownership shares in 2006. Has this foreign involvement influenced the paper’s downplaying the issue of European funding for left-wing NGOs? Haaretz serves as a major platform for some of them, even though past experience has shown that too often their information is based on shoddy research and overzealous identification with the subject matter.
In 2011, the paper announced that the former Russian oligarch Leonid Nevzlin, who immigrated to Israel in 2003, had joined Haaretz as a partner, acquiring 20% of the company’s share capital. Is Haaretz still a local paper? In the past few months, Haaretz has experienced growing financial difficulties. Undoubtedly, Shocken’s letter is part of the effort to retain its subscriber base. Last September 23, The Jerusalem Post informed us that Haaretz employees had called a partial work stoppage which shut down the paper for around two hours. Employees were facing layoffs, and demanded answers about their scope.
Some senior staff has left recently, including Akiva Eldar and Doron Rosenblum. Could it be that they were thinking of receiving their pensions while there’s still money around to pay for it?
It is not unreasonable to guess that stricter adherence to professional journalistic ethics would contribute to a more solid future for Haaretz.
June 5, 2013
by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 05/06/2013
If there is any justification for the existence of a public broadcaster, it is the need to provide the public with high-quality information, culture and entertainment.
If there is any justification for the existence of a public broadcaster, it is the need to provide the public with high-quality information, culture and entertainment. The litmus test of the public network is whether it provides a product which the public cannot receive elsewhere, especially from the commercial networks. It is not an accident that Israel’s Knesset has repeatedly demanded, and also supplied funding to the Israel Broadcasting Authority earmarked for, authentic Israeli programming.
Years ago, the IBA supplied the goods. Competition was meager and the IBA’s news program was the major purveyor of news to the Israeli public.
IBA’s documentaries of that period have become classics; Pillar of Fire for example recounted 50 years of Jewish and Israeli history leading to the establishment of Israel in 1948.
However, the IBA’s productivity during the past 15 years has been disappointing. The 1998 documentary Tekuma, the sequel of Pillar of Fire, described the history of the state after 1948. It included one-sided descriptions of the Arab “resistance movement.” The present-day IBA documentary department, under the direction of Itai Landsberg, excels in purveying material which can be used by Israel’s detractors all over the world.
A classic case is the documentary The Gatekeepers, produced by Dror Moreh and screened all over the world as a candidate for an Oscar. As the film’s website has it, “for the first time ever, six former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret service agency, agree to share their insights and reflect publicly on their actions and decisions. Intimately interviewed, they shed light on the controversy surrounding the Occupation in the aftermath of the Six Day War.”
The TV version is a six-chapter series, funded in large part by the IBA and being aired currently on the IBA’s Channel 1 TV station. The first part appeared this past Sunday, under the title: The true story – the Gatekeepers.
As described on the IBA website the subtitle of this first part, “No strategy, only tactics,” is a citation from Avraham Shalom.
Shalom accuses Israel’s leaders at that time of not really knowing what to do with the territories regained by Israel in the 1967 war. It also deals with the failures of the security services to prevent terror attacks perpetrated by Israelis in the 1980s, known as the Jewish underground, as well as the murder of left-wing activist Emil Greenzweig.
The website does not remind us that Shalom was forced to resign his position as Shin Bet head due to his role in the infamous killing of two of the perpetrators of the 1984 terror attack on Egged bus No. 300.
Shalom lied in his testimony regarding this affair, accusing prime minister Yitzhak Shamir of authorizing the killing, an accusation Shamir vehemently denied. Shalom escaped trial as he received a presidential pardon.
One can summarize Shalom’s stint as head of the service as a colossal failure, which to this day hinders the actions of the service.
The decision to fund this series was made when the chairman of the IBA was Moshe Gavish and Mordechai Shaklar was its director. The present heads of the IBA, chairman Amir Gilat and director Yoni Ben-Menachem, decided that the series should be supplemented with an in-depth discussion of the contents after each chapter aired. The panel was balanced and included Yossi Beilin from the extreme Left of Israel’s ideological spectrum; Effie Eitam from the Right; Professor Ephraim Inbar, arguably right-of-center; Professor Yossi Shain, Left; and Chanan Gefen, a former commander of the IDF’s 8200 intelligence unit.
Moreh was unhappy with this development. As reported in Haaretz, Moreh stated: “I’m disgusted over the discussion and the people that Channel 1 put on after the program. I have no doubt the discussion was a political dictate from above. The people chosen to participate were also carefully selected. Instead of letting the program and the series and the Shin Bet chiefs speak their piece, they chose a foolish and populist discussion that we’ve heard thousands of times. I very much hope the viewers fled to another channel!” “In this film, six security services chiefs talk for the first time, so please, let every Israeli judge for himself. Why politicize this?” Moreh was allowed to voice his sharp criticism also on the IDF’s Galatz news radio program, without anyone asking him serious, probing questions.
Moreh wants us and the world to believe he is objective, providing the nonpolitical testimony of these six men. The truth is that all six are highly political, and have axes to grind. Two of them are serious failures. In addition to Shalom, Carmi Gillon was head of the services when prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated and in the aftermath was also forced to leave his position.
Ya’akov Peri is a left-wing politician and is presently a minister in the government, coming from the Yesh Atid party. Ami Ayalon was a member of the Labor party, and is well known for his left-wing political initiatives. Avi Dichter, arguably a centrist, is also a politician, who joined the failed Kadima party and served as the minister of internal security. The sixth, Yuval Diskin, also joined the political fray. After being forced to leave the service and prior to the recent elections he stated: “I don’t trust the prime minister or the defense minister. I don’t trust a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic impulses.”
But what about Moreh himself? Consider the following pearls of wisdom emanating from him: “I felt during my visit to the United States that the majority of Jews in the USA support Israel whatever the situation is.” He then adds: “In fact, this harms the State of Israel. They don’t understand that we are moving toward an apartheid state.”
In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour he said: “This is the major problem in Israel. Those people, those extreme right-wing leaders and people in Israel are the biggest threat to the existence of the State of Israel because every time that you see there is a shift toward movement, slowly toward peace, they are – they come inside and they create the greatest havoc.”
The head of the Documentary Division of the IBA also was not happy with the panel format.
He agreed with Moreh that it was unnecessary and smacks of political intervention.
It would seem both Landsberg and Moreh are somewhat afraid someone may just pronounce publicly that the king is naked. A true professional would have congratulated the present heads of the IBA for being willing on the one hand to broadcast a biased and manipulative documentary, in the name of artistic freedom, while on the other hand assure the Authority’s duty to provide depth and balance. Landsberg’s opposition only proves he does not deserve his position at the IBA.
On a more personal note, Howard Grief passed away this past Sunday evening from complications of a blood infection.
In stark contrast to people of Moreh’s ilk, Howard was one of those modest but devoted persons to the state and people of Israel. His life’s work was a legal defense of Israel’s historic and international rights in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. In contrast to Moreh’s, his work was based on exhaustive, thorough analysis, documentation and diplomatic records. We extend to his family our sincere condolences on the loss of a husband and father and regret that his critical review of the media on legal issues has been halted. Who knows? Perhaps one day the IBA’s leadership will realize Howard’s life story deserves its own documentary, which will not only be interesting but will also truly support our beleaguered state.
May 30, 2013
By YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 29/05/2013
Reporters without Borders included Hamas and the PA security forces in a list of “predators of freedom of information” who “censor, imprison, kidnap, torture and kill journalists and other news providers.
In a recent academic article, Beate Josephi, a lecturer at Australia’s Edith Cowan University, postulated that while democracies provide the legal framework for freedom of speech, they do not offer protection for journalistic services, whether in print, broadcast or electronic.
These are largely financed privately by those persons, or conglomerates, who own the media outlets. She suggests that “journalism needs supporters who see value in independent information provision and credible news judgment.”
This, of course, presents three problems. In the first place, what happens when the media is owned by the public and the money is collected through taxes or license fees, which is a major part of the Israel reality? In the second instance, journalists are notorious for either ignoring or refusing to accept input from the public or most other outsiders unless, of course, the assistance and support is unambiguously in favor of whatever journalists do or publish.
The third problem is: Do we accept her premise that there indeed is “independent information provision”? Is journalism, if left solely in the hands of those that produce the news at ground level, truly independent? Isn’t there bias and prejudice inherent in any, indeed, every news report? One of the more popular myths that journalists propagate about themselves is that they represent the most reliable force that faces down the domination, by government or industry or religion, of truth. We suggest that any press which is not sufficiently balanced out either by competition, a critical public or a system of regulatory review with an ability to correct and even punish, not only betrays principles of ethics but is inherently undemocratic.
Journalists when left to themselves go so far as to assist non-democratic countries or groups in acting illegally and immorally.
One aspect of this is the way the press sees its role in reporting on the promotion of peace.
In a previous column, “Freedom of the press – who really cares?” (May 10, 2012), we treated the duplicity of Israel’s self-proclaimed human rights groups, who promoted the theme that Israel is moving in an alarmingly anti-democratic direction while ignoring the abuse of democracy by the Palestinian Authority. Has the situation improved over this past year? In its 665-page report, released last February, Human Rights Watch assessed progress on human rights during the past year in more than 90 countries. It found that in the PA, journalists and bloggers continue to be harassed. On May 21, 2013, the Palestinian Commission for Human Rights said in its annual report that incidents of abuse by the PA are up 10 percent since last year including “preventing reporters from reporting or arresting them.”
The journalists were accused by the security services of insulting PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas, leading to a call by HRW that those in charge respect the freedoms of the press and free expression. As an example, the report notes the detention of Omar Abu Arqoub. He anchors a program on Al-Rayah radio. His laptop was confiscated as was a portable hard drive. Another journalist, Haroun Abu Arrah, also a film producer, was interrogated concerning comments he made on Facebook.
He claimed the PA was pressuring his employer to fire him.
Reporters without Borders included Hamas and the PA security forces in a list of “predators of freedom of information” who “censor, imprison, kidnap, torture and kill journalists and other news providers.”
Vivian Bercovici, in an April 30 column in the Toronto Star this year, provided additional details of the PA’s anti-democratic activity. Lampooning Mahmoud Abbas online will get you jail. This is what happened to a person who posted Abbas’ photo next to that of a TV villain who had collaborated with French colonial rule. Another resident of the PA received a year in prison for posting a photograph of Abbas kicking a soccer ball with a mocking caption.
Hamas was reported to have arrested dozens of journalists since 2007 when it came to power. The Palestine Journalists Syndicate, a professional journalists’ guild, has been found to be cooperating with the PA political leadership rather than with professional colleagues.
There are many more examples but the end result is not only that journalists in Israel and in other free countries do not defend their Palestinian colleagues, they are permitting the PA to continue in its policies that not only destroy a free press but are undermining the “peace” they too often serve rather than cover.
If our media does not sufficiently inform Israel’s citizens about the day-to-day reality in the Palestinian Authority (for an outstanding exception see this paper’s Khaled Abu Toameh), if they do not provide critical analysis in a sustained manner, they are betraying their profession.
This past week, President Shimon Peres crossed the Jordan River, in what was claimed to be “a special diplomatic visit.” He recreated the classic three-way handshake of Jimmy Carter, Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Abbas (Abbas, by the way, is years overdue for democratic elections). President Peres also plagiarized Menachem Begin when he declared, “War is not inevitable. Peace is inevitable.” That last sentence was lifted from Begin’s greeting to Sadat in the Knesset on November 20, 1977: “We have learned from history, Mr. President, that war is avoidable. It is peace that is inevitable.”
The press received the president’s press office news releases notifying them that he is a diplomat. On May 23, he held “a diplomatic meeting” with Kerry and the next day “a diplomatic working meeting” with British Foreign Secretary William Hague. Back on May 5, he held “a diplomatic working meeting” with Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter.
The media ran amok over Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s sleeping arrangements on flights, but the fact that Peres is empowering himself with a role that is not legally his, is for all intents and purposes disregarded.
The media, local and foreign, have also failed their consumers in reporting a recent statement made by the PA’s Saeb Erekat. Erekat, a notorious liar (remember the infamous Jenin Massacre affair), demanded of Peres “to exert every possible effort to convince… the prime minister of Israel [to say] he accepts two states on [the] 1967 [borders]. He needs to say it.”
No one challenged Erekat. The truth is that on March 21, 2013, at a press conference with President Barack Obama, Netanyahu said Israel “remains fully committed to peace and to the solution of two states for two peoples.” On December 5, 2012, he said, “We remain committed to a negotiated settlement…[and] that solution is a twostate solution for two peoples.” And almost four years ago, on June 14, 2009, he said: “we will be ready in a future peace agreement to reach a solution where a demilitarized Palestinian state exists alongside the Jewish state.”
Our media, and the foreign media, had Erekat on camera and were recording him live but permitted him to prevaricate. No one reported that Erekat, true to form, had falsely insinuated that Prime Minister Netanyahu would not accept the two-state solution. Peace and truth were not served by the press.
Josephi, in another article, believes that freedom as it is served by the media includes, among a long list, reviewing if information flows freely, if there are multiple levels of self-regulation, if there is internal media democracy and do watchdog groups have an effect.
If not, media consumers are but misinformed tools to be exploited, and democracy is ill-served. National goals, including peace in Israel’s case, can be subjected to a form of media oppression.
Self-imposed cultural, social and political constraints are devastating our press. The most dangerous enemy of freedom of the press is the press itself.
May 23, 2013
Media Comment: The IBA’s ‘reformation’
By YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 22/05/2013
MKs bashes blunders of Israel Broadcasting Authority during Knesset c’tee meeting discussing reforms of state-sponsored TV operations.
This past Tuesday, the Knesset Economics Committee, chaired by Professor Avishai Braverman (Labor) discussed rehabilitating the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
The IBA’s leadership, chairman Dr. Amir Gilat and executive director Yoni Ben-Menachem, are to be complimented for having brought to almost full fruition a process that began almost a decade ago and was considered by many to be impossible.
Yet the committee meeting was nothing but a left-wing bashing of the present leadership of the IBA. Politicians such as MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) called for the closing down of the state-sponsored television and the abolishment of the TV fee (the agra). All this in the context of “trying to save Israel’s public broadcasting.” Interestingly, not one MK from the Likud or Bayit Yehudi parties thought the discussion merited their presence.
The fact that the Israel Broadcasting Authority is a bloated behemoth is no secret. It employs close to 2,000 people. The highest salaries go to technicians whose jobs are outdated due to new technologies. There was no financial accountability at the IBA. Managers do not have budgets to balance and there is no system that would permit cost-itemizing of an hour’s broadcasting to facilitate budget control. The IBA’s management structure is arguably the worst of all public organizations in Israel.
These ills will hopefully be cured with the onset of what has been termed in Hebrew “the reform.” The agreements allow the management to reduce the workforce of the IBA to 1,200 and in principle should introduce modern technology into the IBA.
It took almost a decade to reach these agreements, which are technical in nature. The true sickness of our public media station, which was not discussed in the Knesset committee meeting, is that the IBA is not public, too many of its employees do not feel the need to serve the public; to consider what the public needs are and to obey the law that defines their job as public servants.
One might think the IBA should make efforts to present to the public the positive aspects of the Jewish state.
But this is not to be. Just this past week, with publication of the governmental report on the al-Dura case which absolved the IDF from harming Muhammad al-Dura, the IBA’s coverage could have been coming out of the United Nations. Al-Dura’s father, as well as France 2’s reporter Charles Enderlin, were given free time to further promulgate their version of the events without any tough questions asked.
This was not an isolated event. Consider the latest “report” of the anti-Israel B’Tselem organization, headed among others by the Israel Democracy Institute’s vice president Professor Mordechai Kremnitzer. This organization recently (May 9) accused the IDF of unnecessarily killing too many civilians in the recent Operation Pillar of Defense. In their own words: “The report challenges the common perception in the Israeli public and media that the operation was ‘surgical’ and caused practically no fatalities among uninvolved Palestinian civilians.”
The IBA’s Kol Yisrael radio station brought this accusation in its morning news as if it was a regular news agency report. It also gave B’Tselem space in its morning news roundup program.
We all know that B’Tselem is not a news organization.
Its reports are questionable at best and too often outright false in their accusations against Israelis. In this instance, NGO Monitor pointed out that the “report” is far from objective, that its sources are not reliable, that its assumptions about the motivation of the IDF are not based on fact, but rather surmise and that in part the B’Tselem press release contradicts its own findings.
The IBA is well aware that B’Tselem is unreliable. Back in 2008, Israel’s Media Watch president at that time, Dr.
Uzi Landau, sent a letter to IBA chairman Moshe Gavish in which he noted that various researchers – Tamar Sternthal from the CAMERA organization, Yonathan Halevy from the NFC website and others – have exposed the false accusations of B’Tselem. For example, B’Tselem had accused the IDF of killing a Palestinian youth on December 31, 2007, while the truth was that the youth had been killed by Hamas and Fatah fire.
Gavish justified Dr. Landau’s complaint. In his response, he noted that the IBA decided that any press release arriving at the news desk must undergo at least an initial veracity check. Dealing more specifically with B’Tselem, since the group had purveyed false information in the past, the IBA would undertake an in-depth check before bringing an item from this source to the public’s attention. It was also stipulated that it is imperative to note in the IBA’s reports that the item is not fact but rather a citation from a report, and the source must be given.
B’Tselem’s false accusations, among those of other radical left-wing organizations, are fodder for Israel’s enemies and anti-Semites all over the world. They can argue, justifiably, that if the IBA treats B’Tselem’s reports seriously, then there must be something to their claims.
The path to accusing the IDF of being and immoral, bloodthirsty occupation army which has no interest in the well-being of the local Arab population is short.
Has the IBA learned anything? Has it followed its own guidelines? Clearly not. IMW’s current president, former ambassador Dr. Meir Rosenne, asked in his May 12 letter to IBA chairman Dr. Amir Gilat: “Did the IBA undertake an in-depth check of the B’Tselem claims? When the IBA cites news from this organization, why doesn’t it note that the news comes from an organization with a clear political agenda? Will the IBA also provide broad coverage to reports coming from NGO Monitor, Camera, Palestinian Media Watch and Yehonatan Halevy when they provide in-depth reports about B’Tselem?” Rosenne finishes his letter asking: “Is it appropriate that the public broadcaster is the one who gives a public stage to these Israel haters?” In fact, the IBA’s staff has also on other occasions provided ammunition for the anti-Semites, material which was unjustified and meant to smear Israel. On April 24, the IBA TV Channel 1 Mabat Sheni documentary program aired two items which discussed the “price tag” issue and the “hilltop youth.” The item on the “price tag” was seemingly purchased from the BBC Panorama program. As one might expect, it was one-sided. The emerging picture was that the “price tag” mentality reflects all settlers east of the Green Line. Although the Yesha Council, for example, has time and again denounced any “price tag” actions, the broadcast item did not even attempt to include their critical reactions to the “price tag” perpetrators.
The second item did not try to balance matters. Eyal Tavor described “the second generation of settlers” and also dealt with the price tag and hilltop youth issues. The item misrepresented the settlement leadership, interviewing only the old-guard leadership. After the fact, we know that there was good reason for this. The true leadership, people such as Yossi Dagan, Gershon Mesika, Avi Roeh and others refused to be interviewed, knowing that they could not expect a fair shake from Tavor.
Moreover, Israel Hayom journalist Emily Amrussi, who was also interviewed, claimed her words were taken out of context and edited in a way which gave the impression that the hilltop youth do not respect Israel’s democracy.
It is the job of a news organization to put issues on the public’s agenda, perhaps especially when they hurt. But they must be thoroughly researched and the reporting must be fair. Too often, the IBA has done the opposite, alienating many people within Israel’s society. True reform at the IBA would mean that it becomes a public service organization. The IBA should replace its highhanded “we know more than you” ethos with that of the public servant, who is always attentive to the needs of Israel’s society and well-being.
May 9, 2013
By YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 08/05/2013
The media treats not only women with disdain but also the nationalist camp.
The relevance of the issue of media supervision and regulation, internal or external, voluntary or legislated, was highlighted again this week when the subject we treated in last week’s column (“The media’s omerta,” May 2), the claims of sexual harassment against media icon Emmanuel Rosen, was discussed in the Knesset.
The Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women convened on Monday afternoon. Among the invited guests were representatives of government ministries, broadcast bodies, feminist NGOs, religious activists from Kolech and Takana, groups that assist victims of sexual harassment, and also Israel’s Media Watch.
Israel’s Press Council did not merit any positive attitude at the meeting; in fact, just the opposite.
One participant recalled an appeal to Dahlia Dorner, a former Supreme Court justice and the current president of Israel’s Press Council, made in May 2010, that was signed by almost 50 feminist organizations and personalities including activists and academics.
The appeal dealt with the decision of the Ha-Ir weekly to grant Dr. Yitzhak Laor many column inches, extending over 10 pages, plus the cover page, to respond to a negative report about him published in Haaretz on February 18, 2010.
Laor had been accused by former students at Tel Aviv University and other women of harassing them over a period of several years, a charge he denied. Other media outlets had immediately dealt with the subject, with Channel 10’s investigative reporting program Hamakor leading the way.
Despite that petition to Dorner and even the submission of a complaint to the police, Israel’s Press Council declined to discuss or otherwise involve itself in the matter.
One published testimony in the Haaretz story suggested Laor had once passed a woman at her desk at Haaretz and asked, “Are you wearing panties?” causing her to go to the bathroom to cry. Other girls came to comfort her, saying she wasn’t the only one.
She complained to the head of the news desk, Moshe Gal, but he “pretty much laughed it off,” she said.
Three years later, Dorner had adopted a slightly different position.
In a segment broadcast over the Educational TV network (ETV), the Tik Tikshoret (Media File) program this past weekend, itself until lately hosted by the same Emmanuel Rosen, the matter of the media’s behavior relating to the case was discussed.
Meirav Batito of Yediot Aharonot argued that until a charge sheet is presented in court, nothing can be publicized by the media. But Justice Dorner, who also participated in the panel, promptly contradicted her.
In her view it is permissible to publish information about sexual harassment, provided that the media takes sufficient steps to convince itself that the story is reliable and true. But did any media person consider turning to the council for assistance and aid when faced with sexual harassment? Presumably the experience in the case of Laor again convinced the victims that the council is not a positive force and should be even ignored in such matters.
The Israel Press Council, as we highlighted back on September 22, 2011, “does not have any legal means at its disposal to enforce its decisions….The process by which it decides whether or not to address a given issue…is not transparent…”
Furthermore, we asserted that the “council is lax in imposing its own ethics code on journalists…when its deliberations reveal unethical actions by media people, more often than not… the infractions are never corrected in the same way they appeared… sadly, it would seem that the Press Council is quick in defending its own, but somewhat slow when considering the… rights of the media consumers.”
Let us revisit its more recent record.
Already in August 2009, Dorner and the IPC preferred slow, cumbersome bureaucratic procedures when asked to intervene in response to the publication of pictures of rape victims in newspapers. Despite a bit of blurring, identification of the victims was possible, whereas the law is clear: no publishing of rape victims’ photographs is permissible.
The IPC avoided proactive intervention like the plague.
A second troubling administrative failure of the IPC was its handling of a complaint concerning the treatment of one of the writers of this column.
During Knesset deliberations over the amending of the Channel 10 Law last December, board chairman Avi Balashnikov let loose a tonguelashing, shouting “evil, evil, hard-hearted evil” in response to remarks Pollack made. Ran Binyamini, who reported the event, did not broadcast Pollak’s words nor did he give him the right of reply – an ethical violation. Following the refusal of the Israel Broadcasting Authority to deal with the matter, the IPC was approached.
The IBA responded to the IPC that Binyamini was reprimanded.
The executive director of the IPC, Arik Bachar, then decided this was sufficient reason to close the case. In fact, though, the IBA ethics committee backed Binyamini and forced the IBA to retract the reprimand. Pollak then requested that the case be reopened. But that has not happened. Bachar recently wrote in an email: “It is my assumption that I have exhausted all alternatives of investigation that the IPC possesses.”
One would think that with her many years on the bench, dealing with the many institutions of state administration, Dorner would be aware that to enforce the ethics code both power and an efficient apparatus are required. The media, however, during her terms in office, have time and again succeeded in avoiding any real punishment for wrongs, and has failed to put its own house in order. Is she bewitched by the media’s influence? Something is very wrong in Dorner land.
In February last year, the Tel Aviv Journalists’ Association decided to leave the IPC in protest against Dorner’s election to a third term as the council’s president. They protested that it was unethical and undemocratic for the current council to elect its president and that the council should first elect new members.
The new body, not the outgoing one, should be the forum that elects its president.
This was the imposition of “a minority opinion on the majority,” their representative stated.
And as for democracy, in a media critique column, Dror Eydar pointed out that the commotion surrounding the Rosen affair and possible suppression of women, including their harassment, should alert us to another form of discriminatory exclusion and stifling of personal voices. He pointed out that the media treats not only women with disdain but also the nationalist camp majority.
He asks, “does the media not objectify the conservative majority and turn it into something to be ridiculed?” Journalists with rightist views are not in any positions of power within the media, he writes. “There are no newscasters or interviewers who ask questions that deviate from the norm or raise issues other than the ‘accepted’ ones. There is not a single prime-time news show that is run or hosted by a conservative or rightist journalist.”
And we ask: should not pluralism as an expression of basic democracy also be a concern? Does the IPC or its president have anything to say about that? Sadly, Israel’s Press Council, which could have played an important role in increasing the prestige of Israel’s media and the respect it should get from the public, has for years done the precise opposite. It is “part of the club”; it’s actions are not open to public scrutiny and overall, it has just further convinced the public that something is very wrong in Israel’s media landscape.
May 2, 2013
by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 01/05/2013
Media personnel, from producers to editors to reporters, view everything as fair game – except their own environment or professional activities.
Media personnel, from producers to editors to reporters, view everything as fair game – except their own environment or professional activities. Their inquiring minds and invasive interest seem to fog up or even choke up when it comes to themselves, and the cameras and microphones don’t seem to work.
Already in 1992, surveys in the United States, as noted by the American Journalism Review’s “A Secret No More,” indicated “that the media, which will report on sexual harassment in government, the military and private business, has more often denied its own problem than addressed it.”
An assistant managing editor of the St. Petersburg Times commented the previous year at a panel on sexual harassment at the American Society of Newspaper Editors convention that “we’re not spending enough money, we’re not spending enough time, we’re not serious about it.”
Do Israel’s newsroom and management offices, two decades later, have policies regarding office ethics, including explicit enforcement plans? If so, do their employees know? Do we, the public, know? Are there guidelines for filing complaints and punishment details? What do we know about sexual harassment within the media? The question has landed on the agenda this past week due to accusations leveled against Immanuel Rosen of Channel 10 News and Educational TV’s own media review program, Tik Tikshoret. It turns out that for many years there was a cloud hanging over Rosen.
After the recent brouhaha, it turns out Channel 2 fired Rosen for his alleged antics three years ago. At the time, Rosen was a reporter for Channel 2’s central news program, Ulpan Shishi.
The Walla Internet site reports Rosen was fired due to a complaint filed by a junior female employee. The director of the Channel 2 news corporation, Mr. Avi Weiss, reportedly appointed a committee to check the complaint and the conclusion was to send Rosen home.
The story has another twist: as reported by Walla, in 2008 journalist Avri Gilad refused to co-anchor Channel 2 Reshet’s program Black Box with Rosen due to the numerous allegations against him.
Thus far the story has its positive side. There was a complaint, a review of behavior, and practical conclusions were reached. But then, in 2010 Rosen was hired by Channel 10 news, no longer as a mere reporter but now as their political correspondent. He landed his job at Educational TV in December, 2008. He was also hired by the 103FM “Radio Without Interruption” station, broadcasting in Tel Aviv, to present their Five in the Evening news roundup together with journalist Ben Caspit.
One cannot help but wonder what his new bosses at Channel 10 knew about him when they hired him.
Or, for that matter, about Caspit. After all, he was employed by Channel 10 from 2002-2006. Did Weiss pass on his information to the Channel 10 managers? If so, what did they do with this information? If Weiss did not pass the information on, why not? Weiss and the management of Channel 10 owe the public some answers. Why didn’t the managers of Reshet respond to Gilad’s concerns with a serious investigation? Consider what would happen if, say, a university hired a professor who had been fired from a different institution under the same circumstances? Would the media have demanded an explanation? What about a politician or a senior government ministry employee? Or a former president? Of course it would have – so why not now? Rosen and his defenders all claim that a defamation campaign is being waged against Rosen. They cite the fact that not one of the women submitted a formal complaint to the police. But as rightly pointed out by Meirav Karako, a senior editor in the Globes newspaper who accused Rosen of obsessively “courting” her, the question is not only a legal one, but also an ethical one.
First of all, their jobs, income and professional advancement are on the line. But an atmosphere in which women are just objects of desire rather than equal human beings is unacceptable, criminal or not.
Media organizations willing to accept such norms should be repudiated by the public. Israel’s media needs a much higher level of ethics when it comes to professional relations between the sexes.
The Rosen affair is one thing, the lack of ethical norms another. For example, Dr. Yitzchak Laor is known as an extreme left-winger, one of the first who refused to perform military duty in “occupied territory.”
But somewhat less well known is the fact that in 2010 Laor was accused in the left-wing blog “Haoketz” of being a serial sexual harasser while serving as a senior editor in the Haaretz newspaper.
To this day, Laor continues working as a journalist for Haaretz. Did his editors set up an investigative commission? In Laor’s case, a woman did complain to the police, albeit too many years after the fact. But one wonders whether also in Haaretz the norms of working relations between the genders need some review.
The issue does not start or end with sexual harassment.
Eli Yatzpan is one of Israel’s famous comedians, certainly a role model to many aspiring young artists? Lior Averbach reported on February 28 that Yatzpan shouted and hurled demeaning, abusive epithets at stagehands for what he thought was wrong with their work.
As reported at the time, this was not a unique occurrence.
It seems that the Channel 10 manager responsible discussed the issue with Yatzpan, demanding he not repeat such behavior. However no real measures were implemented, not even an apology to the workers who were publicly humiliated.
Yatzpan is not the only short-tempered Channel 10 employee. Similar accusations were hurled five years ago against Channel 10’s 5 p.m. news program Five with Rafi Reshef. Many employees of the program complained of public denigration, especially by the program’s manager, Nehushtan Okun, who left the program in 2012, reportedly due to Channel 10’s financial difficulties. But the complaints were also against Reshef himself. Some of the employees described the experience as leaving them with “scars and trauma for the rest of their life.”
The list continues. Rafik Halabi was the editor of Channel 1’s central news program, Mabat. In 2007 he was censored for sexual harassment by the disciplinary court of Israel’s Civil Service Commission. He was forced to leave his senior post at Channel 1, but did this end his career? Not at all. He was promptly employed by Channel 2’s Keshet concessionaire, presenting the program Rafik Halabi in the Field. Only recently it was announced Halabi is running for the post of council head at the Daliat el-Carmel local council. Did anyone in the media raise objections? Media stars are proud that they are portrayed as being influential. They affect fashion styles, music tastes, cultural preferences and political opinions. It is a pity the public allows them also to be icons for a rather shady type of behavior pattern: discrimination against women and even the violation of their personal space, their professional standing and, perhaps, their bodies.
A proper system must be adopted to correct these errors of judgment. The journalists’ ‘omerta’ must be broken, the sooner, the better.
April 18, 2013
by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 17/04/2013
More often than not, the ombudsman chooses the easy way out, giving broadcasters too much freedom.
Israel’s Knesset has at times shown forethought and wisdom in its lawmaking.
An example is the legislation which empowers an “ombudsman,” that is, a public complaints commissioner, to review and act upon abuses of power by our media.
When the Second Television and Radio Authority (SATR) was set up, the Knesset mandated the appointment of an ombudsman whose duties were defined as verifying and responding to public complaints concerning the various broadcasts.
The ombudsman is appointed and reports to the minister in charge of the SATR, giving the complaints commissioner power also over the governing body of the SATR and, seemingly, an independent status.
The mandate is rather broad. The ombudsman will deal with complaints relating to the SATR, to an employee of the SATR or one of the concessionaires – practically anyone related to the broadcasts. The topics are also essentially unlimited. They specifically include broadcasting content, violations of broadcasting codes and ethics. The ombudsman is a public servant and does not deal with complaints of concessionaires against each other or against the SATR.
The law is also rather generous in the powers it gives the complaints commissioner in dealing with complaints.
Any employee under the jurisdiction of the SATR or the concessionaires must respond to queries of the ombudsman. Any document requested must be provided.
Suppose a complaint is deemed to be justified, what happens then? The commissioner has significant power.
She or he may demand that the broadcaster involved broadcast at the time and place decided upon by the ombudsman a clarification and correction of the error as dictated by the ombudsman.
It is the duty of the ombudsman to point out necessary steps for correction of errors – if he deems that his recommendations are ignored, they are to be brought to the responsible minister. If there is a suspicion of criminal activity, the information should be submitted to the attorney-general’s office.
This is the theory. It should work. The ombudsman’s wideranging powers should lead to media organizations closely following relevant ethical codes, for if not, they would face retribution.
The difficulty is that a “good” ombudsman is probably someone who isn’t well liked; no one enjoys being criticized. More often than not, the ombudsman chooses the easy way out, giving broadcasters too much freedom.
Perhaps one of the most important principles of news broadcasting is that “news” and “views” should be separated. More so, the views of an anchor should have no more public weight than the views of any other citizen. The anchor’s expertise is usually not in the specific subject matter being covered. Yet our anchors here in Israel think they are different.
They believe the public simply must know what they think on various issues.
A classic example of this kind of unprofessional behavior is Yonit Levy, the anchor of Channel 2’s daily news program.
On January 9, for example, Levy referred to the “Otzma Leyisrael” political party as the “most extreme” right-wing party in Israel. A similar “extreme right-wing” reference was used to describe demonstrators back on August 14, 2012.
One Avi Komash complained, noting that left-wing parties are never referred to as “extreme.” The ombudsman, David Regev, did not accept the complaint, claiming that “Ms. Levy, by definition, is not a reader and presenter of news, but a journalist. Her journalistic work…
gives her the right to express her opinion.”
Regev’s response was similar when one Winnie Rotem complained about Levy’s remark of July 2, 2012, concerning a Filippino girl who the court decided should be returned to her country. Levy added to the item: “A bit of compassion would not harm Israel’s decision makers.”
Why Regev considers such remarks to be “journalistic” is unfathomable, but such seem to be his standards.
But let us leave political comments aside, for perhaps Regev is just another journalist-turned-ombdusman who finds it necessary to defend his journalist friends. Let us review his performance with regard to preventing advertising from becoming part and parcel of the news.
ON NOVEMBER 25, 2012, Channel 10 news had a long item on a very expensive car. Aviv Frankel, the reporter, and his crew were invited abroad by the manufacturer.
The resulting news item had only superlatives and expressions of wonderment for the car.
The fact that Frankel and his crew were the guests of the company was not mentioned. Nor was it obvious why the item was news.
Chaya Grossman complained, and David Regev defended. An hour before the news, Channel 10, in a promo, made it known that the company funded the trip abroad.
However, this clarification was not provided during the evening news at 8 p.m., so that the viewer at that time had no idea that these were the background facts. Regev also accepted Arnon Gal’s response in the name of Channel 10 that the item was of interest in view of the economic crisis in Europe today. One can only wonder whether Channel 10 would have covered the same item had the channel been made to foot the bill.
Even when Regev notes violations, he does little to prevent them from happening again. A classic example is those radio programs that ask listeners to call in to the station using a 1-900 number. Some of the stations do not make it clear that listeners will be billed heftily for such conversations. A year ago, on April 17, 2012, Regev made his uneasiness about such practices known, but they continue unabated to this very day.
Regev’s inaction creates an atmosphere in which the broadcasters know that they can literally get away with anything. As detailed by Ma’ariv journalist Kalman Libeskind, Channel 2 news broadcast, on March 29, a 14-minute item describing the travails of a Beduin family living in an unrecognized settlement. According to Libeskind, the item included nothing about the fact that the state had already constructed legal housing elsewhere for the family and that most of the family moved there, nor did it detail the suffering of the neighbors from criminal activities such as theft and drug trafficking. Regev has yet to respond to complaints on this issue.
To top all of this, News 1’s Yossef Idan reported on the travails of the Army Radio Station’s venerable Hebrew expert and journalist Dr.
Avshalom Kor. He was invited to an interview on a Channel 2 Reshet program, hosted by Sharon Kiddon.
Kor, an experienced journalist, agreed on condition that he would be interviewed alone. Reshet agreed.
Dr. Kor arrived at the studio on Friday only to find that Kiddon had not kept her word and had invited three other people to the same program.
Kor decided he would have nothing to do with this and left the studio. Kiddon not only did not apologize to Dr. Kor, but went live on the program and bashed him for his unwillingness to appear.
Space limitations prevent us from presenting additional examples.
The broadcasters’ disregard for ethics and professional journalism does not come as a surprise. When the ombudsman is asleep on the job, one cannot expect anything else from our self-appointed and opinionated media.
Perhaps the incoming communications minister, Gilad Erdan, should take note?
April 10, 2013
by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 10/04/2013
Our founding fathers arranged for the memorial days and Independence Day to be so close to each other.
Our media treats our memorial days as the holiest days of the year. There is a huge buildup and attempt to gain interest in the broadcasts way ahead of the actual dates. The serious atmosphere starts rather early.
The broadcasters on the days themselves outdo each other in dealing with various aspects of the memorial days, whether stories about the fallen, the survivors, the moral and ethical issues involved in relating to the Shoah and Israel’s wars and the attempt to put things into historical perspective, whether from a Jewish angle or a humanistic one. Even the music is geared to the atmosphere of the days, with concerts relating to their connection to the Holocaust and so on. Israel’s media is at its best to match the national mood.
There is one aspect which is quite outstanding during the memorial days: there are no advertisements.
The constant barrage of trivia, noise and attempts to brainwash us into purchasing things we don’t need stops. Our media and businesses understand not only that it is not good business to advertise nonsense on such heavy emotional and historic days, some of them probably even identify with the need to relent from daily materialistic pressure on Israel’s population.
It is not an accident that our memorial day for the soldiers and others who fell in Israel’s wars is adjacent to Israel’s Independence Day. This is in the best Jewish tradition whereby the fast of Esther is adjacent to the festival of Purim, Lag Ba’omer is in the midst of the Iyar days of mourning, Succot is adjacent to Yom Kippur. In our Jewish heritage, we relate to the past, respect it, study it and use it to appreciate the present and the future. One cannot appreciate Purim without considering the sacrifice of Esther the Queen in her successful attempt to save the Jewish people.
The same goes for our state. A deep appreciation of Independence Day is not possible without consideration of the events that led to the establishment of the state or the events that occurred after it. The connection between the Holocaust and the formation of the state is self-evident, as is the sacrifice of those people who created our state for us with their lives and who sustained it later on with the maximal sacrifice that a human being can give.
A TRUE appreciation of the miracle of the establishment and survival of the State of Israel is only possible with such perspective. Our founding fathers understood this and arranged for the memorial days and Independence Day to be so close to each other.
This attitude should be contrasted with the Independence Day celebrations in the US, where it is just another vacation day, and most definitely the day on which to do your shopping. The most outstanding characteristic of US Independence Day are the huge sales. Fireworks are funded by companies (Macy’s for one) and used as an important means of advertisement, and many of the parades are business-sponsored.
Independence Day in Israel is celebrated very differently, with arguably the most noticeable characteristic being the family mangal, that is, the gathering together of families and friends in Israel’s parks to have joint barbecues. These should not be trivialized for they bring families and friends together and they are the glue which keeps our society functioning. Independence Day is one day on which our people do not work, do not go shopping, are not immersed in the daily materialistic needs of life, but rather are celebrating with music, good food and camaraderie. This is the way it should be.
It would seem, though, that as in any Jewish society, there are those who are very unhappy with this situation.
These are the advertising companies and the media executives who cooperate with them.
Independence Day should be treated as being as holy as the memorial days. Just as there is no advertising during the latter, there should also be none on Independence Day.
Sadly, advertising in Israel in many ways is the antithesis of the Independence Day atmosphere.
One of the proud achievements of Zionism is the reestablishment of the Hebrew language. Israel’s advertising agencies and their copywriters are doing everything possible to destroy the Hebrew language and replace it with English. Stores use English names, ads are not “in” unless they include some English.
There is no genuine attempt to retain our Hebrew language within our business life.
One might have naively thought that at least on one day – Independence Day – our media would relate more seriously to the Hebrew language, without debasing it through the usual advertising jargon. One might have thought that our businesses would understand this too, but alas, no.
Perhaps though, the language question is the minor one. It is the atmosphere of the day which is the real issue. Advertisements turn the day back into its regular mode: business, materialism and such. The lack of advertising forces the media to use real content. It significantly changes the atmosphere of the day, at least as it appears and is heard on the airwaves.
By law, businesses must be closed on Independence Day. Why then is advertising permitted? One of the usual claims of our media is that forced regulation is counterproductive and that the media knows best how to regulate itself. The fact that advertising is tolerated on this day, not only on the commercial airwaves but also by the public broadcasters serves as evidence that self-regulation does not work.
Our advertisers and media managers, instead of providing their positive contribution to the atmosphere of Independence Day, do the opposite. They trivialize it. Our hope is that the public is so involved in the music and mangals that it does not use the media on this day as much as on other days so that the advertisers not only do not succeed in their commercial objectives, the public undermines it and keeps our Independence Day distinctly Israeli. We do not have to Americanize everything.
April 3, 2013
|MEDIA COMMENT: Ambassadors of goodwill|
|A theme which has arisen time and again in our column is the harm caused abroad by Israel’s media.|
|A theme which has arisen time and again in our column is the harm caused abroad by Israel’s media. The Haaretz newspaper is a special case, but it is not alone. All too often the Israeli media provides one-sided, damaging reports about the country. Just two weeks ago we noted that local journalists use the term “apartheid” without justification, thus playing into the hands of the organizers of anti- Israel events such as Israel Apartheid Week. Too often anti-Israel bias in the foreign media is defended with the claim that it is not any worse than the Israeli media. The upshot of all of this is that, especially outside of the United States, Israel is perceived negatively.
The anti-Israel theme is something that we have to deal with, but not something that can be stopped. At times it is nothing more than a new facet of the anti- Semitism which has plagued us for millennia, and that is quite difficult to stop. However, Israel can and should find original ways to create a positive image for itself. Arguably, the best way to counter the negative portrayal of Israel is by creating positive public opinion about Israel.
We could claim that at least one out of every two people visiting Israel for the first time leaves with a very different image than expected. The authors of this article frequently come into contact with non-Jewish foreigners, and the results are invariably the same.
Our guests note that their media feeds them misinformation – and this is a generous description. When they return home they more often than not become ambassadors of goodwill, able to relate their generally positive experiences to friends (barring sad mishaps with the – at times – obnoxious questioning methods of the Border Police). Israel receives over three million tourists a year. With a bit of thought, forward planning, goodwill and willingness to innovate, we can turn most of them into ambassadors of goodwill for our country.
One way of realizing this is analyzing the things that bother us when we go abroad. Communication is a real thorn, with the need to pay outrageous sums to call home. Even worse are the fees extorted for surfing on our smartphones while abroad. These high fees prevent us from using them for GPS communications, additionally, we do not use the free Internet phones, since the fees for surfing are too high.
Let us then consider the average tourist who comes to Israel. Suppose our Tourism Ministry were to offer a tender to our communications companies, requesting the best possible deal for tourists. While still at the airport the tourist, for a modest fee, would be urged to purchase a sim card which would provide a week or two of surfing, free of extra charge, in one of the major languages. From our own smartphone bills we know that this should not come to more than $10 per week, and even this rate is high compared to that of a local smartphone user.
This small fee would provide the tourist with virtually free phone contact with friends and family abroad. Our tourist would use Twitter, Whatsapp or Facebook to describe her or his experience here in real time. One picture is worth a thousand words. Tourists who feel free to involve friends in their adventures here would send pictures and even videos, multiplying the goodwill created by their visit. Pictures of beautiful Israel might just convince our tourist’s circle of friends that a visit here is a good idea, and thus we could also increase the number of visitors from abroad without resorting to often debasing and humiliating advertisements based on half-nude women.
The goodwill does not end here. Let us consider the GPS system. First of all, the tourist who rents a car will not have to pay exorbitant rental fees for the GPS service. The more tourists use GPS the safer they are, and the safer we are. Admittedly, some rental car agencies might be upset by the loss of revenue, but others might be wise and realize that it is precisely such conditions that will help to turn Israel into a competitive tourist destination.
The GPS system has more uses than just navigation.
Suppose our tourists want to visit Acre, and are interested in advance information. Our Tourism Ministry, with not too much expense, could assure that the GPS system provided for tourists, would, when asked, provide a pop-up with a short historical synopsis and information on places our tourist wishes to visit.
Such historical blurbs might also include reminders of the Israeli presence in Hebron, or the suicide bombing which led to the creation of the separation fence, or just the history of Habima Theater. They would give information about the remnants of armored vehicles scattered along the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway.
If carried out wisely, the GPS system could also be used by advertisers, thereby covering costs, as our tourist would at times want to know where the closest restaurant is, or the gas station, or the cinema, concert hall, etc. She or he might want to order a taxi. The taxi driver, knowing that the passenger has use of a smartphone, would be very careful in demanding exorbitant fees.
We have a new government and a new tourism minister, Dr. Uzi Landau. He is also the founder of the highly successful Eretz Nehederet NGO whose goal is described on its website as: “Eretz Nehederet [A Wonderful Land] is a ‘birthright’ program for Israelis, combating the erosion of the Zionist idea by arranging for Israelis to encounter Israel through unique local trips aimed at renewing the feeling of a common destiny and mutual responsibility, and Zionism.”
The funds and resources of the Tourism Ministry are somewhat larger than those of an NGO. Landau has the opportunity to adapt some of these ideas on a large scale, one which could really create change in the perception of Israel abroad. Our tourist would feel wanted and go home with a warm feeling toward a society which welcomes tourists and makes a real effort to assure a pleasant and rewarding stay.
No one else has yet provided such communications services to their tourists, so again, we would prove that we are an innovative society. We would have created some sorely needed goodwill for ourselves at almost zero cost, and circumvented some of the negative effects created by media coverage.
One only wonders why this has not yet been implemented.