November 13, 2014
by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 11/12/2014
Free newspapers are a fixture in our societies.
Since 1791, the democratic world has viewed the press as nearly sacrosanct, guided by the United States Constitution’s First Amendment that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of…the press.” Eleven years earlier, the reasoning for this amendment was made clear by John Adams and others in Massachusetts when they wrote that, “The liberty of the press is essential to the security of freedom in a state: it ought not, therefore, to be restrained.”
On the other hand, there are probably many sympathetic to the character in Tom Stoppard’s play Night and Day, who supports a free press but says that “it’s the newspapers I can’t stand.”
Here in Israel, in 2014, we are witnessing one of the strangest parliamentary attacks on press freedom in the democratic world. A legislative initiative, titled in the best Orwellian fashion as “The Law for the Furtherance and Protection of the Press,” is making its way through the Knesset chambers.
The bill, proposed by MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) together with other MKs from coalition parties Yisrael Beytenu, Bayit Yehudi, Hatnua and Yesh Atid as well as the opposition faction of Shas, seeks to “strengthen written journalism in Israel and ensure equal and fair conditions of competition between newspapers.” The goal is to be achieved on the basis of the Cabel Principle of Journalism which is that “Free newspapers hurt journalism as well as pluralism and democracy in Israel.”
The bill seeks to obligate the state to prevent the publication of a daily newspaper for free if it has a wide readership. Such a paper is defined as one that appears six days a week and possesses at least 30 pages (100 on weekends and holidays). Another test is that it must be one of the four top distributed newspapers. The proposal also has a supposed economic rationale, which the sponsors claim will protect fair competition in the market of printed journalism.
The bill obviously and blatantly targets one newspaper, Israel Hayom. It is a “personal law” directed against a specific entity rather than a general one. If passed, the actual result would be destroying competition, recreating the virtual monopoly of a rival newspaper and, as Professor Asa Kasher phrased it, an “unlawful attempt to inflict forfeiture of rights and/or property without judicial process.” In short, the legislation is quite undemocratic.
MK Cabel has a history of waging parliamentary wars against media outlets that do not share his political views, which are far left-of-center. His bias was obvious. On the one hand he succeeded in shutting down the Arutz 7 radio station’s broadcasting. On the other, he helped save the left-wing-dominated Channel 10 television station from being forced to fold due to its mismanagement, wastage of funds and lack of quality programming, not once but many times.
The internal contradiction of the present law is further compounded by the fact that it will mainly benefit Yediot Aharonot. This newspaper empire achieved its dominant role when, in the 1960s, it engaged in massive free distribution in order to successfully challenge its then leading competitor, the powerful Ma’ariv newspaper.
Why would parliamentarians act to recreate a media monopoly and why would right-wing MKs assist an anti-right-wing conglomerate to reestablish its rule over public opinion? What could be said in these politicians’ favor is that they are somewhat more imaginative than Tommy Morris. In early 2013, Morris, aide to Irish politician Derek Keating, sought to prevent the distribution of the free Lucan Gazette. His solution was straightforward and, unfortunately for him, caught on camera. He was observed entering a shop, picking up a pile of copies and dumping them in a garbage can and then repeating the maneuver.
Free newspapers are a fixture in our societies.
Checking the Wikipedia entry, we found almost 100 free newspapers being distributed and it is estimated that in Europe about one out of five newspapers read by the public is distributed free of charge.
So why are these politicians involved in such a law, when even former Haaretz editor Hanoch Mamari listed in The Seventh Eye 10 reasons not to vote for the law? The only possible reason is that despite the high-sounding words, this is just about low politics. It is no secret that Israel Hayom is strongly sympathetic to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The paper’s owner, Sheldon Adelson, is one of his outspoken backers.
It is also well known that parties such as Yisrael Beytenu and Bayit Yehudi present a very serious electoral challenge to Netanyahu.
Shas is also not applauding Netanyahu’s politics.
Israel Hayom, especially during the most recent election campaign, took meaningful steps to discredit all of these political parties.
Consider for example Naftali Bennett.
Already in December 2012, Israel Hayom’s political correspondent Matti Tuchfeld was pointing a finger at a developing relationship between Minister Bennett and Yediot, angering his supporters, who responded on Internet forum discussions at Rotter.net. Aviv Horwitz, Mako’s media critic, writing in August 2013, detailed, and not for the first time, what he considered “favoritism” being displayed by Yediot towards Bennett.
He noted a Friday headline from May 31, 2013, accompanied by a picture of Bennett going off to spend time with army buddies – not a very political story – and then later that week, a story about Bennett celebrating Rabbi David Stav’s selection as the party’s candidate for the position of chief rabbi spread over several pages.
He continued with a list of items, noting headlines, captions, column inches, relatively insignificant actions, such as shooting-range results, items on minor party personalities in places like Beit Shemesh and more.
The sad conclusion is that the proposed law has little to do with lofty ideals such as freedom of the press, but everything to do with petty, small-minded and short-sighted thinking on the part of right-wing politicians. They have a fantastic record of destroying rightwing causes and furthering those of the Left.
This bill, if passed, will be another in a string of these “successes.”
Indeed, Likud Minister Gilad Erdan, who decided in the end to remain in Israel rather than accepting a diplomatic appointment abroad, can chalk up another such success – the decision of the Broadcasting Authority to air the Jews are Coming TV series, considered by its creators to be a satirical program.
Our impression, according to its promotional material, is that its “humor” is nothing but a very base and primitive portrayal of Jewish history and values, that debases the Jewish tradition. Queen Esther, they prefer, should be seen as a harlot.
If the law proceeds, will free websites be next? Is free distribution as a marketing strategy to become a crime? Why are the politicians pushing this law willing to become laughing stocks when the Supreme Court, as it presumably will, disqualifies the legislation? Do the politicians know something the public does not? Perhaps our Supreme Court judges, too, will act according to political motives and for the sake of headlines in Yediot Aharonot?
November 6, 2014
By YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 11/06/2014
Israel’s media for the most part lacks perspective when it comes to the Temple Mount.
This past Monday morning, Barak Ravid of Haaretz provided his readers with a remarkable insight into the quirkiness of news reporting here in Israel when the platform, be it a newspaper, web site, radio or television station, is more interested in either spinning news or managing it, rather than fulfilling the first commandment of journalism: to tell it as it is.
In this case, the news was of the supposed, at the time, meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdallah II. Ravid wrote of the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida which was his source that it had “been used in recent years as a means for leaking and whitewashing information by sources in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office.
More than once, the newspaper has published stories on goings on at Netanyahu’s bureau that later turned out to be true. However, in other instances, its reports about Netanyahu’s office were proved false.”
A reader would reasonably expect that with the source having an approximate 50% success rate, the headline for that story would have been something like “Unreliable Arab newspaper claims Netanyahu-Abdallah meeting.”
But no, it was ‘Report: Netanyahu, Jordan’s King Abdullah secretly meet… has not been confirmed by the Israeli or Jordanian governments.” This is but another instance of “reporting,” where the media is not a channel for providing reliable information and proven data but an instrument for the brainwashing of the media consumer.
The evolving stories of Jewish rights to and on the Temple Mount, diplomatic relations with Jordan, Israel’s not-quite-a-process of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority were all dramatically heightened by the recent attempt to assassinate Rabbi Yehuda Glick of the HaLiba project, an incident which provided insight into the workings of Israel’s media.
As we pointed out in our column of October 6, 2012, Israel’s media for the most part lacks perspective when it comes to the Temple Mount. At that time, reports on the increasing level of Muslim fabrications concerning the Jewish presence on the Mount were meager.
The Islamist campaign of incitement intended to deny Jewish rights and foment violence was somehow “understood” and “accepted” by the press. Israeli Arab leaders were not called upon to condemn the Arab incitement and violence as are Jewish leaders upon every so-called “price tag” incident.
Earlier that year, on August 15, we noted that the lack of Israeli media interest in the Temple Mount story consistently resulted in the relegation of the Jewish side of the story to “eccentricity status.” Too often, our media does not accept that in the national struggle between Jews and Arabs there even is a Jewish side.
The attempted assassination of Rabbi Glick by a Muslim fanatic did make waves, but was it enough to change the attitudes of the editors, reporters and columnists who set the media agenda? A November 1 Haaretz headline read: “Not your typical Temple Mount zealot.” In the story, author Roi Arad informed readers that “Glick is an exceptional right-wing activist, who also befriends secular Jews and left-wingers” and “views the [Temple Mount] matter as a question of freedom of worship for members of all religions… [and] he doesn’t arouse anger among the Left….” While appearing empathetic, this narrative again reinforces the view that the issue of freedom of religion on the Temple Mount is “not normal” and not readily accepted by Haaretz’s readership.
And it isn’t just our media establishment.
US spokespersons and even Secretary of State John Kerry have demanded that Israel preserve “the historic status quo.” Would Kerry demand that America’s Supreme Court seek to preserve a status quo that discriminated against the blacks? Not one reporter informed Israelis that Muslims are acting just like the Christian activists at the Cordoba Cathedral in Spain which had been turned into a mosque and was returned to its previous status as a Christian place of worship. Muslims have traveled to the Cathedral from as far away as Austria to conduct pray-ins, but Muslims will not tolerate similar actions by Jews in Jerusalem who want to pray at their holy site. Neither will they consider adopting the arrangement that exists in Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs for the Temple Mount.
The media discourse on the issue is mostly shallow, and the media seems to find it extremely difficult to reflect Jewish values rather than seeking a non-partisan universalist framework.
The circumstances of the assassination attempt assured that Glick personally was treated (mostly) in a positive light, even in ideologically hard-left media platforms. Uri Misgav, who had published an article calling Temple Mount activists “abnormal nut-jobs” the very morning of the shooting felt the need to remove it – but only because right-wingers were “dancing on the blood” and exploiting it to further their cause.
The link between the “quiet intifada” in the capital, the attacks on Jerusalem’s light rail, the Jewish construction in the City of David neighborhood and the Temple Mount, together with a heavy-handed tone of condemnation emanating from the United States (not to mention outright slurs) clearly complicate the ability of reporters to deal with the theme professionally.
As it was when Ariel Sharon ascended Mount Moriah in 2000 and Gershon Solomon did in the 1990s, the media is more equipped to deal with a personal drama – currently Glick’s – than substantive issues, and in fact prefers that framework.
The media could review decades of decisions of Israel’s High Court of Justice to help media consumers understand the legal issues involved. It could include contextual information such as Middle East history and examinations of the “patronage” claim of the Hashemite kingdom over the holy sites in Jerusalem. Coverage should include diplomatic documents, deliberations in the Knesset plenum and its committees and those of Israel’s governments, as well as archaeological reports, Jewish history and more. The media should press Arab MKs, too, not just Jewish ones.
Editors need to be more informed, and real experts invited to serve as sources and panelists, rather than the usual boring public figures whose opinions are known in advance.
It would be better if the desk managers could direct their reporters to sources capable of providing varied angles on any given story.
The new TV Channel 20 treated viewers to a confrontational format coming from the nationalist viewpoint, which demonstrates that journalists can be better balanced and pluralistic and provide the media consumer with a better product. But if the atmosphere in the news rooms is uniform, it is difficult to go in another, more professional direction.
October 30, 2014
By YISRAEL MEDAD,ELI POLLAK, 10/29/2014
Upon becoming minister, Erdan identified a number of actions which could affect large parts of the population.
Likud MK Gilad Erdan has served as communications minister for the past year and a half. His predecessor, former Likud MK Moshe Kahlon, had a huge impact on the Israeli public during his four-year tenure.
Kahlon’s insistence that cell phone usage was outrageously expensive and needed to be reduced, his forceful leadership and ability to withstand huge political and economical pressure made its mark: as we all know, our cell phone bills are no longer outrageous.
Erdan’s entry into the ministry presented him with a challenge and an opportunity.
The challenge was to fill the void left by Kahlon; it is not every day a minister can even consider a strategy which would reduce the taxpayers’ burden by billions of shekels.
The opportunity was that Kahlon had succeeded in greatly increasing the ministry’s influence on our daily lives.
As minister, Kahlon mostly addressed communications per se, and even with so restricted a focus had only partial success.
For example, we still pay very high phone rates when we go abroad. Erdan realized this and initiated a number of steps to reduce the burden. Simply by announcing this past August that his ministry would consider regulatory measures which would force the cell phone operators to significantly reduce the expense has created positive change. Led by Golan Telecom, with Cellcom following shortly thereafter, prices have already been significantly reduced. But the final impact of this on the average taxpayers’ monthly bill is rather limited.
What Kahlon did not do, however, was address the second aspect of his ministry’s responsibilities: regulating the media industry.
Upon becoming minister, Erdan identified a number of actions which could affect large parts of the population in this regard.
It is no secret that in Israel, media regulation does not work. The word “quality” is foreign to our commercial TV. The main competition between TV channels 10 and 2 involves reducing expenses while still keeping sufficient public attention to sell commercials.
The commercial TV news channels are characterized by sensationalism, superficial coverage and cultural and political bias.
Israel needs more media purveyors and a different regulatory structure.
A second issue is public broadcasting. Israel is wasting over a billion shekels a year on publicly funded media organizations, most of it going to the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
The IBA’s TV stagnated and quality local programming disappeared over the years.
Corruption was a way of life at the IBA and all previous attempts to change the situation failed. (We do note that Kahlon’s responsibilities did not include the IBA, but it was reinstated at the beginning of Erdan’s tenure.) The Educational TV network, operating within the Education Ministry and whose annual budget was around NIS 100 million, is not doing much better than the IBA.
To add to all this, one of the ridiculous aspects of Israel’s governmental system is that the law and the Justice Ministry prohibit the communications minister or his or her officials from “interfering” in the daily operations of the media purveyors, including the publicly funded ones. This is done in the name of separation between politics and the media, supposedly safeguarding the media from political pressure and intervention. This makes it very difficult for any minister to create real change.
The minister’s power is limited to appointing members of the regulatory boards and even here, the minister is subject to the strict and politically motivated veto of the Justice Ministry, who can with impunity nullify any of the minister’s appointments. Thus, although the media industry needed deep change, it was not at all clear whether any communications minister could actually create it.
Erdan did not approach these issues as a babe in the woods. He had intimate knowledge of the operational structure of the IBA, having served on its board from 1998-2000.
He was also chair of the Knesset Economics Committee from 2006-2009 and became intimate with all aspects of media regulation in Israel. Among other tasks, he took an important part in the legislative process which led to the 2012 version of the public broadcasting law.
It is thus not surprising that Erdan’s most important impact is the closing down of the old IBA and creation of the Public Broadcasting Corporation (PBC). Realizing that revamping the publicly funded media was impossible by conventional means, Erdan decided that the only possible route to create change was to use his influence as a minister via the legislative process. The bottom line is that the new law has adopted our policy, suggested a dozen years ago in these pages. The unfair TV tax has been abolished and replaced by the car tax, which is paid for by all, with the rich (who own more cars) paying more than the poor who have one or none.
Erdan’s legislation abolished educational TV, unifying it within the PBC. The new law obliges the PBC to outsource almost all of its TV programming, barring the news. It reduces the manpower of the PBC by over half. The expected annual budget of the PBC will be 30 percent to 40% percent less than what is it today. Erdan has just finished the process of appointing a new council for the Second TV and Radio Authority (SATR). He wisely removed the previous chairman, Dr.
Ilan Avisar, the head of the TV programming committee, Yaakov Shacham, and the head of the radio committee, Yossi Elituv. All three failed miserably, as outlined elsewhere in our columns. Unprecedentedly, two thirds of the new council are women.
At the same time, Erdan continued the process initiated by his predecessor Kahlon of unifying the SATR with the Satellite and Cable TV regulatory board. The purpose is to streamline the regulatory body and bring it up to date with the enormous technological developments of recent years, which no longer really differentiate between one broadcasting method and the other. However, this legislative process, which one would think is much easier to implement than the dismantling of the IBA, has not yet been finished.
In fact, Erdan is leaving the Communications Ministry too early. Although he did abolish the TV tax, it is not at all clear that the net result is a savings for the taxpayer.
The immense financial cost of firing 1,000 employees is not clear at all. The taxpayer will bear the burden and one can assume that the Histadrut will make sure the bill is hefty. Will the new PBC really be better, or just more of the same? Erdan’s law assures that the new PBC will be dominated by Israel’s media elites; not a good prescription for real change.
Nothing is forcing Erdan to leave the ministry.
As a public servant, motivated by a desire to improve the life of Israel’s citizens, he should have remained in office to assure that the very positive vehicles of change that he initiated would come to full fruition. Is his departure a sign that he really knows that he would not have been able to succeed?
October 23, 2014
by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 10/22/2014
the anti-Zionist vogue has spilled over into the media. The influence is pervasive
Creeping anti-Zionism in Israel’s media An anti-Zionist malaise has always existed, especially among Jewish society elites. Lord Edwin Montague, British secretary of state for India, attempted to sabotage the Balfour Declaration, telling prime minister Lloyd George, “All my life I have been trying to get out of the ghetto.
You want to force me back there.” Judah L. Magnes, Hebrew University president, sought to restrict Jewish immigration in the 1930s.
On the eve of statehood on May 4, 1948, he suggested to US secretary of state George Marshall and then to president Harry Truman that contributions from Americans to Israel be “cut off” and that America “impose… financial sanctions.”
In recent years, a variety of groups have been monitoring the anti-Zionism embedded in Israeli academic circles. The bad joke is that whereas scholars in the fields of a wide range of scientific spheres of study gather together out of a sincere love of their chosen subject, Israel-related conferences are packed with those who very much are hostile to Israel and Zionism.
The Im Tirzu NGO, for example, produced a study of the bibliography suggested by lecturers for their university courses on themes of Israel history and Zionism. The mandatory reading was found to be biased, one-sided and politically motivated in favor of what we could term “Palestinianism.” The significant presence of academics on media talk shows and discussion panels has to varying degrees naturally led the anti-Zionist vogue to spill over into the media. The influence is pervasive and it is not surprising that too many in our media then provide platforms for its dissemination.
This past Saturday evening, Rina Matzliach, political correspondent of Channel Two television, interviewed Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman. Her next-to-last question touched upon the “Milky Affair,” the Facebook initiative of an Israeli who emigrated to Berlin (after trying out Paris) and claimed that his main motivation for doing so was the lower price of the chocolate-flavored pudding in Germany.
She opened her question by stating that “the young Israelis do not find their place in Israel any more.” She could have said “some Israeli youth” or “what appears to be a growing number,” or, even better, “the media is painting the picture that large numbers of young Israelis are leaving.” But she didn’t. She preferred the negative construct, as if Israeli youth were moving overseas en masse.
If she had bothered to read Haaretz, she would have seen in its economic section, The Marker, the headline of Lior Dattel’s October 14 story. It read: “Israeli emigration slowing down, despite fears of ‘Berlin aliya.’” Dattel informed us that “despite the ‘Milky scare,’ only a few thousand Israelis live in Berlin.”
Had she read the first paragraph of the article, she would have learned that “despite concerns over a wave of emigration from Israel…
figures show that the rate of emigration has slowed dramatically, and that in 2012 the rate was the lowest since the state was established.
Emigration is also low in comparison to member countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.”
But that would have interfered with the drama she sought to inject into her interview, if not the overtly anti-Israel message she was projecting. Matzliach was not seeking information but using her prime-time slot to present an untruth.
Dattel’s story in Haaretz, however, was itself an exception. Other stories in Haaretz attempted to inflate the emigration story. Typical headlines were: “Israel’s leaders are to blame for the emigration to Berlin” (October 10, 2014); “Poll: One-third of Israelis think about leaving” (September 7, 2014); “The right has turned Israel into a hopeless place,” (October 13, 2014).
Sever Plutzker, a senior journalist writing in Yediot Aharonot, was more professional. He looked up the facts. Unemployment is twice as high in Berlin as in Israel, and life expectancy in Israel is 82.3 vs. 80 years in Berlin. While a typical food purchase in Tel Aviv cost $480 vs.
$390 in Berlin, a typical clothing purchase was $580 in Tel Aviv vs. $710 in Berlin. In other words, much ado about nothing. Some things are better in Berlin, others in Israel. But Mazliach and her cohorts had no use for the facts; they were promoting an agenda.
Haaretz’s main agenda, as we have documented in our columns, is the dismantling of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, supporting the agenda of the Palestinian Authority and bringing down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Its headlines are repeated over the radio and senior TV and radio staff all too often select their stories and their interviewees mostly from its pages.
Haaretz’s bias was starkly displayed this week in its English-language edition. As blogger Elder of Ziyon pointed out, when describing Jewish attempts to enter the Temple Mount, three Arab news websites, Al Arabiya, Al Bawaba and Ma’an, used quotes around the word “attacks” or used the less inflammatory term “provocations” in their headlines for the Jewish actions. But Haaretz had one up on them; it not only used the term “attack” but also added the accusation that the only Jews who ascend to the Temple Mount are “settlers.” Haaretz refers to the Temple Mount as “al-Aksa.”
Al Jazeera’s October 17 headline was simply: “Rift over access to al-Aksa ignites clashes”; Haaretz was more anti-Israel than some typically anti-Israel Arab media.
Haaretz was not always so. A former editor, Hanoch Marmari, while clearly left wing, always knew where to draw the line between valid criticism and anti-Zionism. Marmari is today the editor of the Israel Democracy Institute’s The Seventh Eye online journal.
In an article which appeared on October 12 he opened by asking whether some editorial decisions were not a result of “self-decapitation.”
He continued by insisting that today’s Haaretz is infected by a “virus” which “creates provocations” and has developed into a “pandemic” condition resulting from a “poisonous mushroom” in the paper.
He saved his most cutting criticism, however, for a demand by reporter Chaim Levinson to basically dumb down the Hebrew language.
At Israel’s Media Watch we have compiled a list of foreign words in use over our electronic broadcasting networks. The words used have equivalent Hebrew language terms, but the foreign terminology is preferred. Some typical examples are: “vacuum,” “militant,” “comeback” and “spin,” “attractive,” “element,” “picnic” and “popular.” This preference for the English language is a stab in the back of the revival of the Hebrew language, one of the central successes of the Zionist movement.
As Ben-Dror Yemini wrote last September 22 in his Ynet column on whether Israel’s democracy is in danger, in essence the real danger to the country’s democratic fabric is “Leftists obsessed with telling the world that Israel is becoming more racist and more fascist, and to hell with the facts.” And that is the essence of Israel’s media anti-Zionism.
October 13, 2014
by YISRAEL MEDAD,ELI POLLAK, 10/12/2014
Emails openly available in Google groups show that two of the authors, Manducca and Ang, have sympathies with the views of David Duke, a white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard.
Presumably most of us enjoyed reading to our children Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears A Who. Horton the elephant has big ears and so picks up even the faintest sounds. He hears something from a small speck of dust almost flying into a pool, saves it and protects it from the other animals who threaten to boil it. Deciding that voices must be raised in unison, Horton finally succeeds despite various obstacles and the planet of Whoville is saved.
Seuss understood human behavior. The world too often does not respect the different, the strange. Worse, they try to eliminate it. It takes the effort of all involved to prevent disaster. In his book, it was the voice of one lad that made all the difference. Seuss was an optimist, believing that the world really does listen, and is willing to admit error.
What does all this have to do with an op-ed on the media? Usually, we write about the Israeli media, but in the spirit of Succot, considered to be the universal festival, we dedicate this article to an international story, one which has everything to do with media ethics in which Israel is but a minor player.
The faithful readers of this paper would be by now familiar with a real-life Horton, Professor Richard Charles Horton, the editor of the high-profile scientific journal, The Lancet, considered to be one of the world’s leading medical journals. The Lancet does not shy away from political issues. It has been at the center of many a controversy, not least the question of the exorbitant subscription prices that Elsevier, the Dutch-based company that publishes it, demands.
Much has been written in this newspaper as in most other Israeli media outlets, about the July 28 letter to the editor published in The Lancet under the title “An open letter for the people of Gaza.” As reported in The Jerusalem Post and as researched by NGO Monitor, the central authors of the letter, Paola Manduca, Iain Chalmers, Derek Summerfied, Mads Gilbert and Swee Ang, are not sweet innocents whose only purpose in life is to save lives. But this is not the issue to which we wish to relate.
We don’t intend here to claim that the war in Gaza was or was not humane or justified. Rather, in the context of the concept of “media,” The Lancet, also belongs to this field. Just as the media is guided (or rather should be guided) by an ethics code, so too should a scientific journal that permits itself to become a platform for political issues. Without truth in publishing, science as we know it today could not be maintained.
One of the most powerful tools that editors of scientific journals have at their disposal is the retraction of a paper. The pressure on scientists to have their research appear in prestigious publications cannot be overstated. Their professional life often depends on it. “Publish or perish” is a truthful description of scientific life. Once in a while, articles are retracted. Sometimes due to honest error, but all too often, it is due to the falsification of facts, such as laboratory results. Reprisal is harsh for when the article is retracted and the institution involved usually opens a commission of inquiry. Frequently a consequence is that the guilty author’s professional life is terminated. Such a process, tragically, has even ended with suicide.
Elsevier’s code of ethics is clearly stated: “Public trust in the peer review process and the credibility of published articles depend in part on how well conflict of interest is handled during writing, peer review, and editorial decision making. Conflict of interest exists when an author (or the author’s institution), reviewer, or editor has financial or personal relationships that inappropriately influence his or her actions [such relationships are also known as dual commitments, competing interests, or competing loyalties]. These relationships vary… The potential for conflict of interest can exist whether or not an individual believes that the relationship affects his or her scientific judgment. Financial relationships… are the most easily identifiable conflicts of interest and the most likely to undermine the credibility of the journal, the authors, and of science itself. However, conflicts can occur for other reasons, such as personal relationships, academic competition, and intellectual passion.”
The authors of the Gaza letter, as demanded from all people who submit letters to The Lancet, had stated that “We declare no competing interests.” This was far from the truth, and Professor Horton must have known this. In an appendix to their letter, the authors delineated their “past experience,” which clearly pointed out that they were in a state of “personal relationships that inappropriately influence his or her actions.” As mentioned in the NGO Monitor report, the peoplesvoice.org website reported that on February 2, 2009 that The Lancet’s Global Health Network published an article of Dr. Swee Ang and Dr. Ghassan Abu Sitta entitled “The Wounds of Gaza.” The Network, in its introduction to the article noted that “Two surgeons from the UK… managed to get into Gaza during the Israeli invasion. Here they… conclude that the people of Gaza are extremely vulnerable and defenseless in the event of another attack.“ On March 2, 2009, the journal removed the article stating, “We have taken down the blog post ‘The Wounds of Gaza’ because of factual inaccuracies.”
A cache of emails openly available in Google groups show that two of the authors, Manducca and Ang, have sympathies with the views of David Duke, a white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard. Wasn’t this sufficient for turning on all the red lights at The Lancet? In fact, it went even further and on August 28 published a sequel by the same authors, “Israel–Gaza conflict – Authors’ reply” in which they stated, “We declared no conflicts since none of us has any relevant financial interests.”
Professor Horton and Elsevier have ample reason for retracting both July 28 and August 28 letters. By refraining from doing so, they are violating one of the most important standards of conduct of the scientific community and their own ethics publishing code. Many in the community have raised their voices. Horton, who was invited to Israel by Rambam Hospital made some sounds of regret, but as we have all been taught by Maimonides, regret is not sufficient, it needs action. As of the writing of this letter, neither Horton nor Elsevier retracted the letters.
One of us is the chairman of the Chemical Physics Department at the Weizmann Institute of Science and for fifteen years a member of the advisory editorial board of an Elsevier publication, Chemical Physics. He resigned from the board, stating that “I find it my duty to do the little I can, to try and make sure that such a breach of public trust, which harms our scientific community, does not go unanswered.”
Our real life Professor Horton, did not hear the “who.” Dr. Seuss would be disappointed.
October 2, 2014
by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 10/01/2014
Media ethics is an ongoing struggle, and not only in Israel.
Another Hebrew calendar year has come to a close and we are in the period of taking account, both of the successes and failures of Israel’s media as well as our own activities. Almost 20 years have passed since we founded Israel’s Media Watch (IMW). Our goals were to monitor the Israeli media, judge its performance according to the media’s own codes of ethics and the laws of the country, and seek to prevent media bias which undermines Israel’s democratic fiber.
Media ethics is an ongoing struggle, and not only in Israel. A month ago, the American-based Society of Professional Journalists approved a new code of ethics at its Nashville convention. Citing the idea that “a just society and good government require an informed public,” the code seeks to ensure that reported information “is accurate, fair and thorough.”
At that same convention, the Radio and Television Digital News Association proposed a new code of ethics whose core is the proposition that “journalism verifies, provides relevant context, tells the rest of the story and acknowledges the absence of important additional information.”
One issue dealt with by these overseas bodies is one with which we are quite familiar here in Israel. Due to the pressure of deadlines and sharp competition, corners are cut, complex concerns are oversimplified and editors are too busy with “trending,” “going viral” or “exploding on social media.” The end product is less reliable and informative.
Given this reality, abroad as well as in Israel, what was the past year like? While the Americans worry about ethics, here at the Israel Broadcasting Authority, which is now under receivership, there is no longer a binding code of ethics.
The old authority tried to install a new code, one which we thought was counterproductive as it undermined journalistic responsibility. Contradictory resolutions were passed by the IBA boards with the result being that the IBA’s complaints commissioner can validate almost any ethical infraction of the IBA’s “stars”.
One would hope that the new leadership would quickly step in and install a binding code of ethics.
Just last week, Israel’s High Court of Justice handed down its decision on the drawn-out “Captain R” affair.
The captain’s name was besmirched by Channel 2’s Uvda program produced by Dr. Ilana Dayan. The court, by majority vote, decided to uphold a previous ruling that Dayan is not liable for libel and therefore the fine of NIS 300,000 set by the district court was annulled.
Dayan, whose program wrongly portrayed the officer as the cold-blooded killer of a young girl, announced that the court “anchored the basic principles of freedom of expression in its decision.”
Truthfully though, the court’s decision was a mixed bag. First of all, the TV station was still fined NIS 100,000 for its unfair promos against Captain R. Secondly, the court did not uphold the previous decision that “momentary truth” is a valid defense against libel cases. Thirdly, Dayan paid a heavy personal price for her tactics. Anyone who has had a court case knows that they involve sleepless nights and worries about the future. Moreover, the court did not order Captain R to pay court expenses to Dayan. In other words, although the court exonerated her of libel and reduced the NIS 300,000 fine, Dayan was indeed punished.
One can assume that in the future she will be much more careful. The media industry paid careful attention to the court’s lengthy judgment and knows that libel is still a violation which may lead to harsh sentences.
Will this judgment improve our media? Hopefully, yes.
We noted in this column several times our serious misgivings with respect to the future of the newly created state-sponsored Public Broadcasting Corporation.
Will it continue to limit the plurality of opinion? Will the narrow-minded focus of its predecessor, the IBA, continue to be the ethos of the new PBC? If so, it would be undermining its important goal of facilitating a genuine dialogue between Israel’s citizens and its political, economic and cultural institutions. Or will the new year bring with it a breath of fresh air? Not only the new PBC, but also the other outlets and networks, radio as well as television, continue to be poorly regulated. The ombudsmen are either lacking in personal courage, or prefer their friends in the media or their positions and financial compensation over the need to call out violations of media laws and professional codes of ethics with appropriate actions against the offenders.
We perceive, and our columns have brought to light multiple examples, month after month and year after year, on a variety of issues, the existence of a media-political complex which allows left-wing views to dominate our airwaves, with near impunity. Panels lack balance. Expert columnists have a one-way view. Concerns of certain groups whether political, religious or ethnic, are ignored. Israel’s media image, despite the country’sdemographic changes over the decades, is still secular, left-wing liberal and Western-oriented.
One bright aspect is that when IMW set out on its mission two decades ago, we were alone in the field.
An effort a decade earlier under the slogan “The People Versus A Hostile Media” was short-lived. Today, there are several left-leaning groups combating media bias, such as The Seventh Eye journal and Tel Aviv University’s Chaim Herzog Institute for Media Politics & Society. Even the far Left has established its own media review organization: Keshev. Columnists specializing in media criticism such as Kalman Liebskind, Erel Segal, Emily Amrusi, Dr. Dror Eydar and Ben-Dror Yemini enjoy a broad readership.
The Internet has sprouted valuable media review organizations in Israel, such as Presspectiva and the Velvet Underground blog of Dvorit Shargal. In academia, scholars have also begun to pick up on media review.
Some of these contributions were recognized by the prestigious Abramowitz Israeli Media Criticism Prize.
Nevertheless, the inertia, the historic process of “a friend bringing a friend” by which the media replicates itself, the power of government budgets and commercial financial interests all manage to defend what should be indefensible. Media infractions receive protection from politicians, from judges, from fellow media personnel and, to our chagrin, a public that is too often apathetic to actually mobilize.
Channel 10 literally rode roughshod over and simply steamrolled the members of Knesset when it wanted to continue to broadcast despite all its failings and unethical performance. The army’s Galei Tzahal radio station is still working in financial secrecy. News anchors continue to get away with making remarks that color the facts in accordance with their viewpoints.
As we go into the year 5775, Israel does not yet have a “robust media” or a truly free press. Israeli media may be more appropriately described as the tool of the country’s elite. Our hopes for the coming year are increased pluralism, for example implementation of Communications Minister Gilad Erdan’s program to turn Channel 2’s Reshet and Keshet companies into two independent channels, close down Channel 10 permanently and open the field to anyone who wants and knows how to broadcast.
September 21, 2014
by YISRAEL MEDAD,ELI POLLAK, 09/17/2014
Are we getting a new broadcasting authority or is it only an exterior change of clothes?
We have been critical of some of the aspects involved in the creation of the new Public Broadcasting Authority which is to replace the old Israel Broadcasting Authority. Nevertheless, we also are hoping that the new entity will improve, be more open to the public and its needs, fair-minded, balanced and pluralistic. Are these expectations too far-reaching? Thus far, there has not been much change in the programming. Keren Neubach, with her personal social agenda, is still there from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Kol Israel’s Reshet Bet. The size of the defense budget is one of her favorite subjects. She leaves no doubt as to her opinion that too much money flows into defense, at the expense of social services and needs. But a week ago Sunday, she went overboard.
The Iron Dome missile defense system irrefutably saved many lives during the past few years and especially during Operation Protective Edge. The system is the baby of a special unit, the Defense Directorate for Research and Development, known in Hebrew as MAFAT. It operates under the aegis of the Defense Ministry and the IDF. Its job is to prepare the IDF for future challenges. Developing the Iron Dome was no small feat and the cost ran into the billions of shekels. As anyone who has ever dealt with development of new equipment knows, the risks are great and the guarantee of success nonexistent.
In fact, at the start among a few alternatives two major strategies were considered.
One was the missile strategy that was adopted, and the other was a laser defense strategy, which was being developed in the US. One of the central figures that tried to persuade MAFAT that the laser system was the better option was Col. (res.) Yossi Langozky.
He was not successful, but the story does not end there.
Langozky, an engineer, claims that for years he has warned that the Gaza tunnels are a strategic threat, but no one listened to him, including the people in MAFAT. Relating to the defense budget, Neubach “interviewed” a fortnight ago General (res.) Maharan Prosenfer. As usual, she did most of the talking while the general mostly listened. This is how it went: Neubach: “I have to read to you in this context of research and development a citation from Yossi Langozky in an interview with Giddi Weitz of Haaretz. …In MAFAT he [Langozky] says, they work like Histadrut clerks. They come to work at 8:15 a.m., pick up two phones to the bank, have a meeting, at 10:30 coffee break, they work another hour or so, noon break, another three hours of work and at four or five they go home. This is the way to solve operational challenges? Is he correct? Is Langozky’s description accurate?” Prosenfer: “Look, I don’t know the officers and civilians who work in MAFAT, but… they don’t call the bank, I am not aware of those who contact the bank.”
Neubach: “So I will tell you about someone I know who has an 18-year-old daughter who serves in a software unit, an excellent computer student. She sat next to the officers every day, wrote the software while they checked on what was happening, what’s new with their stocks, then went out for a walk, arrived at 10 a.m., left at 4 p.m. – officers that you and I pay the salaries of, including their lucrative pensions.”
Neubach here did not limit herself to citing Langozky but added a fairly fanciful tale about, for all intents and purposes, an unhappy girl doing a job she did not like, and used it to defame the IDF, and in an anonymous fashion at that. The implications of her statement were clear: the IDF is wasting our money and we should not increase its funding.
Neubach was unprofessional. As an informed journalist, she should have known that Langozky had axes to grind with respect to MAFAT. Neubach knew beforehand that she was going to accuse MAFAT on the show, so why didn’t she do the professional thing and have a MAFAT representative, or someone familiar with all sides of the story on the show, so that the public would have a chance to hear something besides what Neubach wanted them to hear? At Israel’s Media Watch, we heard, listened – and acted.
On September 8, a letter was sent to Yona Wiesenthal, the present acting head of the broadcasting authority. We are still waiting for an answer. Is this the new authority or the old one? Communications Minister Gilad Erdan is rightly proud of having abolished the TV tax, saving Israel’s citizens hundreds of millions of shekels per year. But are we getting better radio? The previous chair of the IBA, Dr. Amir Gilat, ordered that Israel radio would limit itself to at most nine minutes of advertising per hour. We checked this and found that nowadays, the norm is 10 to 12 minutes. Here, too, we wrote a letter to Wiesenthal. This was passed on to the IBA’s complaints commissioner David Markowitz who justified the complaint and noted that for the past year he has been raising this issue, to no avail. Is this then the new authority or the old one?
The Gatekeepers is a one-sided, biased “documentary” produced by extreme leftist Dror Moreh. It was severely criticized when first shown in cinemas abroad. Last year, the IBA found it necessary to broadcast his series and the outcry was vociferous. As a result, the IBA had each program followed with a short discussion enabling the viewers to obtain some balance and perspective.
Now, the IBA is again airing the series, but without any discussion. We complained to Wiesenthal who again passed our letter on to Markowitz. This time, Markowitz did not justify us, claiming it is standard practice to rerun a series paid for by the IBA. He also claimed that the series was valuable and precisely the kind of production that the IBA should support. No, he did not point out that the IBA would be running a similar series with a different viewpoint in the near future, because such a thing does not exist, so is this the new or the old broadcasting authority? On Monday, Haaretz and other left-wing news purveyors were happy to inform us that finally the IBA’s satirical program The Jews are Coming would be aired on Channel 1 TV after Succot.
This is the program whose promo was a song by characters portraying Yigal Amir, Yona Avrushmi and Baruch Goldstein: “I always remain myself – a right-wing murderer.”
The former director of the IBA, Yonni Ben-Menachem, decided that it would not be aired. Now we will be getting this type of drivel for 11 weeks in a row. Balance? The Authority claims that yes, it would be followed by a satirical program produced by Latma.
Our sources tell us that this is only spin as a contract has not been signed with Latma. So, are we getting a new broadcasting authority or is it only an exterior change of clothes? Time will tell. We hope for the best but expect very little.
September 11, 2014
by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 09/10/2014
If regulation were to be reduced and quality stations were to appear, the public just might prefer quality over the garbage purveyed today, and then the websites, too, would no longer be a problem.
In many aspects Israel is an over-regulated country.
This is especially so when it comes to our electronic media. Due among other factors to the over-regulation, we have only three major TV channels. The law which created the Second Authority for TV and Radio (SATR) over 20 years ago and was later amended to allow also Channel 10 to broadcast made high demands of the concessionaires.
They were obligated to fund a news channel which operated independently of them. They had to pay large sums of money to the state for the concession. A sizable portion of their programming had to be locally-produced content. Of course, Channels 2 and 10 overcame the draconian content demands with relatively inexpensive reality junk shows. They also claimed that by transporting Israeli crews to Europe they were fulfilling the condition.
By any measure, our commercial TV stations cannot be regarded as high quality. It is fair to say that the legislation which was aimed at creating quality TV failed. There is almost no historical drama and certainly no national- value humor or satire programming. Only left-wingers can be funny. Even the news channels are nothing much to be proud of.
All this leads inexorably to the conclusion that regulation does not work. It would be better to have a free market, let anyone participate and let the best purveyor of culture, entertainment and news win. But is it so simple? There is no regulation of the Internet. Although channels 2 and 10 are highly regulated, their websites – Channel 2’s Mako and Channel 10’s Nana10 websites – are not.
The SATR law was formulated before websites became popular and so these remain unregulated. Any attempt at complaining about their content or unfair practices which reaches the complaints commissioner gets the true answer: “I have no power over this, the law’s jurisdiction does not include the websites.”
The Internet, as we all know, is highly competitive.
At least as far as channels 2 and 10 are concerned, the competition has led to anything but quality. Near-pornography and too much naked flesh is much more apt description of the results. That which is not allowed on the airwaves is the bread and butter of the Internet.
Consider some very typical examples: A short clip on Mako on September 7 showed a young man emptying a Jack Daniels whiskey bottle in less than 15 seconds. The headline was “the media and the experts decry the clip” – but why then did Mako show it at all? If one clicked on the information box appearing on the video screen, one was forwarded to another clip entitled “she undresses in the supermarket.”
Last week, it would seem that new lows were reached.
As reported on the Walla website, a condom manufacturing company opened a campaign by asking “Israelis” what their sexual preferences were. The “winners” were then photographed with a “beauty queen” realizing their desires. Mako described the campaign and publicized the pictures.
The item came to the attention of Tal Schneider and Vered Cohen-Barzilai, founders of the women journalists’ cell, which was actively engaged in assuring women’s rights in the media. Among other things, they demand an end to sexual harassment of women working in the media, and were the first to publicize that journalist Immanuel Rosen was suspected of harassment (the case against Rosen was closed by the attorney general due to lack of evidence).
Cohen-Barzilai is a social activist, feminist and pundit, and Schneider is a leading independent political blogger.
Both women can be identified as belonging to Israel’s political Left.
Schneider and Barzilai started a campaign against the item on Mako, accusing Avi Nir, the CEO of Keshet, and Drorit Vertheim, a representative of the owners of the network, of collusion with pornographers and the objectification of women. One may guess that what drove the item on Mako was money. After all, it was an advertisement for the condom company, which must have paid quite a fortune for the publicity. It took a day for Nir and cohorts to bow to the pressure and remove the item from Mako’s website.
There is a huge difference between websites such as Mako and Nana10 and the pornography industry. The latter are readily closed to viewers and parents can filter them out easily. But Mako and Nana10 are considered to be legitimate and open to the public. Youngsters as well as older people who enter the website for whatever reason are quickly exposed to, at the very least, soft pornographic content, alcohol and not a small measure of reporting on violent events.
Should we care? Isn’t it a free country? A commission charged with the task of defining anew the regulation of commercial media was appointed this year by Communications Minister Gilad Erdan. It is headed by Professor Amit Schechter of Ben-Gurion University. In an interim report, the commission recently recommended reducing the level of regulation of the TV industry. We at Israel’s Media Watch appeared before the commission and supported deregulation, but were we right to do so? A 2011 frequently-quoted research paper on the psychological effects of television programs asserts that many teenagers who have broken the law view TV programs that contain inappropriate content more often than their peers. The study defined inappropriate content as violent, self-abusive and erotic scenes. These depictions have negative psychological effects on teenagers and affect self-image, behavior, personality and social views. Choosing inappropriate figures as role models or imitating the behavior they display distorts youngsters.
Teenagers lose their grasp on reality, leading to negative emotions and actions.
Other studies, conducted as early as 1973, used measured skin conductance and blood volume pulse to establish that youth exposed to such programming undergo a process of desensitization which can, at times, lead to them themselves engaging in the acts they have watched. There is a proven danger on the TV screen.
To be fair, studies have found differences between television, video game and movie violence exposure based on the active nature of playing with intense engagement.
As for other improper content themes, such as sex, drug use and abuse of food, for example, the message is still a negative influence.
On the one hand, the natural inclination is to reduce the big brother effect and reduce regulation. On the other hand, if the websites of the TV stations indicate anything, it is that without regulation, the situation will become even worse than it is today.
There is, though, a third possibility. The Israeli public, because of over-regulation, is limited in its choice of TV stations and has no other recourse but these two websites.
If regulation were to be reduced and quality stations were to appear, the public just might prefer quality over the garbage purveyed today, and then the websites, too, would no longer be a problem.
September 4, 2014
by YISRAEL MEDAD, ELI POLLAK \ 03/09/2014 22:51 submit to reddit
Regev writes that the complaints raised such questions as whether reality shows should be limited, or does freedom of speech and expression protect them
David Regev, the Second Authority for TV and Radio (SATR ) public complaints commissioner, finally provided the public with his annual report for 2013. His Introduction is a wonderful example of what the duties and responsibilities are of a public complaints commissioner.
Under the headline, “What bothered the public,” Regev notes that the public was very concerned about various aspects of reality shows. They were unhappy with the coarse language, verbal and physical violence as well as racist slurs. Regev writes that the complaints raised such questions as whether reality shows should be limited, or does freedom of speech and expression protect them, and whether regulators are at all involved in these shows. He reports that the SATR decided to carefully review the reality shows, issued fines for extreme violations and demanded more openness with regard to the choice of the participants and their auditions.
A second topic in Regev’s report is the ongoing saga of marketing content within programs, in violation of the limitations placed on advertisement time. Regev claims that he believes this issue should be resolved by legislation. Commercial content would have to be designated as such letting the consumer know that the material is an advertisement, and the minutes used would be part of the advertising content allowed the concessionaire.
Regev is proud of the fact that “again this year the complaints commission continued a series of professional initiatives and increased in 2013 its cooperation with social organizations and consumers making the commission more accessible to the public at large.”
Regev, though, has quite a bit which he could improve. For example, in his whole long report, not one name of a media personality found to have violated media ethics is mentioned. A politician is named, but no journalists. Why? Do they have immunity? Regev habitually defends one of the most egregious violations of the ethics code, namely the mixing of news with views. A case we have mentioned in this column many times is Yonit Levi, the star anchor of the Channel 2 TV evening news program.
Levi makes a habit of mixing her views in with the items she reports on.
January 2013 was election time in Israel.
Levi does not like the extreme right wing in Israel. On January 15, 2013, she describes the “Strength for Israel” party, headed by former MKs Professor Arye Eldad and Dr. Michael Ben-Ari, as “the most extreme party in Israel.” The factuality of this assertion may be questioned, but it isn’t the facts that are the main issue here. Rather, the real problem was Regev’s answer to the complaint submitted by Avi Komash.
Regev replied that, “As for the question of giving her personal views, according to the definition of her job Yonit Levi is not a narrator and presenter of the news, but a journalist. Her journalistic work, under the auspices of the freedom of speech and creativity, grant Yonit Levi as well as other journalists the right to express their opinions, as in this case.”
Levi aired one item detailing the harsh situation a 92-year-old person found himself in when he refused to move out of his own home and accept alternate housing from a certain company. She included the company’s response – but ended the report with her personal judgment against the company. One of us (YM) noted this to Regev, but the latter’s answer was the same: this is part of her profession. Regev apparently does not understand that Levi is paid to be a journalist, not a judge.
He will go to great lengths to defend his fellow journalists. Levi is not small fry. She is, arguably, a model for other Israeli journalists.
Regev should have used his position to clarify that news and views should not be mixed and that by doing so Levi is not only giving her profession a bad name, she is working against the interests of her own job, which is to present reliable news to the public. Biased news is no news at all.
Another one of Regev’s bad habits is his tendency to defend SATR . During April 2013, a large supermarket chain ran an advertisement with the slogan, “To Be an Israeli.” The Keshet TV concessionaire simultaneously ran a series of reports in the program People under the headline – you guessed it, “To Be an Israeli.” In one of the People segments a store manager was asked to talk about what being an Israeli meant to her. In the background was a supermarket, with the logo plainly visible. It took Regev four months to answer the very reasoned complaint of Nili Ben-Gigi, the former executive director of IMW. The eventual answer? Defense of the concessionaire and full denial that there was any commercial content purposely included in the People segment.
Regev is proud of his increasing outreach to NGOs. This is rather interesting; he is so proud that he does not mention even once in his report the hard work of Israel’s Media Watch in pointing out the violations of the concessionaires and the Channel 2 news company when it comes to covert advertisement.
The SATR, on the other hand, did pick this up. On October 27, 2013, SATR ’s director general wrote that this practice is unacceptable as it is against the law, which clearly states that the concessionaire is not permitted to use the airwaves to further his own goals. Regev, who was repeatedly asked to intervene, did not.
Regev also did not mention his ongoing attempt to put us down by preventing the public from placing its complaints through our website. In 2012, IMW received 242 complaints regarding the SATR from the public. Regev answered 159 of them. In 2013, only 151 complaints were submitted and Regev answered only 50. Regev repeatedly stated that he will respond only to complainants and is not willing to accept anything sent to him by a third party. This practice breaks an explicit promise given by his predecessor in the Knesset, but Regev does not care and he has the backing of SATR’s legal adviser.
Is Regev really open to the public as he claims? Complaints sent through IMW get publicized, along with the names of the people involved as well as the sometimes ludicrous answers of Regev and his associates.
Instead of realizing that publicity and openness is at the heart of his job, Regev seems to be fearful of valid and embarrassing complaints directed at his journalist friends. His colleagues, the complaints commissioners of the IBA and the army radio station differ with him, and are open.
Perhaps Regev can be made really accountable to the public?
August 28, 2014
by YISRAEL MEDAD, ELI POLLAK, 27/08/2014
Personal foibles, ideological, economic policies are regularly attacked, yet our media is mostly derelict when it comes to holding politicians accountable.
Almost three decades ago, one of us (YM) was involved in initiating legislation that would make the publication of a party’s platform a mandatory part of the election process for representation in the Knesset. The justification for such a law has now been echoed in a July 22 Vancouver Sun op-ed (“Can we hold politicians accountable?”) by Brian Fixter.
Fixter, a professor of law at Douglas College in British Columbia, was asked in his contract law class: “Can we ever successfully sue a politician for a broken promise?” and realized that the electorate really has not “enough measures in place to hold politicians accountable for election promises.”
Fixter opined that the promises of politicians should be considered contractual.
Unilaterally changing the terms should be considered a breach of contract with commensurate results.
In England some two years ago, the TheyMadeaPromise.com website was launched, designed to document and monitor promises made by elected officials worldwide.
The mission of the website is “to make politics and politicians more accountable.”
Election promise details are checked for accuracy against publicly available data and then published. Upon the deadline by which the promise was to have been kept, readers will be invited to vote on whether the promise has been kept, broken, or whether a compromise has been reached (due to objective circumstances and obstacles) and then it is “flagged” accordingly.
If a particularly important promise is broken, they will either launch a petition or assure that the data receives the attention it should in an upcoming election campaign.
Here in Israel, we know that our media can be ferocious in its criticism of government.
Personal foibles as well as ideological and economic policies are regularly attacked, held up to ridicule or worse. Yet our media is mostly derelict when it comes to holding politicians accountable for their election promises.
Prime minister Yitzhak Rabin promised in his 1992 election campaign that, “Whoever even contemplates withdrawal from the Golan Heights would be abandoning Israel’s security.” A couple of years later, he promised the Clinton administration that he would be willing to withdraw completely from the Golan Heights in exchange for a peace agreement.
The opposition at that time, led by present Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, repeatedly reminded Rabin that he had promised the opposite – but the media did not do so. The attitude was, as was later also repeated by prime minister Ariel Sharon, that “what you see from there you don’t see from here [the prime minister’s seat].” The media swallowed this poor excuse and did not consider that part of its duty was, and is, to serve the public, the media consumers, by constantly questioning all elected officials, from the government as well as the opposition, when they backtrack on commitments they make.
One of course should be careful in making sweeping generalizations; there are a few journalists who have actually done the job of looking up past statements and comparing them with actions. One of them is Channel 2 news reporter and commentator Amit Segal. On July 17 he summarized the Likud’s promises.
Ehud Olmert was prime minister during Operation Cast Lead six years ago. At that time, Netanyahu, during a visit to the communities neighboring the Gaza Strip, proclaimed: “What should be done? In the long run there is no alternative but to eradicate the Hamas rule.” This is quite different from Netanyahu’s approach with Operation Protective Edge, which was at the outset that “quiet will be answered with quiet.”
During the 2009 election campaign, candidate Netanyahu claimed that if in power he would bring about the collapse of Hamas rule. (A video of these election campaign statements may be found on the Globes website.) Today, the most that Netanyahu will state is that following a cease-fire Israel will demand that Hamas disarm.
Segal also calls Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman to task. He, too, used strong words during the 2009 campaign: “When we will govern we will discuss annihilating terror and overthrowing Hamas. If you sum up the Cast Lead operation you may say that the soldiers won and the politicians lost.”
Former president Shimon Peres also does not win too many points. A week before the withdrawal from the Gaza strip, Netanyahu warned that the disengagement could lead to having rockets hit Ashkelon. Peres’ public response was: “Stop the warmongering, stop talking nonsense.”
The call for journalists to straighten out the record is not limited to right-of-center politicians. Take Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, presently heading the Hatnua party, for example.
As noted in the ALMonitor website, in the spring of 2011, when the first attempt was made for a joint Hamas-PLO government in Gaza, it was Livni who headed the opposition.
Netanyahu was prime minister. Livni attacked Netanyahu for not “making progress” in the peace process.
“To get support in the world is not only to go from country to country and tell them off that they are hypocrites and that we suffer from terror. The question is how does one create the hope that Israel is a real partner for a negotiating process which will end the conflict in the Middle East.”
As a member of the government and the cabinet, however, Livni meekly voted for the decision to impose sanctions on the Abbas regime in response to its decision to from a joint government with Hamas.
As stated a long time ago by our sages, exceptions reflect the rule, which in this case is that the media does not demand accountability from our politicians. Prime Minister Netanyahu has appeared (finally) at a few press conferences and allowed some questioning. Not one of our reporters dared challenge him, or Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, by reminding them of their previous statements. Ya’alon repeatedly stated that Hamas was defeated, when in fact it continues to shoot rockets at Israel, kill and maim Israelis and force thousands of residents to flee from their homes.
The IBA’s Carmela Menashe faithfully parrots all the info she is supplied by the defense minister and his aides. Menashe, a recipient of too many prizes for her “journalistic excellence,” is not capable of presenting her audience with an objective check of the reliability of the statements coming out of the ministry.
Representatives of the government are interviewed on radio and TV. The normal procedure in Israel is to ask their opinion, impolitely argue with them, even shut them up when needed – but hardly ever to confront them with their previous positions and demand an explanation for their broken promises.
Why? There are two options. The first is that looking up past remarks and making sure the citations are correct requires effort, and who wants to do homework? The second has to do with the media themselves. Whoever demands accountability from others should be accountable themselves, and as documented repeatedly in this column our media does not want to be accountable to anyone.