April 18, 2014

MEDIA COMMENT: Do we need public broadcasting?

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:09 am by yisraelmedad

Media comment: Do we need public broadcasting?


Israel surely does not need a post-Zionist public broadcaster. It needs a Zionist, public-service oriented broadcaster, one that understands and caters to the needs of the public and the state.

In the spirit of Passover- come-early, Communications Minister Gilad Erdan is cleaning up the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA).

Erdan declared on March 6 that he would implement the recommendations of the Landes Committee which he appointed. A central part of these recommendations is that the IBA as well as Educational Television be closed and replaced with a new structure, much reduced, and with a smaller budget.

Such drastic measures were recommended in the wake of huge costs – NIS 1 billion per annum – to the tax payer as well as much dissatisfaction with the quality of programming and the professional level of the employees.

Erdan’s suggested policy has come under fire, most notably from within the IBA. The employees have understandably attacked the minister, fearing that their comfortable and inefficient work habits will have to change. They have not yet absorbed the fact that the public is no longer willing to foot the bill for their wasteful work habits.

They have consistently opposed steps aimed at streamlining and modernizing the IBA in this technological age.

But the true question is: does Israel need an IBA at all? Could there be better models to follow? We have consistently supported the demand for a public broadcasting authority. Our reasoning has been that Israel, which is a melting pot for people coming from vastly different backgrounds, needs a public-interest broadcaster. The broadcasts in English, Russian, Amharic, French, Yiddish and more are highly appreciated by many. Whenever there is a threat to the English IBA news broadcasts, Israel’s Media Watch is probably the first to receive requests from the public to help prevent the closure.

Israel is also a unique country, embattled, facing many who do not recognize its right to exist.

Its Arab-language broadcasts are an important tool in defending Israel and putting those who hate us on the defensive. Israel radio programming in Persian is also part of Israel’s line of defense against the Iranian threat.

But there are other aspects of the public broadcaster which need to be discussed. Moshe Negbi, a tenured commentator of the IBA (the only one, we should note), wrote a very informative defense of the IBA in the April 8 issue of the Israel Democracy Institute’s Seventh Eye media review Internet publication.

His article is subtitled “The Holyland Affair serves as a reminder that a dedicated and honest journalist in public broadcasting has an easier time facing corruption as compared to his counterpart in the private media.”

As we reported in this column, the Holyland affair was not brought to light by IBA journalists, but rather by Yoav Yitzchak, an independent journalist.

Negbi’s thesis is of a more general nature. He claims that although IBA journalists can sometimes find themselves facing pressure as well, they have the means to fight against it since “we are dealing with a public body, whose employees are unionized; its bosses cannot arbitrarily fire a journalist. …The Supreme Court more than once nixed the directives of a CEO or board of directors when they tried to censor criticism of the government. I myself successfully went to the courts against a decision of a radio director who wanted to stop broadcasting my program.”

It is precisely this spirit which has convinced many in Israel that it is high time to close down the Authority, without reopening it. Negbi has been presenting for over 30 years a program called “Din Udvarim” (Law and Issues) which affords him a unique platform, paid for by Israel’s citizens, to promulgate his personal views. Only at IMW’s prodding was an editor appointed to oversee Negbi’s fiefdom. Monopolies are not tolerated in the commercial world, but they are an IBA staple. Negbi is not alone. For the past six years, Keren Neubach has used her morning radio program “Seder Yom” (The Day’s Agenda) to proselytize for her socialist worldview.

Judy Nir Moses Shalom, Minister Silvan Shalom’s wife, has been presenting a Friday radio program, “This Week According to Judy,” for 15 years. Shlomo Nitzan has had a Friday literary corner for over 20 years. Geula Cohen and Eli Amir have been the co-hosts of “From Left and Right” every Thursday for over a dozen years. The defense affairs correspondent and commentator Carmela Menashe, who is proud of her hijacking of the public airwaves, who admitted she “helped” Israel evacuate Lebanon, is immovable.

The situation is not much different on the IBA’s TV programs.

The commentators don’t change. For example, every Friday evening, the left-of-center Ari Shavit, a Ha’aretz journalist, is the sole panelist and there is no one who balances his views.

Oded Shachar has been the moderator of the Politika weekly program for too many years. At the same time, the IBA displayed callous disregard for new and also female faces when, in 1998, Geula Even was dismissed to permit the return of veteran and elderly broadcaster Haim Yavin.

In the commercial world, a personality could last so long only through public support and interest. In the IBA it is not the public interest that matters but rather the self-interest of the employees of the IBA and their perception of their mandate.

A public broadcasting authority, paid for by the state’s citizens, but which considers itself beyond reproach, an authority whose most influential journalists believe that they can with impunity disobey the public’s representatives, should not be allowed to exist.

The fact that Negbi, who prides himself as a defender of democracy, does not understand that in the name of democracy he should have made an effort to assure that his voice would be balanced by other voices is another indication of the depths reached by the IBA as we know it today.

For too many years, the IBA’s employees have been operating under the motto “ask not what you can do for the people, but what the people can be made to do for you.”

One of the reasons Israel’s Media Watch was established almost 20 years ago was to try and rectify this attitude and situation.

Our work has contributed significantly to the public awareness of the lack of professionalism at the IBA and the outcry against the various authorities’ ways.

We believed that the IBA is a Zionist entity and has an incredibly important job in contributing to the Zionist ethos of this country. We believed that one should not “get rid of the baby with the bathwater.” Our optimism was based on the Zionist charter of the IBA. The present law, delineating the IBA’s tasks, reads, in part: “to reinforce the Zionist identity of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state… reflect the struggle for Jewish revival…

foster good citizenship and values of equality; strengthen the connection with Judaism and the Jewish heritage and values and deepen knowledge in these areas; foster the knowledge of the Hebrew language,” and more.

However, all of these goals, astoundingly, have been omitted in the IBA law recommended by the Landes committee.

Israel surely does not need a post-Zionist public broadcaster.

It needs a Zionist, public-service oriented broadcaster, one that understands and caters to the needs of the public and the state.

Anything else is a waste of money and should be closed down, permanently.


April 9, 2014

MEDIA COMMENT: Haredim, journalism and ethics

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:39 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Haredim, journalism and ethics


The ongoing battle between the Yated Ne’eman daily newspaper and the Mishpacha weekly is another example of the ferociousness between factions within the Haredi world.

The haredi community has always maintained an odd relationship with the media, starting already in the middle of the 19th century when the Hebrew-language press made its appearance.

At the fascinating blog Seforim, Eliezer Brodt recently published an article on the 100-year old issue of ultra-Orthodox rabbis and the practice of their reading newspapers, specifically on Shabbat. For example, he detailed that the Netziv, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Berlin, among others, not only devoted time to the Hebrew newspapers of the day, but also quoted from them in various responsa pertaining to halachic decisions.

As reported by Brodt, in 1928 Rav Baruch Halevi Epstein published a book titled Mekor Baruch, approbated glowingly by Rabbi A. I. Kook, who was himself a pupil of the Netziv from Volozhin. In the book, Epstein confirmed that the Netziv read newspapers.

Mekor Baruch was translated and published in English in 1988. Yet, a few months later, the Lakewood Cheder, which distributed it, recommended that it should not be read.

The thought that a leading haredi rabbi actually read a newspaper was anathema.

Brodt, pursuing the matter, notes that the Netziv’s writings had suffered at the hands of censorship and that references to newspapers, such as HaLevanon and HaMelitz, were removed from later editions of his halachic works. Indeed, censorship is common practice in the haredi world. The late uncle of one of us (EP), Yitzchak Shimshon Lange, brought to light from old manuscripts a treatise on the Torah by Rabbi Yehuda Hahassid, who lived in Germany in the 12th and 13th century. Some of the passages in the book were not to the liking of the haredi Rabbi of Zurich, and Lange was “convinced” that he must censor the original edition and take the offending passages out.

With time it would seem that the haredi world has changed. Haredi media are flourishing, with newspapers, weekly Torah pages, Internet sites, haredi radio stations and even Internet TV. There are also designated closed forums for the exclusive use of ultra-Orthodox women, as researched by Azi Lev-On and Rivka Neriya Ben-Shahar. Haredi newspapers in Israel have special and enlarged issues for the weekends, presumably since people do read them also on Shabbat.

Yet the haredi media is very different from the general media. For one, it is heavily censored, especially when it comes to women.

This is not to say that censorship does not exist in the general media – far from it, and we have often noted how the Israeli media refrains from reporting on certain issues.

Yet, the censorship in the haredi media seems to be more severe.

It largely refrains from reporting violent or sexual crimes. It will also attempt to defend its own, sometimes going to extreme lengths in doing so. For example, as reported on the INN website, when the heads of the “Bechadrei Chadarim” haredi website were arrested on suspicion of blackmailing people, threatening them with exposure, the haredi media ignored the issue under the pretext that it did not report criminal affairs.

We have reported in this column too frequently on the abuse and stereotyping of the haredi community by the mainstream secular media. Unfortunately, the same takes place, and too often much more egregiously, in the haredi press than in the Israeli media. Recent political events have exposed the haredi media at its worst.

Anti-Semitic-style cartoons are employed to negatively portray the State of Israel, or Finance Minister Yair Lapid or the “war” waged by secular and Religious Zionist Israel against the haredi world. As reported on the Mako website back in August 2011, the Yated Ne’eman newspaper had a caricature of the Menorah – the emblem of the State of Israel – resting on a swastika.

This was not a one-time “error.” Yoni Greenstein, their caricaturist, excels at producing such high-quality images. In one of them, from January 2012, he depicts three wolves, representing the media, the law and the public, feasting on the bones of the haredi public. In the background one finds a pile of leftover bones.

When Rav Avichai Ronsky, the former chief rabbi of the IDF, wrote that the Bayit Yehudi party has more in common with Yesh Atid than with the haredim, he was attacked ferociously. The Hamodia newspaper published an opinion article by Isaac Matityahu Tennenbaum whose main thesis was that Rabbi Ronsky should be considered the equivalent of the pig. He published a whole tractate “proving” that the National Religious community act like pigs, look like pigs, and so they must be pigs.

He ends by noting that “it is good that the haredi youth now know who the Religious Zionists really are so that we will not come near them… we belong completely to the true Torah and its obligations.” In the world of Hamodia, lashon hara – defamation – is permitted.

Hatred is not only expressed toward the “outside world.” HaPeles is a haredi daily which started appearing in July 2012. It is associated with Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach and the Bnei Torah political party. It has not refrained from criticizing haredi rabbis for what it perceives as a lax attitude toward Judaism. Rabbis Aharon Leib Shteinman and Chaim Kanievskyy do not like the paper, considering it as a source of desecration of the name of the Almighty. They decreed that one must not let the paper enter one’s home, one should not aid the paper in any way, one should not advertise in it and one should let the advertisers know that they might God forbid aid the desecration of the name of God. The paper has been honored with epithets such as “the wicked shall rot.” Within the haredi world, the right of retort is unknown, from all sides.

The ongoing battle between the Yated Ne’eman daily newspaper and the Mishpacha weekly is another example of the ferociousness between factions within the haredi world, which surpasses the rivalry between Yediot Aharonot and Yisrael Hayom.

The examples considered here are the tip of the iceberg within the haredi journalistic world. A haredi journalistic code of ethics seems not to exist. Objective truth, which is denied in the post-modernist world, is replaced in the haredi media with divine truth. Just as haredi parties submit themselves to a Grand Council of Sages, their press acquiesces to a so-called Spiritual Committee. Too many journalists speak regularly to the Almighty and these discussions serve to justify their lack of respect to their fellow human beings.

At the end of the day, it is the haredi world which pays the price. Its sources of information are slanted and controlled; any haredi person who does want to know what is happening in reality has no recourse but to use the secular media. It would seem that the well known adage of Hillel the Elder, who folded the whole Torah into one sentence – what is hated by yourself don’t do onto your friend – needs to become the basis of a haredi media code of ethics.


April 2, 2014

MEDIA COMMENT: Israel’s pride

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:00 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Israel’s pride

Israel is not proud that a former prime minister will most likely go to jail. But it should pride itself on idealists such as Yoav Yitzchak.

Israel is a democracy, as evidenced by the verdict against a former prime minister, who will now be sentenced for accepting bribes while in office. The legal process which in recent years brought to justice a former president, a former prime minister and a former finance minister, is an indication of moral corruption in too many people in high places. It is nothing to be proud of. In a truly democratic country, where freedom of speech and thought are more important than petty politics, such behavior might not have taken place. An open, truth-driven press could have prevented it.

Indeed, in the case of Ehud Olmert, one brave journalist, Yoav Yitzchak, had for years been warning of and exposing Olmert’s misdeeds in print. It was on May 10, 2006, a couple of months after the elections in Israel, that Yitzchak, in a press conference, attacked then-minister Olmert for the financial transactions behind his purchase of an apartment on Jerusalem’s posh Cremieux Street. Olmert at that time was nearing the pinnacle of his political power, yet Yitzchak had no fear.

Yitzchak’s involvement in the Holyland affair started in 1996. He exposed the fact that Hillel Charney, the owner of the 120 dunams (30 acres) of Holyland real estate (and now convicted for bribery), received a fictitious assessment of the value of his property.

Charney wanted to transfer ownership from the “Holyland Corporation,” a foreign company which he controlled, to an Israeli company also under his control. Such a transfer could lead to substantial property and profit taxes, so a lower assessment of the property value would reduce the tax burden.

Two assessors estimated the value at a bit over $10 million, while realistic estimates were much higher. The old Holyland Hotel still existed at that time.

It took six more years before the two assessors were found guilty by the assessors’ ethics committee for their fictitious assessments.

On July 28, 2008, Yitzchak exposed for the first time that then-prime minister Olmert had received bribes in connection with the Holyland project. It took another year before the police, after receiving further information from Yitzchak, corroborated by the state’s witness Shmuel Duchner, decided to open an investigation. The rest is now history.

Was Yitzchak alone in his exposés? No. In 2002, the local Jerusalem paper Kol Ha’ir severely criticized Olmert, especially for his frequent flights abroad. But this was not the media norm.

It is no secret that for years, Yediot Aharonot was a staunch supporter of Olmert. It is no surprise, but sad to note, that Mordechai Gilat, Yediot’s prime investigative reporter at that time, did not report anything about Olmert’s misdeeds, even though he later claimed he knew about them already in 2007.

It was only after Gilat moved to Yisrael Hayom that he started attacking Olmert. In May 2008 he related to various accusations against Olmert, but did not mention the Holyland project.

Another prominent journalist who took a stand against Olmert is Dan Margalit. When Olmert was found not guilty for his actions in the Rishontours and Talansky affairs, Margalit called upon the attorney-general on July 11, 2012, to appeal the case before the Supreme Court. Margalit commented: “Who believes that Ehud Olmert did not know about the manipulations his secretaries did with the airline tickets?” In the aftermath of Olmert’s conviction, Margalit took Olmert to task: “Head of a crime gang” was his headline in Yisrael Hayom this past Tuesday. But Margalit’s role as a journalist in this whole affair was a very minor one, if that.

Margalit was a very close friend of Olmert for 35 years. After Olmert became prime minister, in the wake of the Second Lebanon War, Margalit decided to cut off the relationship.

In an interview with Dorit Keren-Zvi published on February 16, 2007, in Haaretz, Margalit explained that he “understood then that the war was being managed incorrectly.

And even before I wrote about that in the paper, the people in his closest circle heard me say that in my estimation he has to go.

This is not the job for him. Not everyone is cut out to be prime minister. I think, not with hatred but the opposite, with much love, that Ehud Olmert failed in the Second Lebanon War.”

So Margalit did not part ways with Olmert because of the latter’s corrupt ways. In fact, Margalit claimed in that same interview that “I miss him so much. There’s no way around it – I just love him. You know, there isn’t a day on which I get home and before putting the key in the lock, I think about the conversation I am about to have with Ehud. And then I remember. Abruptly, I tell myself: It’s impossible.

That’s what I miss the most.”

Journalist Mati Golan, writing in the Globes newspaper on March 12, 2013, claims Margalit left Olmert since he was denied the job of Olmert’s chief of staff, which he very much desired. We don’t know the truth, though one thing is certain: Margalit failed as an investigative journalist. He should have known, given Olmert’s rich history, that Olmert most probably was a crook, and should have attempted to expose this.

Today, Margalit speaks loudly about Olmert’s misdeeds in Yisrael Hayom, the newspaper which staunchly defends Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Olmert’s nemesis. One could commend him for realizing – rather belatedly – who his close friend was.

Yitzchak writes that “Dan Margalit is one of the best journalists in Israel. He is professional, curious and brave. He understands things.

He knows very well what the job of a journalist and public figure is in a democracy.” We believe, though, that his position on Olmert would be much more authentic had it come during the many years he worked for Ma’ariv.

Gilat and Margalit are just the tip of the iceberg of the failings of Israel’s senior media in the Olmert affair. For years, Yediot Aharonot did all it could to defend Olmert. The tireless efforts of Yitzchak bore fruit and the criminals will, after many years, pay for their misdeeds.

There were many other important players in this story, such as the Justice Ministry’s state prosecutor, Moshe Lador, the attorneys who prepared the case and the police investigators.

But had the media done its job from the very beginning, maybe Olmert and his friends would have understood that crime does not pay. Or, perhaps an informed public could also have acted, or voted differently.

Israel is not proud that a former prime minister will most likely go to jail. But it should pride itself on idealists such as Yoav Yitzchak.

In the aftermath of his being awarded the Israeli Prize for Media Criticism by Israel’s Media Watch, we wrote in The Jerusalem Post on October 10, 2002: “the award was given for his unique role as a journalistic establishment, for his firm stand against the giants of the Israeli media and for his important contributions to the public discourse on media and journalism.” It would be most fitting if he were to receive the next Israel Prize for Journalism.


March 27, 2014

MEDIA COMMENT: Turning the media around

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:28 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Turning the media around


Given the prevalence of poor professionalism and lack of ethics in many countries, media consumers should be demanding revolutionary changes, and that goes for Israel, as well.

One really never knows where media revolutions begin, and why, or who or what causes the changes and how they develop. Some revolutions are positive while some are negative.

Given the prevalence of poor professionalism and lack of ethics in many countries, media consumers should be demanding revolutionary changes, and that goes for Israel, as well. Such changes have happened abroad and there is no reason why they should not also improve our media here at home.

Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of Britain’s The Sun, had to be taken to court to convince her to express regret over a variety of “errors” and “lapses of judgment.” These included a “cruel and harsh” and “personal” attack (her own words) on Labour MP Clare Short, a headline she termed a “terrible mistake.”

In another case, reporting the death of Harold Shipman with the headline “Ship ship hooray,” she owned up to “bad taste.” Another of her regrets was over the Sun’s attack on Haringey children’s services head Sharon Shoesmith following the death of “Baby P”. Brooks admitted that posting a photographer outside Shoesmith’s home was “cruel, harsh and over the top.”

Two months ago, the publisher of Florida’s St. Augustine Record, Delinda Fogel, declared that she intended “to eliminate the typos and grammar mistakes in the newspaper” in the coming year. What she did was to invite the public to come into the editorial offices to proofread pages from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.

And she had a bonus offer: “We’ll keep a tally of the proofreading volunteers,” she wrote at the paper’s site, “and award a nice dinner for two to the person who helps us catch the most typos and errors.”

Has she kick-started a media revolution? Let us imagine expanding that operation. Imagine a newspaper in Israel doing the same, asking the public to identify all their Hebrew language errors!

Or, instead of rewriting press releases from NGOs, like Peace Now or B’tselem, a reporter in Israel would call in someone who represents the institution being accused of some offense to review the material and provide a detailed analysis. The pro-forma one-sentence rejection of the claim would be replaced by interesting reality checks. After all, news should be comprised of verifiable facts, and not just rumors.

BBC’s television output head has promised viewers that the corporation will not make any more allmale comedy panel shows and the corporation is determined to see women appearing in this habitually macho environment.

Here in Israel, that principle, if applied generally, would truly affect the under-represented “outsiders” and lead to true pluralism. Balanced panels rather than the usual disproportionate left-wing bias would be a major contribution to improving our media and making it less boring.

We have observed in our reports on media coverage of elections that the media picks its favorites and shuts out certain parties or politicians. In Israel, the law still stipulates supervised broadcasting of television electioneering advertisements but that doesn’t always contribute to true democratic elections. We could learn from what has been done in England.

There, OFCOM, the broadcasting regulator, has introduced new rules that impose upon television channels to show election broadcasts of a smaller party, taking into account its growing popularity and demanding it should be recognized as a “major party” as determined by an outside independent entity.

In all previous election campaigns since 1996, Israel’s Media Watch’s reviews have highlighted the detrimental effects of television and radio output.

Without any objective standards or even supervision by the special Central Elections Committee, a small group of editors and directors promote parties and demote others. This out-of-sight-out-of-mind practice surely is anti-democratic and must be altered.

A different area of local media bias that needs attention was highlighted by our neighbors. A 2012 study for MADA, the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms, recommended the need for Arab “media workers to be more brave and courageous to break all forms of self-censorship.”

As researcher Mahmoud Alfataftah phrased it, “the most dangerous [aspect] of it is the self-censorship, which is exercised by the media outlet or the journalist on themselves.” This is something we Israelis can also adopt.

A recent example highlights much of what is wrong with our own media here. Various politicians proposed legislation that for all intents and purpose will halt the distribution of a free newspaper, Israel Hayom.

As Lahav Harkov published in this newspaper on March 19, a bill sponsored by MKs Eitan Cabel (Labor), Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beytenu), Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi), Elazar Stern (Hatnua), Ariel Attias (Shas) and Yoel Razbozov (Yesh Atid) would effectively “put Israel Hayom out of business.”

The Orwellian bill seeks to “strengthen written journalism in Israel and ensure equal and fair conditions of competition between newspapers.”

Mind-boggling is the statement of Cabel that “free newspapers also hurt journalism as well as pluralism and democracy in Israel.”

Some of our legislators over the years have been criticized, at times unfairly, as being either too self-serving, too beholden to special interests, or even for lacking the intelligence needed to be an MK. In this case, however, no criticism could be unfair.

In a democracy, not only is a free press one free of draconian regulatory restraints, but there can be no justification for punishing a newspaper for being a handout. The bill, in this 30th year after 1984, supposedly seeks to save print journalism from “a deep crisis that is only worsening and most newspapers are collapsing economically,” as the appended explanation to the bill reads. In reality, it is simply an attempt to prevent any balance in the general media anti-Netanyahu onslaught. The bill’s goal is the exact opposite of the freedoms Israel should be championing.

This McCarthyist attempt to shut up a central media organ in Israel should have received allaround condemnation, especially from all those media outlets which normally consider freedom of speech a fundamental principle of democracy. Their thundering silence (excluding the Israel Democracy’s Institute “7th Eye” website, which was critical) in response to these MKs’ attempt to prevent Israel Hayom from appearing says it all. They are the staunch defenders only of the freedom of their own speech, not that of those they disagree with.

Israel’s Knesset should learn from one of our own in this matter and recall the remark of former chief justice Moshe Landau in his famous Kol Ha’am decision (HCJ 73/53): “A regime that presupposes what is good for a citizen to know, will in the end decide what it is best they should think.” He added, “for citizens to be able to enjoy the right to express an opinion, they must have the ability to access sources of information.”

A free newspaper is not a threat. The public should be given choice, including even the choice of not paying for their news. The public’s preferences should be welcomed and also protected. The real threat is a uniform media which lacks pluralism and prevents it from occurring naturally.

March 20, 2014

MEDIA COMMENT: Democracy’s blind watchdog

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:07 pm by yisraelmedad

Media comment: Democracy’s blind watchdog


One of the most effective media defenses that have been constructed to defend unethical media practices from criticism has been the claim that the media is “democracy’s watchdog.”

At the award ceremony of the Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism, caricaturist Shay Charka wittily drew several images of his view of the media’s “watchdog” status, summing it all up by drawing a blind dog leading a blind person – the media consumer.

As it happens, the title of Morten Skovsgaard’s research article in the April 2014 issue of Journalism reads “Watchdogs on a leash?” It deals with a perceived professional autonomy and the relationship of front-line media personnel with superiors. His main finding, based on the presumption that journalists actually do seek to maintain professional autonomy and independent discretion – a position we think is less than universally upheld – is that they seek to be free of business, political or other constraints.

As suggested by Shay Charka, in Israel, more often than not the public and even the news networks are those who are on a leash held by the journalists. Worse, it is the ombudsmen, whose job is to protect the public from journalists who abuse their position of power who are, or who have allowed themselves to be, tied up in chains of ineffectualness.

But they overwhelmingly reject complaints, justify the unethical product of journalists and rarely apply any punishment. Excelling in this regard is the Israel Press Council headed by a person now seeking to become Israel’s next president.

Journalists, interviewers and news anchors seem to have the last word, thus inserting a particular political viewpoint in a biased and unprofessional manner that goes unchecked. The semantic power, using special language codes, is a crucial instrument in the hands, and mouths, of media people.

The “language” used by journalists includes not only the text. In its broad sense it uses the subtexts, such as how scenes are filmed, whether slow-motion effects are used, music, close-ups, balance and more to present a topic.

These not only color subjects but more often than not exclude the possibility that a certain side could possibly be correct. The “language” is most apparent when dealing with issues relating to Jews residing in Judea and Samaria.

As we now know, the purchase of “Beit Hashalom,” a building purchased by Jews close by Kiryat Arba, has been approved by Israel’s Supreme Court. From the outset, the legitimacy of the purchase should have been considered only from the legal perspective. If legal, then there is nothing wrong with it and if illegal, then the authorities would be called upon to deal with the case appropriately. But from the start, much of the media treatment sought to portray the story in a negative and contentious frame. This was not because of the media’s normal tendency to sensationalize but primarily because Israel’s media and following its lead, the foreign media, will refuse, it seems, to accept any perspective other than that of conflict. More credence was given to claims of the local Arab Hebron residents, their allies among Israel’s post-Zionist camp, their sympathizers from non-Zionist NGOs and from the groups promoting a “human rights” agenda, when “human” excludes a Jew residing east of the 1949 armistice lines.

In the first instance, most of Israel’s media followed the lead of Haaretz, calling the property the “House of Dispute” rather than the name it was given by its legal purchasers, i.e. “House of Peace.” The IBA’s then ombudsman, Amos Goren, had to issue a directive to the staff under his supervision not to employ the derogatory description, but to little avail. His successor, Elisha Spiegelman, promptly rescinded the directive. Any suspicion that would portray the Jewish purchasers negatively was highlighted while the seemingly disturbing actions taken by the military government’s legal department were treated with understanding.

The Israeli media completely forgot its watchdog status.

Any other day of the week, anything done by the government establishment in any other area is looked at askance by the media. But here, the “House of Peace” was cataloged in the news rooms as a “bad Jew” story and anything adding substance to that story was swallowed hook, line and sinker.

AN IN-DEPTH review of media coverage involving the Jews of Judea and Samaria will reveal a similar pattern of “blind watchdog” behavior. Only a very select group of journalists are capable of breaking through the media mindset that Jews in the territories are bad news. The social, political and even psychological atmosphere in our newspapers, radio stations and television channels is such as to keep the dog’s eyes closed.

This is not to be interpreted as a blanket excuse for ignoring negative or even criminal acts committed by Jews against Arabs. There is no denying the large number of so-called price tag attacks against Arabs. The media has justifiably consistently demanded action by the police against the perpetrators. Yet the same media is rather quiet when it comes to rock-throwing incidents, in their hundreds, against Jews. It is neither outraged nor incensed about the violation of religious freedom of Jews on the Temple Mount. The demand that violent Muslim extremists harassing Jews on the Temple Mount, throwing rocks at them and worse be brought to justice is not heard.

Last year, Dorit Yurdan-Dothan, a left-wing activist, photographed an “attack” of an Arab woman at the Kiryat Moshe Light Rail train station, by Jewish teenagers. Her clip went viral. It was presented as a prime example of violent racism of Jews against Arabs. A year later, other pictures taken by the security cameras at the site, proved it was the Arab woman who initiated the contretemps.

One might have thought newsmakers would come out with headlines such as “Left-wing activist fabricated events (again).” But no, 12 months later the media hides behind the excuse that no one recalls the matter and that it is no longer “relevant.” The truth is that the negative impression created a year ago lingers on and today’s delayed “minor details” will not dispel the false impression created by the media.

Andrea Levin of CAMERA, in writing of Haaretz, notes that “factual accuracy is often sacrificed to political predilections.”

Amira Hass, the paper’s reporter based now in Ramallah and previously in Gaza, was ordered by a Magistrate’s Court to pay $60,000 in damages to the Jewish community of Hebron for a false column back in 2001. Last April, her paper published her opinion piece which claimed that “throwing stones is the birthright and duty of anyone subject to foreign rule” and that PA schools should offer “basic classes in resistance.” Has anyone demanded that she and her publisher be brought to a court of law for incitement to violence?

The media in this country is blind, not because of the hand of God, but because it has purposely blinded itself. Its self-imposed blindness is harmful to Israel’s democracy and social fabric. The blindfold should be removed, and the sooner the better.


March 13, 2014

MEDIA COMMENT: Can the IBA survive?

Posted in Media tagged at 12:42 pm by yisraelmedad

Can the IBA survive?


Does Israel need a publicly funded broadcasting authority? We believe that the answer is yes, but only if it is public in the true sense of the word.

Faced with financial restraints, major changes in the collection of the license fee, proposed technical alterations and programming challenges, the director-general of a country’s public broadcasting network, in deciding to close a broadcast channel, last week declared:

“The organization has had to look for savings – so that we, like everyone else in these difficult economic times, can live within our means. My concern… is to ensure that the quality of what we do is not compromised along the way. We are here to produce exceptional and distinctive programs and services…but… something has to give. And that means hard choices. But there is one choice I will never make – and that’s to sacrifice quality…Reconciling these two aims – financial and strategic – has led us to this difficult conclusion.”

No, that was not the reaction of the heads of the Israel Broadcasting Authority to the Landes Report and the decision by Communications Minister Gilad Erdan to close down IBA TV and then reopen it.

That was Danny Cohen, the head of BBC television.

The difference says it all. The Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) is outstanding in one aspect – the dislike it has generated within the Israeli public.

Of course no one likes to pay taxes, but the IBA took its tax collection to extremes. On the one hand, 40 percent of the population did not pay the TV tax while on the other, those unfortunate enough not to belong to the Arab or haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sector often found themselves faced with hungry lawyers, paid by the IBA, collecting outrageous amounts of back payments from those who found it difficult to pay to start off with.

The TV tax is but one symptom of the malaise at the IBA. The central problem of this organization is that for years it always knew better.

The IBA was not a public broadcasting service in the true sense of the word. It did not feel compelled to try to understand what the media consumer in Israel really needs or wants. Consider a simple example – classical music. IBA radio has a classical music channel. Has anyone within the IBA ever asked the public whether it is satisfied with the classical music offered on this channel? Is there too much opera or too little? Too much in-between chatter or too little? Is there sufficient modern music or do we want more of Mozart, Bach and Schubert? To the best of our knowledge this has never been done, not by Kol Hamusika or even in relation to sports broadcasts.

We have often noted in this column the narrow-mindedness which characterizes the IBA. There is only one legal commentator and his views, we all know, are leftist. The IBA never thought it necessary to balance him with someone from the Right. The IBA is not pluralistic. The political commentator has been there forever; his ideology is left-ofcenter, as we all know. The mythical long-time anchor of Reshet Bet, Arieh Golan, is immovable, even though his professional conduct is too often questionable. As documented in this column only last week, Golan is not capable of seeing an issue from all of its sides.

We also have not mentioned Keren Neubach, the social advocate who has usurped the IBA’s airwaves to support her personal views and who has very little respect or patience with those whose views are opposed to hers.

The list goes on. The IBA’s broadcasts are opinionated, narrow- minded and far from carrying out its mandate by law, which is to provide pluralistic broadcasting.

Who is to blame? Is it management? The employees? The politicians who have appointed the IBA oversight committees? In truth, all of them. The politicians used the appointments to the IBA plenum to give goodies to their acquaintances.

The management during these past 20 years did not instill good managerial practices. For example, to this very day, no one in the IBA knows the cost of an hour’s studio usage. The employees? They were always on the side which fought valiantly against modernization. The number of technical staff used for broadcasts could be drastically reduced through the use of technologically advanced equipment, but the unions would not let this happen.

Responsibility is a foreign word at the IBA. The legal department has been run by Hanna Matzkevitch for over 15 years, accruing along the way hundreds of millions of shekels in legal debts. In too many years, the IBA has had to write off losses of between NIS 50 million to NIS 100m. in payments for legal proceedings against it. Has anyone thought that perhaps this means that the legal department has failed the public and its head should resign? Of course not.

A broadcasting authority which cannot make a decision regarding whether it wants a certain type of program, such as the Zionist-oriented Latma satirical program, has lost any justification for its existence.

As was reported on these pages last week, the Landes Committee recommended sweeping changes. Channel 1 TV is to be closed down. Programming will be outsourced. Only the news department will remain and it will be unified with the radio news department. The staff is to be cut by over half, with many physical and property assets to be sold off. There are some additional very positive recommendations.

Educational TV will become part of the IBA, will no longer include independent news broadcasts and will be geared to the young generation of Israelis. The TV tax will be abolished; the budget of the IBA cut by a quarter, with the remaining funding coming from a levy on cars and from the general budget of the Israeli government.

All of this is good news, but will it be implemented? How will the new IBA really look? One of the glaring omissions of the Landes report is the demand for the IBA to become a truly public service.

Without this, we do not expect any fundamental change in the final product. There is not much in the Landes commission’s recommendations which will assure that the IBA will be a truly pluralistic and Zionistic organization. The recommendations are mostly of a technical managerial nature, focusing on structure rather than content.

Communications Minister Gilad Erdan has expressed his full support for the Landes commission’s recommendations. So has Finance Minister Yair Lapid. But is this sufficient to assure implementation? Probably not. One may expect a strong reaction coming from the IBA unions and the Histadrut. Will Prime Minster Binyamin Netanyahu back the recommendations even in the face of a general media strike? Without his firm and strong backing, nothing will happen.

Does Israel need a publicly funded broadcasting authority? We believe that the answer is yes, but only if it is public in the true sense of the word. Channel 2’s Ilana Dayan, speaking at a quickly arranged support rally for the IBA, said that “public broadcasting, unfettered by financial considerations, must be allowed to continue as a truth-seeking alternative to commercial broadcasting.”

Sadly, the IBA in the past 20 years has been a far cry from a truth-seeking alternative. The onus is on the IBA to show that it can change for the better. This is its only option.

Anything else will doom it.


March 7, 2014

MEDIA COMMENT: Views which are not fit to print

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:22 pm by yisraelmedad

Media comment: Views which are not fit to print


In the Ukraine crisis, much more that is also apparently not fit to print, or discussed in depth, as far as the various media outlets are concerned.

The Crimean affair, a 21st century version of the “Great Game” period of rivalry and conflict some 150 years ago, is playing out dramatically. The Israeli public is exposed now in stark fashion to what is happening outside our region. The drama, the battle of wits between the West and the Kremlin, the weakness of President Barack Obama and his team, are the topics discussed by pundits and mavens. But only one newspaper, Israel Hayom, has headlined one of the obvious implications of this sordid story.

In 1994, the world, led by the Western powers, signed a document assuring the newborn Ukrainian republic that Crimea is part and parcel of Ukraine. This did not come easily and the Ukrainian government was required to give up all nuclear weapons in its possession. The Budapest Memorandum was signed by Bill Clinton, John Major, Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kuchma and promised to uphold the territorial integrity of the Ukraine, with its Article One affirming: “the Independence and Sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.”

Today, 20 years later, this international document seems to be worthless. An international agreement which is not backed by solid interests which can assure that it is kept will not hold water. This, of course, has serious implications on the ongoing negotiations of Israel and its neighbors.

The threats directed at Israel, made recently by EU President Martin Schultz, Secretary of State John Kerry and now President Obama, that it will be isolated unless it signs a peace agreement would seem rather meaningless in view of Ukraine’s current experience.

Signing an agreement seems not to guarantee any security either, especially when a crisis develops. But such news is not fit to print for it does not jibe with the politically correct notion that only a peace agreement and the establishment of a Palestinian state side by side of Israel can guarantee Israel’s future as a Jewish and Democratic state.

On the morning following Netanyahu’s recent meeting with Obama, Arieh Golan of Kol Yisrael posed many questions to Minister Yuval Steinitz. But Golan did not relate to the Crimean affair. Is Golan’s worldview so narrow as to prevent him from asking questions such as: “Minister Steinitz, don’t you think that the recent events in the Crimea should put a damper on Israel’s willingness to sign international agreements?” Steinitz was not asked whether Israel would learn from this experience that, as in the events preceding the 1967 Six Day War, international agreements remain worthless and that Israel must base its policies on its own ability to defend them, rather than expect other countries to do the job for it.

THERE IS much more that is also apparently not fit to print, or discussed in depth, as far as the various media outlets are concerned.

Consider human rights. When Human Rights Watch criticizes Israel, we all get to know about it. But when HRW is exposed as being anti-Semitic by UN Watch, nobody finds out. In fact, most people in Israel have never heard of Hillel Neuer, the executive director of UN Watch, who struggles valiantly and successfully to expose the truth about human rights as practiced in the United Nations and other so-called civil rights NGOs.

In December, 2012, Neuer made it a point to criticize HRW for having Richard Falk, a well documented anti-Semite, on its board.

HRW responded by sacking Falk. Neuer’s struggle to assure that the UN Human Rights Commission would not be controlled by the world’s dictatorships, who have anything but human rights on their agenda, has been quite successful, as also reported in The Jerusalem Post but hardly elsewhere in Israel.

Richard Falk is finally ending his tenure as the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Quite a few Israel-bashers of the Phyllis Bennis ilk (Bennis is quoted as saying, “The Palestinians, they were not Nazis, they were not responsible for the Holocaust, but they were the ones who paid the price”), were hopeful to get the coveted job. But, this was not to be; as reported by UN Watch the nominating board disqualified five such candidates.

Now, one might think that our press, which knows to ask tough questions, especially when Israel is on the receiving side of international criticism, would find that such success is not only worthy of some headlines, but also begs some serious questions.

For example, where is the Foreign Ministry in all of this? Why has it been asleep all these years, why is it that only an independent NGO such as UN Watch struggles against these iniquities? A topic which is very much “in” today is the imminent threat of BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – by a variety of entities abroad. This threat is hailed as a reason why Israel must leave Judea and Samaria. But when NGO Monitor exposes the sources funding these threats, it is ignored.

No one asks the various European ambassadors about their countries’ role in contributing to these anti-Semitic activities.

The representatives of these European countries who are funding what can only be described as subversive activity to undermine Israel’s democracy are treated with fawning respect.

Another well-kept secret is the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), an NGO dealing with Arab affairs in our neighborhood.

Iran is high up on the list of topics discussed in Israel’s media. Yet does anyone here know that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is a Holocaust denier? The Iranian foreign minister tried to deny this allegation, but MEMRI has documented that Khamenei stated the following, in Persian on February 7, 2006: “A very important topic, one which lays to shame the Western culture which prides itself with the freedom of expression, the freedom that they always pride themselves with, it does not allow anyone of them to have doubts about the myth of the killing of Jews, known as the Holocaust. On this topic there is no freedom of expression.”

Is this not of interest to the Israeli public? Shouldn’t information such as this be more prominently publicized in our media? Should not the correspondents based in Washington, London or Berlin be pressing the leaders of those countries negotiating with Iran with some serious questions? And shouldn’t this be done with the same intensity of the foreign media’s pressure on our ministers? Where are our local reporters, such as Ilana Dayan, who confront Israeli officials and politicians with tough questions? Balance and pluralism in the media is not restricted to the number of people appearing, or the social makeup of the various presenters. It is also to be viewed in terms of what is not being asked, and what is withheld from the public.


MEDIA COMMENT: 103 FM’s media ‘excellence’

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:17 pm by yisraelmedad

Media comment: 103 FM’s media ‘excellence’


The station has invested much effort in putting together an impressive cast of people on the various programs.

People from all over the world look at Israel and see innovation written everywhere. Israelis tend to excel, especially when it comes to science and technology.

Although the World Cup in football has not yet been won, the Nobel Prize has been awarded to a few Israelis and Israel even made it to first place in the Eurovision song contest.

Israel also has a radio station which excels: the 103 FM regional radio station broadcasting for the greater Tel Aviv area.

The station has invested much effort in putting together an impressive cast of people on the various programs.

These include Ben Caspit, Gabi Gazit, Ron Kofman, Natan Zehavi, Advocate Yoram Sheftel, Varda Raziel-Jacont and the “comedians” Shai (Goldstein) and Dror (Rafael). These people are outstanding representatives of a model of radio programming especially tailored for the Tel Aviv-area population.

Raziel-Jacont is a good example. According to her biography as it appears on the 103 FM website, she is a psychologist who is also an avid lover of classical music. Her claim to fame originates most naturally from her psychological advice program aired on 103 FM radio weekdays at 4 pm.

As reported by the Calcalist news site, on October 9 last year, her programs were suspended for two weeks by the Second Authority for TV and Radio (SATR). In one of her programs (and this was not the best of the lot), she read from a letter describing a listener who was in extreme mental stress, was considering suicide and requested Zakont’s help. Her answer was that the letter was manipulative – and she went on to explain that there are circumstances in which suicide is legitimate.

Another listener, who said she was suffering from sexual abuse, was told to date many men and seek multiple sexual experiences as the best way to deal with her trauma. And all this sage advice is dispensed at 4 p.m., when most children and adolescents are asleep.

In another instance, she supported the use of physical force against children. The present-day generation of parents was described as “the cream and banana generation.”

Anyone interested is invited to the 103 FM webpage which provides abstracts of her wonderful programs.

The fact that she was suspended for two weeks presumably only increased her ratings. In any case, one cannot discern any fundamental change in the quality of her programming following the suspension.

Obtaining harsh sentences from the SATR is almost daily business at the station. It obviously makes for good publicity.

Kofman is one of the station’s sports commentators.

On July 9, 2012, he had a most exciting conversation with Ben Caspit, moderator of a light news program.

This conversation included epithets such as “zero,” “rag,” “journalist whore,” “bedroom spokesperson,” “belong in the gutter,” “animal” and more. The SATR was unhappy but did not go beyond a “tsk, tsk” admonishment.

FM 103, it seems, was delighted; on its website, under sportscasting, the first item is a link to this specific instance of excellence in media discourse.

Zehavi, though, is the station’s star. His language managed to prod SATR into actually fining the station NIS 80,000 at the end of 2012. In January 2014, as a result of a verbal attack on MK Israel Eichler, he was the cause for a NIS 69,900 fine on the station. One of his most important achievements is his running feud with Sheftel, a colleague at the station he describes as “the disgusting radio presenter.”

Zehavi is an extreme left-winger, Sheftel, an extreme right-winger. Both agree on one thing, namesly that it is good business to curse each other in public.

Zehavi is a very sensitive person. He is known for slapping lawsuits on people, especially those who have the nerve to attack him verbally. After all, freedom of speech should not be overdone.

Shai and Dror are a model couple. Their past is rich.

They could be described as malefactors, offenders, miscreants and more, for a court of law found them guilty of libel against fellow journalist Matti Golan, which the judge termed “a crusade” against him. They do fit in well with the groundbreaking atmosphere of 103 FM.

In one of their programs, Dror Rafael informed listeners that he had easily managed to pass a police breath test while driving under the influence. The program received another slap on the wrist from SATR’s ombudsman, but no fines or suspension.

This couple is a model of good behavior for children. In the best tradition, they show that the best way to assert oneself is to do so at the expense of the weak. What’s better than to make jokes about deaf people on the day dedicated to the deaf population? This took place on May 25, 2010. The response of 103 FM to complaints was that if you don’t like it, don’t listen to it.

Only two weeks ago, we reported on their unabashed foul treatment of Sapir Sabah, the teenager who complained against her teacher’s extreme left-wing propaganda voiced in class. This too, probably was not well received at 103 FM, since the SATR has not decided to fine the station for the infraction.

Radio 103 FM has full backing from the Israeli press council. Paragraph 17 of the ethics code deals with outside employment of journalists. It states that: “A journalist shall not engage in any occupation, work, service, public relations, advertising and soliciting advertisements which may give rise to the suspicion or the appearance of a conflict of interest or of misleading the public.”

Especially in view of this clause, Gazit and Zehavi appear in various radio advertisements on issues that might at times be broadcast on their own program.

Former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner, the president of the press council, knows of this practice.

Does she take any measures? No.

Is this good business? Yes, if profits are the only important criterion. Do we have the right to demand that also on the airwaves, morality and the spirit of the law be obeyed? Don’t the residents of the greater Tel Aviv area deserve something better?


February 20, 2014

MEDIA COMMENT: The ‘intelligent’ media

Posted in Media at 2:34 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The ‘intelligent’ media


It is considered legitimate to criticize not only public behavior but, in Israel, also the private lives of those concerned.

Criticism is one of the most basic and prevalent themes in so many of society’s activities. Literary critics are hailed for their incisive comments, even though they can destroy careers. Art critics can increase multifold the prices of paintings.

Movie and theater critics can assist actors to achieve fame with Oscars and Emmys. In the academic world, publishing a research article requires peer review, which is ideally “based on objectivity, balance and fairness, leading to measured, constructive, critical discourse” as Jo Brewis, a professor at the University of Leicester, wrote last July in the prestigious Times Higher Education magazine.

Criticism is an essential part of the media. This includes criticizing politics and politicians, government bureaucracy, industrial tycoons, sports players and their managers and many other areas of life and accomplishment.

It is considered legitimate to criticize not only public behavior but, in Israel, also the private lives of those concerned, including their spouses, children and relatives, even if not directly involved. Their dress, their relatives and friends are often included, if only to make the story more sensational and dramatic.

Nevertheless, the act of criticizing the media itself draws not only personal ire from the reporters or columnists directly involved, but a virtual closing-up of the ranks of colleagues.

Together, they proclaim that such criticism is not legitimate, since they perceive that it strikes at the very core of the democratic state and its institutions.

A very perverse reaction to media criticism was given on January 29 by Ilan Lukatz, culture correspondent for Channel 2 television.

As part of a discussion on the case of teacher Adam Verte (the extreme left-wing teacher) and his pupil Sapir Sabah (who rebelled against his brainwashing), he was asked on his Facebook page “how many right-wingers are there at your station?” His answer was “I won’t provide you with a list of names, obviously, but there are rightists.

There are, for sure, more leftists, but that’s because there’s a correlation between IQ and leftism and senior media people usually [possess] above-average [intelligence].”

After being roundly criticized by many, he attempted to backtrack, noting that there are right-wing geniuses such as the late Professor Yuval Neeman, but he remained true to his thesis claiming that the statistical evidence is that smart people tend to belong to the political Left. He was reprimanded by TV Channel 2’s management, but the evidence of his imperious, self-proclaimed superiority, and its reflection on his colleagues, cannot be ignored. This is elitism at work. Oded Ben- Ami, the former army spokesman turned TV moderator, concurred with Lukatz. Referring to the media he said: “We are three percent [of the people] but we are the high quality.”

The Haaretz caricaturist Amos Biderman displayed his own form of “intelligence.” He sketched the aforementioned high schooler Sapir Sabah for his paper on Tuesday. Sabah had entered her school’s teachers’ room to take a picture of those gathered to express support for her teacher Verte. Pushed out, she made headlines, again.

Biderman portrayed her with a sub-machine gun, spraying the building and humans with bullets. Intelligent? imaginative? creative? Is not media criticism necessary? Last Sunday evening, at Beit Sokolov, the headquarters of the Israeli Journalists Association, three media criticism prizes were awarded.

They were sponsored by Kenneth and Nira Abramowitz and organized by Israel’s Media Watch. On the podium were Dr. Meir Rosenne, Dr. Dalia Zelikovich, General (Res.) Oren Shachor, poet Erez Biton and Ambassador Zalman Shoval. The ceremony was moderated by one of us (Professor Eli Pollak).

Two of the awardees, Guy Bechor and Dror Eydar, possess doctorates. The intelligence quotient represented was, in our humble estimation, no less than that of the friends of Ilan Lukatz. In contrast though, the cultural breadth and pluralism to be found at this ceremony was much more than the standard fare provided by our media.

The keynote address was given by Communication Minister Gilad Erdan. He bemoaned the inability of the public to receive comprehensive, multi-faceted information. In his words: “in Israel, this reality does not come about.”

“We know well,” he continued, “that many sections of Israel’s society suffer exclusion within the media as well as insufficient coverage, stereotyping, biased reporting, and I intend to provide a response to the lack of media balance.” He also proclaimed: “We will go for a more relevant broadcasting… that will reflect all parts of Israel’s society.”

The winner of the prize for Quality Economic Journalism, Elia Tsipori, was introduced by a previous director-general of the Treasury, Shmuel Slavin, as a critical writer with no favoritism or fear of pressure.

Tsipori himself did the unthinkable, declaring that “I have learned that journalists are not holy nor messiahs and we even, at times, exaggerate and err.” Lukatz could learn something here. In his words of thanks, Guy Bechor, who shared this year’s Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism, described our reality as being “imagined,” continuing, “and the imagined becomes the reality and all this through the pretext of it being media. In Israel’s mainstream media the bad is over-emphasized whereas the good is underplayed.”

Bechor accused large sections of our media of engaging in spreading fear and manipulating the mindset of the public. The object of this campaign, he noted, is not to inform people but rather to control them. His examples included the link between Iran’s nuclear development and the need for a diplomatic arrangement; the supposed demographic threat from Arabs; that the boycott campaign is increasing; and that Israel is the main problem in the region.

He further charged that Israel’s media, in part, is creating and cooking up many of these supposed threats. They do this not only in what they report but in what they do not include in the news.

“In the Israeli media,” he exclaimed, “the bad is good, and the good is bad. The bad is always emphasized while the good is hidden or suppressed.” And he concluded with his vision of “the best pluralism than can possibly be… a deep media that inspires the media consumer, and develops his knowledge.”

Dror Eydar, who shared the prize with Bechor, revealed that he never had intended to become a media figure, preferring music composition and writing books. But, as he explained, “ever since I adopted a political stance, I have suffered from being silenced…and despite the fact that the parties I voted for received a majority of the votes of the public, there was no commensurate expression for this in the media. We are not concerned with the press but are in the midst of a cultural war.”

Perhaps in sharp contrast to the cheap and self-denigrating Biderman of Haaretz, the ceremony was accompanied by cartoonist Shai Charka, of the Makor Rishon newspaper. His theme was dogs. After all, the media considers itself the watchdog of democracy. His cartoons of dogs were varied. There was the poodle, there was the dog leading the human and the human being led by the dog. The satire was sharp but in good taste.

Indeed, the ceremony exemplified the high quality and depth of some of the outstanding personalities within our media.


February 13, 2014

MEDIA COMMENT: We still need awards

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 11:34 am by yisraelmedad

Media comment: We still need awards

The Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism, graciously sponsored by Kenneth and Nira Abramowitz and initiated by Israel’s Media Watch, will be awarded this coming Sunday.

The Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism, graciously sponsored by Kenneth and Nira Abramowitz and initiated by Israel’s Media Watch, will be awarded this coming Sunday (February 16) to Dr. Dror Eydar and Dr. Guy Bechor, with the Israeli Prize for Quality Economic Journalism going to Elia Tsipori, deputy chief editor since 2006 of the Globes daily newspaper.

By chance, the same week as these prizes are awarded, two members of the Ethics Committee of the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s Public Council will resign. Dr. Motti Neiger and Prof. Akiba Cohen exited the committee in protest against the appointment of Prof. Asa Kasher as its new chairman.

Neiger is head of the Netanya College Communications School and Cohen, a professor emeritus, taught at Tel Aviv University and is currently on the staff of the Emek Yizrael Academic College. They were upset that former judge Bilha Cahana is no longer the committee’s chairman.

We already related to a major alteration in the IBA’s ethics code in our October 23, 2013 column; Cahana sought to revamp the old guidelines, known as the Nakdi document, which declared that the IBA does not have “a voice of its own.”

Instead, she decreed, together with Neiger and Cohen, that journalists are permitted to make personal comments on news programs and provide the public with their sagacious insight. They considered the adage that views and news don’t mix to be outdated.

Cahane’s committee noted that it “was impressed by the IBA’s journalists’ understanding of their job as the watchdog of democracy, therefore it is obligatory to give them the necessary tools to be critical and express their opinions under certain conditions.”

The IBA plenum ratified this fundamental change in a vote of eight to two; less than a third of the members actually voted. However, there were misgivings among the professional management of the IBA, as the new guidelines would replace the IBA’s doctrine of objectivity with “the rhetoric of objectivity.”

Ethicist Professor Asa Kasher shares these concerns. Kasher holds the Laura Schwarz-Kipp Chair in Professional Ethics and Philosophy of Practice at Tel Aviv University, received the 2000 Israel Prize for Philosophy and, among his many positions, is the vice chairman of the steering committee of the Ethics Center of Jerusalem. He wrote, “I never accepted the cliché that the press is ‘democracy’s watchdog’ and I have no basis to assume that the media is managed by persons who know best what is democracy, what should happen in a democracy and how to guard it…. Many journalists today are known for their shallowness, their lack of grasp of the matters on which they report and among other things, their kowtowing to their sources.”

His view, according to Cohen and Neiger, is a “targeted elimination” of the committee’s work.

We made no secret that in our view, it was the committee’s decision to alter the code that actually was an elimination of one of the basic assurances of objectivity and professional reporting. If anything, Cahana’s committee was instituting a very undemocratic procedure, elevating journalists to a position of undeserved supremacy in managing the public discourse.

Just like any other public sector, the media needs criticism, and more so when state-sponsored broadcasting in involved. This is the fundamental reasoning underlying the Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism. It is in the public interest to support and encourage those in the media who uphold ethical and professional standards and do not serve narrow interests – political, economic and personal – but rather the public and the media itself.

Media ethics have improved considerably this past year at the army radio station. It is the only major media purveyor that does not hesitate to admit mistakes. But its attitude just accentuates the lack of improvement in media ethics elsewhere.

Major issues are not afforded the correct balance and unfair and biased interventions are too often the norm, as repeatedly discussed in this column.

While today’s media is not as one-sided as it once was – the print media having changed radically – nevertheless, the electronic and broadcasting media cannot be relied upon. The public microphone is usurped to become a personal one in too many instances.

Employing undemocratic means through media dominance will only deepen the rifts among us.

We all should raise our voices to prevent this.

THE PRIZE winners this year exemplify that it is possible to be professional, ethical and considerate of media consumers.

Dror Eydar’s writing reflects a “thinking outside the box” style.

His columns are uncompromising in their treatment of government, economics, politics and the media as well. As an independent actor, he is outside the branja, the clique of Israel’s Left-liberal media celebrities.

He has attacked influential elements in Israel for their post-Zionist positions.

Eydar is not the cultural icon of the mainstream media he deserves to be. He began to publish in the mid-nineties. He edited Nativ, the now defunct bi-monthly and published columns in the Makor Rishon and Haaretz newspapers. He finally found his journalistic home at the Israel Hayom newspaper, for which has been writing from its very inception.

Bechor has frequently noted the impact of negative journalism on Israel. With careful, well thoughtout and courageous writing, Bechor has strongly criticized media manipulation, the uniform, unimaginative thinking which dominates it, and its excessive power. He has consistently insisted that the public has a right to receive objective, democratic and unbiased reporting and analysis.

An orientalist, jurist and historian in academic life, he was the first Arab affairs reporter at the IDF Army Radio station (from 1980 to 1984). He was one of the founders of the (now defunct) daily newspaper Hadashot, heading its Middle East desk between the years 1984 and 1991. He then held the same position at the Ha’aretz newspaper, until 1998. He is a lecturer and commentator on Middle East affairs in the media worldwide and has published seven books in Hebrew, English and Arabic.

This is also the eighth year that an additional award is given for economic journalism. The Israeli Prize for Quality Economic Journalism will be presented to Elia Tsipori, deputy chief editor since 2006 of the Globes daily newspaper. Tsipori joined Globes when he was 21 and from 1994 until 2006 was the editor of the paper’s finance section.

Tsipori’s writing is critical, impartial and free of political and business pressures. He separates his private opinion and his professional interpretation. He knows how to admit when his criticism was mistaken – a rare trait on the Israeli media scene. His substantive writing has significantly impacted the economy of Israel.

Arguably the most notable of his accomplishments is the insistent reporting with which he forced the various Israeli pension funds to reduce their management fees from over two percent to less than 1%; a saving of at least NIS 1 billion per year for Israeli citizens. Rewarding him with the prize is one way of publicly thanking a person whose efforts have rewarded practically all working Israelis.

We are proud that there are journalists such as these among us and that we can honor them.

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