December 18, 2014
by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 12/17/2014
Our observations during the past 20 years support the conclusion that the Israeli media has a distinct preference for the left-wing camp.
The behavior of Israel’s media during election campaigns has historically been rather dismal. Our observations during the past 20 years support the conclusion that the Israeli media has a distinct preference for the left-wing camp. In 2012, Tzipi Livni was the media’s darling. In 2008, the media supported Livni as head of Kadima, in the aftermath of the resignation of Olmert. In 2006, the media was still operating under the euphoria of the expulsion from Gaza and Olmert, the crook, was king.
Traditionally, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been at the receiving end of the media’s antipathy both toward him personally and to the Likud’s right-wing platform. Perhaps the worst display of this was in 1996, when the media used all means at its disposal to present Netanyahu in a negative light. In 1999, Netanyahu publicly indicted the media for this type of behavior, with his famous slogan “they are afraid,” though it didn’t help him. He lost the elections and resigned as Likud head.
Tuesday a week ago, Channel 10 TV made big headlines with its public opinion poll which showed equality (22 percent each) between the public support for Netanyahu and Labor leader Isaac Herzog as prime ministerial candidates. This was, so the line went, a big blow to Netanyahu who just a week earlier, in a November 30 Haaretz poll, had the support of 35% of respondents. Likud minister Gilad Erdan was quick to point out that the Channel 10 poll also had Gideon Sa’ar as a candidate, taking 13%. The poll did not ask what the support would be without Sa’ar, and so could not be compared to the previous poll, Erdan said. Moreover, if one adds the support for Sa’ar to that for Netanyahu one finds that Netanyahu did not fare too badly at all.
But Channel 10’s headlines were that the poll was a blow to the prime minister. It is thus not surprising that the following Thursday Netanyahu publicly accused the media of wanting to overthrow him. Was this accusation justified? Did the media actually pick especially on Netanyahu, or was this simply Channel 10 attempting to create headlines to increase ratings, with Netanyahu happening to be the victim? TV Channel 1’s Ayala Hasson opened the channel’s Friday night Yoman news show with the headline: “Surveys are one thing and reality is another.” She warned that one should handle polls with care and certainly not give them undue importance. In fact, many people within the media noted that the Channel 10 poll itself predicted that Israel’s Right would continue to keep its hold on power, given the prediction that the Likud would get 20 seats, Bayit Yehudi 15, Kulanu 13, Israel Beytenu 11, Shas seven and United Torah Judaism seven – altogether 73 mandates.
The previous week saw the unification of the Labor party with Livni’s Hatnua party, with Labor’s Herzog agreeing to rotation deal with Livni for the premiership. In the aftermath, Herzog faced a rather critical media. Even far-left journalist Amnon Abramowitz did not give Herzog an easy time on Channel 2’s prime Friday night news magazine, making sarcastic comments and roundly criticizing the rotation agreement.
He was not the only one. Danny Kushmaru, on the same news show, pointedly asked Herzog: Why should Livni, whose party does not meet the election threshold, receive the premiership through a rotation agreement? Perhaps this demonstrates your lack of self-confidence? Dana Weiss added: “The public seemingly does not buy the premise that you can lead.” Nadav Haezni asked Herzog: “Where do you differ from Zehava Gal-On? And what are you, Livni or Gal-On?” Last Thursday, Ayala Hasson grilled Herzog on her weekly radio program on the IBA’s Reshet Bet, criticizing the Livni agreement. She also noted that his agreement with Livni could be interpreted as panic, given that Livni’s political base had evaporated. The next day, on the Yoman news program, she interviewed Livni, noting that, “Your merger [with Herzog] looks good. You, how should we put it, played him, with an empty hand: with between zero and four Knesset members you managed to bend him [Herzog].”
In response to Livni’ s assertion that had Netanyahu not fired her she would have continued serving as justice minister under him, Hasson noted: “It sounds a bit like an excuse. You sit in a government that you criticize and believe that it is extremist, yet you hold on to the Justice Ministry. In truth you hardly dedicated yourself to it, but were completely immersed in the negotiations [with the Palestinians], and rightly so….”
Livni appeared also on Reshet’s Channel 2 political humor program The State of the Union and had this to say about Prime Minister Netanyahu: “The truth is that Bibi said we are going to the electorate because of the Zero VAT law, and I thought, there is a zero in this story but it’s not the VAT law.” She continued: “Stop talking about this business called ‘right wing’: it is extreme right-wing, you have to learn to say ‘extreme’ right.” She ended the show by calling upon the electorate to know not to vote for those “busy only with themselves.”
The next day (Sunday) she was roundly criticized. On Army Radio, even Haaretz commentator Barak Ravid commented that Livni’s appearance on the show was embarrassing.
Army Radio’s political commentator Il’il Shachar quoted Minister Yuval Steinitz’s response to her appearance: “My recommendation to Ms. Livni is to stop using low language, even in jest.”
So what have we got? A series of commentators who aggressively attack the union between Herzog and Livni, and journalists who parrot the prime minister’s claim that the media is against him. Of course, Haaretz and Yediot Aharonot are not pro-Netanyahu, but Israel Hayom and Makor Rishon are. So can the prime minister truly assert that “the media” is out to get him? We believe not. At this point in time, the increasing pluralism in Israel’s media has created a situation whereby no one has a monopoly on public opinion. Professional journalism does call for asking the difficult questions of all, irrespective of their political affiliation.
If this past week is a harbinger of things to come, then it was a very positive one. Our media is finally showing signs of maturity. Will this welcome trend continue throughout the electoral campaign?
December 10, 2014
by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 12/10/2014
Too many people feel their vote is useless, that candidates do whatever they want once elected, campaign promises are not credible and that there is a lack of accountability.
The hallmark of democracy, any average citizen would invariably declare, is free elections. But free from what? Indeed, what are free elections? Clearly, they should be free from coercion, especially threats from state authorities or parties.
The voter must be free of any pressure to choose this or that candidate or party. Free elections are also predicated on a free flow of information. Candidates should have equal access to the electorate, who should be able to freely obtain information about them. Moreover, citizens should be free to be candidates and stand for elections.
Arguably though, one of the most fundamental aspects of the democratic system is that the electorate should feel that the elections were fair. When segments of the population and especially minority groups are under the impression that the electoral process discriminates against them, or that they are underrepresented, democratic society is in for trouble.
An electorate that feels cheated can lead to anarchy. Extremists feed on such feelings. It is precisely at this juncture where the media plays a crucial role.
An election campaign which is covered fairly by the media creates the necessary impression of equality; even the losers know that the game was fair.
If though, as in the past, the media distorts the campaign and favors one side or the other, the result may be disastrous.
In the past weeks, we were fed daily by the press with the brouhaha surrounding the “Jewish state law” and how it negates Israel’s democratic fiber.
The harm to democracy which results from an aggressive and one-sided media is much greater than that caused by any “Jewish state law.” The challenge to our media is whether they will curb themselves and make the effort to create a process which is perceived as fair by the populace.
It is no secret that the percentage of voters in Israel has declined to almost 60 percent.
This is a symptom of an election process that needs fixing.
Too many people feel their vote is useless, that candidates do whatever they want once elected, campaign promises are not credible and that there is a lack of accountability. Here too, the press can and should play a central role.
There is a debate in academic circles as to whether the media have a major influence on the electoral outcome. In our opinion, this is a secondary question and the raging discussion surrounding it cannot lead to a definitive result. Media adoration can perhaps convince some people but at the same time, can also lead to a backlash. The facts in Israel are that even though our media is mostly left-of-center, the majority usually votes right-of-center. The Israeli voter seems to know how to filter the information received from the media and is sufficiently independent and intelligent to reach his or her own conclusions.
Our thesis, though, is that an unfair media which has traditionally propped up left-of-center politicians also has helped to create apathy in the electorate which may become dangerous to our democracy. The media can correct this process by abiding by a few elementary principles.
Former Meretz minister Yossi Sarid recently published a column in Haaretz in which he wrote, “A journalist who is not ‘anti’ in his consciousness and temperament is an anti-journalist.”
He exhorted media people to assume that “the common politician [is]… guilty until proven innocent. He’s a liar until proven pure. Suspect him and suspect him… because these politicians are masters of deceit.”
Election time presents a good test of Sarid’s principle. Will the media present the populace with a record of previous electoral promises and compare them with reality? Will it do this fairly, with equal suspicious treatment to all? Will Israel’s media, for the first time in its history, demand accountability from the various parties, irrespective of their own personal agendas? Such accountability is not limited to the government, but should extend also to opposition parties. The media should question election promises, rather than parrot them, especially if the promises reflect the journalists’ own wishes.
Journalists and pundits are human beings, with their own views, and it is only natural that this is reflected in their work. It is for this reason that journalist Kalman Liebskind of Ma’ariv and the Galei Yisrael radio station presented his fellow professionals with a challenge – let the public know who you voted for in the past elections. This would give us, the electorate, a tool with which to filter the journalist’s opinion and would increase our trust in the information we receive. It would also help the journalists themselves to overcome their impulses and to try to be fair especially to those with whom they disagree politically. Unfortunately, thus far, most of Israel’s top media people, such as Yaron London and Motti Kirschenbaum, who interviewed him on their TV program, have not risen to Liebskind’s challenge.
Elections can bring out the best and the worst in the media.
The worst is already evident, as when Professor Moshe Negbi used his microphone to actively promote Tzipi Livni on his radio program this past week. Media executives must stop such improper use of the airwaves during the election campaign.
The Supreme Court previously asserted the principle that as election day nears, the democratic process becomes all-important and may even negate the freedom of expression of the media. Media celebrities should keep their opinions to themselves.
But there is another side to the media’s responsibility. Unfortunately, in the past few elections, there has been no open debate between the various party leaders.
The lack of willingness of candidates to present themselves to the public, unfiltered, and to face public scrutiny and criticism does not raise the level of trust. The challenge to our media is, this time, to actively promote a more open election campaign, in which those seeking election must face the public and answer the tough questions.
This past week provided ample evidence of the politicians’ fear of the media. Once more, in an act of desperation, the politicians are allowing TV Channel 10 to get away with its ongoing blatant violations of the very contracts it signed.
Instead of closing it down, they permitted it another chance to spit in the face of the law and continue to violate its commitments.
The politicians obviously expect that just as they do not demand accountability from the channel, so the channel will not demand it from them.
The bottom line is an additional blemish on Israel’s democratic process and the principle of equality before the law. The media is exempt from the law.
This kind of attitude puts fuel in the engines of those media personnel who believe that they are the only bearers of democracy. It contributes to the loss of trust of the population in the democratic process.
There is, though, one major source of relief – technology. The electronic media has changed many rules of the game. People obtain their information from an increasing variety of outlets. The mainstream media becomes increasingly irrelevant and the damage it does to the democratic process lessens. It is this which makes us hope that the present election campaign will be perceived by the public as being the fairest one in recent years.
December 8, 2014
by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 12/03/2014
What does all this have to do with a media commentary article? Everything.
Tzafrir Ronen was an Israeli Zionist through and through. A kibbutznik who worked as a media advisor to prime minister Yitzhak Rabin during the 1992 election campaign, slowly but surely he changed his thinking and joined Israel’s Right, and was even appointed to the Yesha Council in 2007.
Ronen was an idealist. He firmly believed that facts are important and for this purpose tried to found an Israeli History Channel, assuming that if people were to become more familiar with the facts, they would understand that the Oslo process was a disaster for the State of Israel and Zionism.
He collected over 8,000 hours of documentary material, preparing some of it for a fourpart series entitled “The Curse of Hadrian.”
In the aftermath of the Bar Kochba revolt, the Roman emperor Hadrian not only destroyed the Judean Province and exiled all of its Jewish inhabitants but also changed its name to Syria Palaestina. It is this change of name which Ronen referred to as the curse; the usage of the name “Palestine” today is nothing but the perpetuation of an attempt by an enemy of the Jewish people to erase the memory of Judaea. According to Ronen, anyone using this terminology today is playing into the hands of those who want to destroy the national identity of the Jewish people.
Ronen passed away in 2008 at the relatively young age of 53, destitute and deeply saddened by the tragic evacuation of the Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria.
What does all this have to do with a media commentary article? Everything.
Channel 1 TV, our publicly funded TV channel, decided to air this past Tuesday the first of a two-part series, entitled Hadrian’s Curse, supposedly fulfilling a promise given to Ronen that his work would be brought to the public.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a Bar-Ilan expert on Middle East studies, appears in a few sections of the series and wrote the following on his Facebook pages: “I saw both parts of the film and I am upset to the depths of my heart. This film is the precise opposite of what Tzafrir Ronen tried to achieve. Tzafrir claimed all his life that the ‘Palestinian Narrative’ is built on lies, bluffs and inventions while Israel’s truth emanates from the solid history of other peoples (Greece, Rome), from archeology which cannot be questioned and in the modern age on international law since the Balfour Declaration (1917) and the San Remo conference (1920).
“The film to be shown on Channel 1 is a defilement of the memory of Tzafrir and his life’s work. The film brings forth two narratives, an Israeli and a Palestinian, and presents them as equally valued. I called one of the people who participated in preparing it and asked him about this distortion. His answer shocked me: ‘In Israel you cannot get funding for films which present only the Zionist side positively.’” Kedar ends his post by noting that had he known that this would be the final product he would not have participated in it.
This disappointing story follows another recent news item. As reported in Haaretz on November 24, Minister of Culture and Sport Limor Livnat (Likud) has requested that all public funding be withdrawn from the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. Last year, the state gave it NIS 1.8 million. The cinematheque had just organized a “Nakba and Right of Return Film Festival,” the product of the virulent anti-Zionist Zochrot movement. The festival includes what one might expect.
Livnat said, “It is unreasonable in my eyes that an organization which is funded by the State of Israel would allow its premises to be used for preaching [that] the day of the establishment of the state is a day of mourning.
It cannot be that the state funds a body which encourages a discourse on what the Palestinians call ‘the right of return.’” Another related incident is the poem “Ahmed Loves Israel.” Amir Benayoun is an established mainstream Israeli singer, who also happens to be an observant Jew. In the aftermath of the recent spate of murderous acts against Jews by Arabs, Benayoun composed a song with lyrics such as: “It’s true a moment will come when you’ll turn your back; And I’ll slash you with a sharpened ax,” describing a fictional Arab called Ahmed who lives a “normal” life but has dreams of killing Jews.
In response, President Reuven Rivlin dis-invited Benayoun from an official presidential event organized by the Senior Citizens Ministry. Ironically, the event commemorated the expulsion of Jews from Arab lands. Minister Uri Orbach (Bayit Yehudi) was angered by the presidential boycott, believing that Benayoun’s freedom of speech should be safeguarded. In protest, he absented himself from the event. One wonders what is worse: describing Arabs as bloodthirsty or accusing a whole nation (which happens to be Jewish) of supposedly uprooting half a million people from their homes.
This does not end our saga. The criminal arson of a classroom and hateful epithets appearing in Jerusalem’s Max Rayne Hand in Hand school received across-the-board condemnation in Israel. At the Hand in Hand school Arab and Jewish children learn together and its motto is “Building a shared society.” This includes, for example, holding a special event on the tenth anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat.
Yet almost at the same time, another school, the Teddy Kollek middle school in Jerusalem’s Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood, became the scene of Palestinian stoning of Jewish children. Injuries were caused last Friday. Parents could not come and collect their children as the school was under siege.
Despite calls for outrage, all the “important people” somehow managed to avoid making any pronouncements. What is worse, vandalizing an empty classroom or stoning people? Actually, there isn’t too much news in this article. We all know that among what is considered the Israeli elite, Jews are second- rate denizens of this earth. One may with impunity debase their holiest beliefs, as in the Broadcasting Authority’s new satire, The Jews Are Coming, or one can deny their fundamental truths such as their very right of existence in the land of Israel. But, if one dares to do these to Arabs, the epithets start flying.
In retrospect, this situation is really a reflection of the media’s contempt for Israel’s Arab citizens. They are treated as is they were babies who have to be safeguarded at any cost, babies who cannot defend themselves. We the Jews are grownups, and therefore, our obligations are of a more serious nature. Babies are allowed to cry, grownups are not. It is high time that our media and cultural leaders started treating Jews and Arabs as human beings, with equal rights but also equal obligations. When this day comes, we can start really believing in coexistence. When this day comes, the life’s work of Tzafrir Ronen will not be blighted any more.
November 27, 2014
By YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 11/26/2014
Too many in our media are post-Zionists to whom anything Jewish is considered dangerous, outdated, anti-democratic and other such slogans.
Our media, by large, does not like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. During Operation Protective Edge, however, he was hailed as a moderate, a careful and thoughtful prime minister. This volte-face is easily explained by the fact that in not immediately reacting to Hamas’s war with full force, he fit the media’s perception of how the country should be run.
But when it comes to news, memory is short, and his “responsible” actions during the war have already been long forgotten. What is remembered is that he comes from the Likud, a right-wing party. Any action of Netanyahu’s which is deemed as promoting a right-wing cause is immediately described as kowtowing to the right wing, trying to gain their favor because elections are around the corner. Of course, any action which is perceived by Israel’s Right as moving to the Left is considered by pundits to be “wise,” “courageous leadership” and whatnot.
Too many in our media are post-Zionists to whom anything Jewish is considered dangerous, outdated, anti-democratic and other such slogans.
Especially when it comes to legislation, left-wing lawmaking such as attempting to dissociate the State of Israel from its Jewish roots is considered by these individuals to be serving Israel’s democracy, as forward- looking and exemplary. Legislation aimed at preserving the Jewish character of the state, on the other hand, is “reactionary,” “primitive,” “discriminatory” and so on.
This week, the media types described above have had a ball: Prime Minister Netanyahu was guilty of two outrageous acts. The first was his insisting that Israel should have a basic law establishing the Jewish character of the state. The second was that Netanyahu was promoting what they consider reactionary, right-wing legislation of extremists such as the chairman of the Knesset’s foreign affairs and defense committee, MK Ze’ev Elkin. That this specific legislation has both an overt Jewish character to it and is right-wing politically makes it a double whammy.
A leading left-wing progressive thinker is Professor Moshe Negbi, the legal guru of our public broadcaster, who, similar to some rabbis, has a pulpit. His weekly radio program is audaciously titled Law, Values, Democracy and Everything In Between.
Showing his respect for democratic ideals, Negbi invited three people to voice their opinions about the “Jewish Nation law.” All three – one of whom was himself – stated in no uncertain terms that the suggested legislation is anti-democratic and harmful to the Jewish character of the state. Who needs it, they asked, when our Declaration of Independence and the UN resolution of November 28, 1947, established the Jewish character of the state? Negbi, who spoke in the name of democracy, did not have the decency to air a single dissenting opinion, such as for example that such a law has become necessary due to the Supreme Court obligating state institutions to prefer the Basic Law of Equality over Jewish values precisely because there is no basic law establishing the proper position of Judaism in our state.
Neither Negbi nor his editor, Orit Barkai, allowed any other participant to note that this proposed law has come in response to the trend among too many to distinguish between being Israeli and being Jewish. It is asking too much to have someone note that by identifying Israel with its Jewish character, the prime minister was undermining those anti-Semites abroad who are only against Israel, not against the Jews.
Negbi’s alter ego, Keren Neubach, with her morning radio program broadcast on Kol Yisrael’s Reshet Bet, is of the same ilk. Her introduction and all that followed was one big hurrah for anyone who criticizes the “Jewish law.” Another member of this crowd is Arieh Golan, who knows how to ask all the “right” questions. When it came to MK Ofir Akunis, who was attempting to defend the legislation, the questions came thick and fast: Don’t you think that the law is discriminatory? Why do we need it at all when we have such a Jewish Declaration of Independence? And, most importantly, are we going to elections? In the summary following the 8 a.m. news on Monday morning, Akunis was quoted only on his point that any minister voting against would have to leave the government. His pointed comment that both Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid lead undemocratic parties and so have a little problem in arguing that a law is undemocratic was not included. But others, such as Health Minister Yael German, did have their points quoted, in German’s case that the proposed law would change the character of the state. This statement was so admired by the public broadcaster that is the only citation to appear on the website as headline.
Assaf Lieberman, the presenter of the Army Radio station’s morning news bulletin, is not much better.
On Tuesday, he interrogated Minister Bennett, who tried valiantly to explain why he supports the legislation.
Bennett noted that part of the coalition agreement was that the legislation would pass. But Lieberman would hardly let him finish a sentence.
We note that no one accused ministers Livni and Yair Lapid of violating a coalition agreement to which they were signatories.
Much of the media’s coverage of the proposed law is actual disinformation.
For example, the media charged that the law is discriminatory and would leave Israel’s non-Jewish population second-rate citizens. This is of course unadulterated nonsense. Even if the Elkin version of the law is passed, a non-Jewish person could become prime minister of Israel. The only discriminatory aspect of the law is that it stipulates that Israel cannot become, for example, a Christian state or an Islamic state. This is no more nor less discriminatory than the US Constitution which separates state from religion, but who cares about facts? Another accusation is that the legislation would undermine Arabic as a legitimate language in Israel.
Elkin’s suggestion was to include two paragraphs in the bill that state: (A) Hebrew is the official language of the state; (B) the Arabic language will have a special status, its speakers will have the right to access state services in Arabic, as will be detailed by law.
The pundits here succeeded, for this paragraph was deleted in the present version of the bill.
Our media, however, is not so much worried about the Arabic language, but much more about the English language.
One of the symptoms of post-Zionism is a need to systematically destroy the Hebrew language, by anglicizing it. This is because a basic law which preserves the special status of the Hebrew language might just make it more difficult to forget that Hebrew has its roots in the Bible, whose grammatical rules dictate how Hebrew is to be spoken.
At this point it would seem that the pundits will succeed. Either the Likud will back down (the preliminary vote has already been delayed by a week), or the vote will not pass and we will have new elections. A third scenario is that the vote will squeak by but then will languish in committee long enough for it to die naturally. The big loser will be the state.
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.