August 17, 2016
|Two inter-related topics have been on our media agenda during the past two weeks. One is the attempt by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) to curtail the activities of Israel’s two public gambling institutions, Mifal Hapayis, owned by Israel’s municipalities, and the Toto, which runs sports betting. The second is the media coverage of the Olympics. Both create a serious conflict of interest for the media and both have an international flavor.
The Jewish attitude toward gambling is negative.
The Talmud notes that the testimony of someone who gambles with dice is not acceptable in court. Gambling has destroyed families and people. It is addictive. Large gambling losses have even led to murder. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has more than once tried to introduce legal casino gambling to Israel, claiming that it would bring with it huge profits for the tourism industry and especially Eilat, but was overruled even by his own party members.
Why then does Israel allow the Toto and Mifal Hapayis to operate? Some claim that gambling is simply an unsurmountable human weakness, and that if the country were to forbid gambling completely it would continue illegally and be dominated by criminal elements. Better to have government gambling operations which are limited in scope and regulated.
Both Mifal Hapayis and the Toto are public corporations. Mifal Hapayis pours its profits into the coffers of the municipal governments which use it to build classes, public centers and fund a variety of public interest activities. The Toto, run by the Council for Organization of Sports Gambling, with representatives of the Israel Olympic Committee (IOC) on its board, uses its profits to enhance sports activities in Israel, supporting sports clubs, sports education and Israel’s Olympic efforts. Both organizations are considered to be relatively clean by the media. Bribing of athletes is relatively rare and the known number of cases is small.
Yet, when one thinks of it, the media’s relationship to these organizations puts it in a serious conflict of interest. The Payis spends almost NIS 100 million per year on advertisements, making it one of the biggest supporters of the Israeli media. The Toto (whose yearly income of NIS 2.6 billion, compared to that of the Payis at NIS 6.5b.) spends NIS 30m. directly on advertising and much more indirectly through its support of the Israel Premier League’s monopoly on broadcasting its games.
Given these huge sums, it is clear that media outlets which carry advertising of the two organizations would be very hesitant to criticize them. Our three central TV channels were very supportive of the “cottage cheese” social upheaval of 2011. They consistently clamor that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Yet, the Payis and the Toto do the same. Their combined NIS 10b. annual income is equivalent to an annual tax of NIS 5000 per Israeli household, if it were equally distributed. It is not. The rich hardly pay it at all; the poor pay most of it. Imagine the brouhaha the media would raise if Netanyahu were to suggest such a skewed taxation.
But the Payis and the Toto are not taken to task – at least not until Finance Minister Kahlon put his foot down. All he did was limit the operations of the Payis and stop its setting up of slot machines all over the country.
The reaction of the municipalities was a strike threat, and the media played along beautifully, giving the threatening mayors ample opportunity to “explain” why their threats are justified. This paid off for them: the Finance Ministry agreed to cover most of the “losses” incurred because of the curtailing of the Payis.
The media silence is deafening. When a doctor manages to top the income list of government officials, reaching NIS 1m. per year, the media goes berserk in pointing out the “injustice.” Yet the salary of the executive director of the Payis is almost the same. At least the salary of the physician comes from taxpayers’ money, which is mostly covered by the rich. The salary of the CEO of the Payis comes from the poor. But the media is mostly silent.
The Olympic Games are not very different.
Their coverage in Israel borders on the ridiculous. This Monday, Israel Hayom, Israel’s leading newspaper, ran on its front page the headline “The Night of Hanna,” referring to Hanna Knyazeva-Minenko, who was hopefully going to win an Olympic medal in the women’s triple jump. Let’s make this clear: the paper went to press before the results were known; Knyazeva-Minenko had not even won a medal yet made it onto page one.
It is interesting to compare Israel with its eight-million population to other countries, such as Switzerland, also with 8 million, or Denmark with 6 million. Swiss athletes have thus far collected five medals, two of them gold and two bronze. Danish athletes won three bronze, three silver and one gold. Israel’s performance by comparison is very weak.
Why? Not many countries send their sports ministers to spend a few weeks in Rio to “oversee” the Olympics. Our media, which rushes to criticize the prime minister for expenses incurred in his travels abroad, have in this case, even though they generally abhor Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, kept mum about the unnecessary expense.
Israeli athletes garnered two bronze medals.
They were publicly congratulated by President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Haven’t our politicians overdone this? Why aren’t they brought to task for mixing sports with politics? The IOC clearly failed, Israel’s results are miserable – why doesn’t the media demand its resignation and the infusion of new blood into it? Could it be because the media is afraid of the IOC members who control the advertising budget of the Toto? The TV channels make extra income from their coverage of the Olympic Games, as do other stations all over the world. The world coverage of the games is fueled by advertising income. Are they really so popular, or are they made popular by an industry which has much to gain from the “excitement”? The public has limited knowledge of the rules governing judo, or sailing. If it weren’t for the Olympic aura, these activities would garner very little attention. Consider the Paralympics, where Israel is a world leader.
Games with disabled people, who might have missing limbs and other disfigurements, do not attract huge audiences. In Israel, where too many people have been hurt by war and acts of terrorism, the Paralympics should be much more important than the Olympics.
Yet they are not. The income from advertisement is not sufficient.
These maladies are not limited to Israel.
Money is all too important when it comes to media coverage of any issue. This in itself may be legitimate, but what is wrong is the media’s simultaneous self-aggrandizement as “the conscience of the people.”
August 3, 2016
|The New York Times did it again. It took a nonstarter of a topic and used it to chip at Israel’s democratic image. On July 30, it published an op-ed by Ruth Margalit entitled, “How Benjamin Netanyahu Is Crushing Israel’s Free Press.”
Netanyahu, in Margalit’s glossary of terms, does not “criticize,” he “attacks,” as in his “broader attack… on Israel’s democratic institutions, including the Supreme Court and nongovernmental organizations.” To back this claim she quotes Nahum Barnea, “a pre-eminent Israeli columnist,” but does not inform her readers that Barnea, who began his career in the Labor Party’s now defunct newspaper Davar, is eminently anti-Netanyahu.
She accuses Netanyahu of using his influence to assure that the Walla website will serve his interests. Referring to the appointment of Shlomo Filber as director-general of the Communications Ministry, she notes: “Since the appointment of its new director general, the ministry has ruled on a series of decisions that have been highly advantageous to Bezeq, Israel’s largest telecommunications group. Bezeq also operates Walla News, one of the most popular news sites in the country, and a close associate of Mr. Netanyahu’s, Shaul Elovitch, owns a controlling stake.”
As an example of Netanyahu’s newfound control, she cites the case of journalist Amir Tibon, Walla’s political correspondent, “who wrote an article critical of Mr. Netanyahu’s response to the latest wave of Palestinian violence under the headline ‘Netanyahu’s Promises of Calm Replaced by Cheerleading.’”
Soon after the piece was published, Tibon was told that the Prime Minister’s Office was pressuring editors to remove it from the website. Not only has the article remained in place, Tibon felt free enough to publish on the American Politico website that Netanyahu was “successful [in his] purging of the Israeli national-security establishment.”
Her imagination runs wild, claiming that “In broadcast journalism, Mr. Netanyahu has installed associates in positions of authority where he can, and has cast doubt on the financial future of places he can’t. All three of Israel’s main television news channels – Channel 2, Channel 10 and the Israel Broadcasting Authority – are now in danger of being fragmented, shut down or overhauled, respectively.”
Of course, this is utter nonsense. All three channels daily bash Netanyahu and his government.
The Israel Broadcasting Authority is run by people appointed by former communication minister Gilad Erdan, not Netanyahu, as was the chairperson of the Second TV and Radio Authority, which oversees Channel 2 and Channel 10.
She raises the bogey of “an atmosphere of intimidation” whereas the reality is that several times daily, Israel’s media is free to loudly bash Netanyahu, his policies and his government and even create an atmosphere of presumed criminality without any proof.
When this happened in England, even The Guardian permitted a critique of the new (sub) standard of journalism to appear in its pages on July 12 which read, in part, “it seemed that journalists were no longer required to believe their own stories to be true, nor, apparently, did they need to provide evidence. Instead it was up to the reader – who does not even know the identity of the source – to make up their own mind… Does the truth matter anymore?” Last October in The New Yorker, Margalit decided to play at prophecy, writing, “Netanyahu…may be serious about wanting to maintain the [Temple Mount] status quo, but… it’s a status quo that is inching closer and closer to the extremist camp.” Well, here we are, nine months later, and the status quo is in place. The “extremist camp” – that is, those who want a law that guarantees free access to a holy site to be upheld, similar to demands of the Reform Movement at the Western Wall – are still without any actual accomplishment.
Margalit is no babe in the woods. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, and is a political commentator.
In a recent article in the New Yorker, she “innocently” characterized the extreme left-wing Peace and Security Association as “non-partisan.” As the daughter of Prof.
The record needs be set straight. To borrow a phrase from Ruth Margalit, despite her assault on Netanyahu he remains the democratically chosen leader of democratic Israel and no matter how critical, aggressive and full of chutzpah Margalit and her associates are, their attacks only highlight the latent totalitarian tendency of the Left. The only blatant attack on a free press in recent years was the left-wing legislative campaign to ban the Israel Hayom newspaper through legal subterfuge combined with support from its competitor Yediot Aharonot.
That paper was described by Margalit as “widely believed to promote the views of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.” That is actually true, but it is not a crime. The paper makes no secret that it supports the prime minister. So, incidentally, does the public.
Only recently, statistics have shown again that Israel Hayom is Israel’s most popular newspaper.
All newspapers have agendas. The New York Times certainly does. It supports President Barack Obama and has never made secret its support for the Democratic Party candidates.
Is this an attack on democracy in the USA? Haaretz promotes the views of the Palestinian Authority, is virulently anti-Netanyahu and anti-religious. Yediot Aharonot is left-ofcenter and does not like the prime minister.
Ma’ariv is somewhere in the center. Makor Rishon and Besheva are Israel’s right-wing-oriented papers. This is Israel’s democracy, a bastion of free speech.
Haaretz, by the way, opened its columns to suggestions that the army stage a putsch.
The New York Times hosted Ronen Bergman, editorial board member of anti-Netanyahu Yediot Aharonot, ruled by Arnon Mozes, who wrote that he heard from “high-ranking officers” that “the possibility of a military coup had been raised” when Avigdor Liberman’s appointment as defense minister was announced. Since as far as we know he did not report the “high-ranking officers” to the police, we may assume that yet another “liberal” Israeli journalist views a violent overthrow of a democratically elected government as a desirable outcome.
Such anti-democratic views did not upset Margalit. The fact that Mozes makes sure that his paper follows his ideological line, as does Haaretz’s publisher Amos Shocken, does not risk Israel’s democracy. No, only Israel Hayom owner Sheldon Adelson threatens it.
The opponents of Netanyahu’s ideological outlook, and that of Likud prime ministers before him, have embarked on a dangerous path. For them, and their cheerleaders in the media, his policies aren’t only wrong but anti-democratic and proto-fascist. The more his opponents lose the popular vote in election after election, their voice, like Margalit’s, becomes more shrill, more damaging, more disconnected from the truth, more distanced from the facts and less rational. We would have expected that the New York Times find more serious journalists to criticize Israel.
July 20, 2016
|One of the issues often used to discredit Israel is the question of water in Judea and Samaria. For example, on June 23, The New York Times published an article by Diaa Hadid headlined, “[Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas claims Rabbis urged Israel to Poison Palestinians’ Water.”
To be fair, Hadid made it quite clear in the article that the allegations were unsubstantiated. But Abbas received a standing ovation in the EU Parliament for a speech which included these remarks: “A number of rabbis in Israel announced…demanding that their government poison the water to kill the Palestinians.
Isn’t that clear incitement to commit mass killings against the Palestinian people?” As also reported in the New York Times, the response from the Prime Minister’s Office was, “Abu Mazen [Abbas] showed his true face in Brussels…someone who spreads a blood libel before the European Parliament is falsely claiming that his hand is extended for peace.”
With this as background, we might have expected that The Jewish Chronicle, which describes itself as the “world’s oldest and most influential Jewish newspaper,” would be sensitive to spreading lies about the water problem in Judea and Samaria. In fact, it was the exact opposite.
When Abbas made the allegation, the Chronicle kept mum. The Times, by contrast, immediately informed readers that Abbas was “echoing anti-Semitic claims that led to the mass killings of European Jews in medieval times.”
Only on June 30, a week after the blood libel, did Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer, a regular analyst for the Chronicle, write that the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Abbas had retracted the accusation. He added that Abbas “has affirmed that he did not intend to do harm to Judaism or to offend Jewish People around the world.” A search of the Chronicle’s website reveals no other item on Abbas’s libel.
Was this a one-time “slip”? No.
On May 2, 2014, the Chronicle published an article by Simon Rocker, the paper’s Judaism editor, headlined, “Board of Deputies treasurer ‘shocked’ by visit to West Bank.”
What shocked the treasurer, who has since resigned? We quote: “Mr. Brass added that the abiding memory of his visit would be ‘the sight of an old rusty car being dumped down the village well, thus preventing the locals from having fresh water.’” His trip to Judea and Samaria had been sponsored by Yachad, an extreme-left anti-occupation group.
His one-day trip to Sussiya was led by a guide from NGO Breaking the Silence, whose campaign to libel Israel has been documented by NGO Monitor and now exposed as unreliable by Channel 10’s Hamakor program.
Brass was shocked by the fact that “just 48 hours after we left, a six-year-old girl from the neighboring village of Atuwani was admitted to hospital with head wounds after being stoned on her way to school.”
Brass bemoaned that this type of behavior goes unchecked by the IDF.
Brass can think what he likes, libel Israel and support Breaking the Silence, although, as a Board of Deputies official he was roundly condemned.
But the Chronicle? Where are its basic ethics? Did it check his “facts”? Did it investigate his claims? Did it seek to balance the story? Or is it a blind supporter of anti-Israel propaganda? The Israeli NGO Mattot Arim thought that perhaps in the aftermath of the Abbas “blood libel” the Chronicle would set the record straight and retract the damning 2014 article. Mattot Arim’s spokesperson, Susie Dym, wrote to Orlando Radice, foreign news editor of the Chronicle, on June 26: “You seem to have run an early version of the well poisoning ‘reports’ that made headlines around the world this past week before being retracted, even by the Palestinians… Would you please consider printing a retraction of the article above, even if belated, in the printed edition of the [Chronicle] and adding the retraction to the linked page?” The response came on June 27.
They only agreed to put a link in the article to a response by Assaf Fassy, the spokesperson of the South Hebron Hills Regional Council.
Fassy’s response was not sought out by the Chronicle; he wrote it on his own initiative when shocked pro-Israel Chronicle readers made him aware of Rocker’s “report.”
Why do Brass’s allegations merit a vetted news report whereas Fassy’s refutations do not? Dym, not satisfied with the answer, went on to ask: “Did the paper ever make any effort at the time, to interview any of the dozen Anglo-Jewish participants other than Mr. Brass, all of whom were present, hence doubtless witnessed the claimed intentional disabling of the village well? …Did anyone file a complaint with the authorities? Was this followed up? Did Mr Brass or anyone in his entourage snap a photo… it does, after all, take some time for a car to be dumped down the village well – ample time in order to capture the event on film or at least in a still? …Did the paper verify the name of the six-year-old girl… were hospital records obtained to verify that this actually happened? Did Israel Police or the IDF Spokesperson confirm to the [Chronicle] that the perpetrators of either of the above were ‘settlers’?” Radice’s answer was brief: “My response is as per the previous response – we added a linked line to the original story.”
In other words, the Chronicle seemingly performed not even the most elementary fact-checking before dignifying anti-Israel allegations with news report status.
These two instances are part of a pattern. The Chronicle claims that its “news and opinion pages reflect the wide diversity of Jewish religious, social and political thought from left to right.” Really? Consider the Chronicle’s analysts.
Rocker cannot be identified with the Right. For example, in an article on May 26 this year, he pushed for the idea that it is not sufficient to teach young children to be cheerleaders for Israel. We already mentioned Anshel Pfeffer. Another “analyst” is Gershon Baskin, well known to readers of The Jerusalem Post for his leftwing columns. Uri Dromi, director general of the Jerusalem Press club, a supporter of the two-state “solution,” is also an analyst for the Chronicle.
Another regular columnist is Jonathan Freedland, who in the Chronicle penned a sexist denigration of Israel’s justice minister: “Ayelet Shaked is… simultaneously gorgeous and a racist; she is a stunning bigot. She has a beautiful face, but her soul is ugly.” Melanie Phillips is presumably used in the comments section for the sake of “balance,” but we all know the subtle or perhaps not-so-subtle difference between analysis, which is supposedly objective, and opinion articles, which are not expected to be objective.
Sadly, it would seem that the answer to the question posed in our title is “yes.”
July 8, 2016
|Shlomo Filber is the director-general of the Communications Ministry, responsible to the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also the communications minister. Filber is an experienced executive, having served previously as director general of the Yesha Council and as the Netanyahu’s chief of staff. From 2003-2009 he was the secretary of the board of directors as well as the assets manager of Israel Railways. In the last election campaign, he was head of the Likud Party’s elections headquarters.
Having entered the job at the Communications Ministry, he was faced with two major challenges: the organization of and the responsibility for the new Israeli Broadcasting Corporation (IBC), and reorganizing the broadcasting industry in Israel.
For the latter purpose, the prime minister appointed a committee headed by Filber whose task was to provide recommendations regarding the regulatory process of the industry. The other members of Filber’s committee were Eva Meziboz, chairperson of the Second Authority for TV and Radio; Advocate Dana Neufeld, the ministry’s legal adviser, whose record includes serving under communications minister Gilad Erdan and being part of the sad, post-Zionist legislation underlying the IBC; Haran Lav’ut, the ministry’s deputy director, responsible for finances; Assaf Wasserzug; Dr. Yifat Ben-Chai Segev, chairperson of the Cable and Satellite Authority; Advocate Eli’or Balitner from the Justice Ministry; and Yair Hakak, head of planning at the ministry.
There is an inherent conflict of interest in this committee as two of its members are heads of powerful regulatory bodies in Israel, while the task of the committee was to find ways to reduce government involvement in the industry, including unifying the two authorities into one. This should suggest that at least one of the two heads stands to lose her job.
Yet the cover letter Filber sent to Prime Minister Netanyahu sounded very positive, stating that Filber believes the recommendations of his commission would lead to “a reduction in government involvement in content, creation of a broader range of opinion and content to Israel’s citizenship and strengthening pluralism in Israel’s broadcasting market.”
Indeed, in the practical steps outlined in the Filber report there are some important recommendations, which if implemented would do just that. For example, today, TV channel 20 is not permitted to broadcast independently produced news and news-related programming. The committee recommends allowing any content provider to provide news broadcasting, provided that it conforms to accepted ethical codes.
One of the difficulties facing any broadcasting company in Israel today is that the satellite and cable companies Hot and Yes are able, and in practice do, prevent any serious competition by imposing ridiculous fees on content providers. This will stop. Hot and Yes will be allowed to take a set fee, which will be equal for all content providers. If they exaggerate, the minister responsible would set the price.
The committee also set out to make it easier for the consumer to receive sports broadcasts. The sports channels would no longer be permitted to ask an exorbitant price for their content but it would be on the basis of the number of subscribers to the channel.
Another positive recommendation is to gradually reduce any limitations on the number of advertisements allowed. In practice this leaves it to the consumer to decide whether she or he wants to view a channel which constantly disrupts its programming with ads.
However, there are many pitfalls in the recommendations. First and foremost, as expected the regulatory commission will still have much too much power. Even the recommendations outlined above are predicated on the idea that the regulatory body is the czar of the broadcasting industry.
This clinging to power by the bureaucracy is especially evident when considering the recommendations concerning content.
The Filber report notes that at present, Israel spends NIS 740 million on original local content. The commission recommends steps that will assure that this level of spending will remain. It distinguishes between different content providers. The very small ones, with less than 10 percent of the total market share of broadcasting advertising in Israel, would be free to provide whatever content they choose.
The committee expressly notes that market rules of supply and demand would regulate their content. But then companies whose income over a period of three years is more than 10% of the advertising market would be considered owners of an “established” commercial license, which would have to provide news programming. A provider with more than 20% of the advertising market share would have to invest in local programming in addition to news.
These draconian measures conflict with the idea that Israel should have a free market.
Instead of the lengthy deliberations and complex measures which the commission presents, it should have made a clear and unequivocal statement that anyone can broadcast provided that they conform to minimal standards of ethics and the broadcasting laws, such as safeguarding against the exploitation of minors.
The commission itself was aware of some of the limitations. It acknowledged that its recommendations should be considered an interim, five-year measure. After all, no one can foresee how the Internet market will continue to develop.
We can only hope that five years from now all this will be moot, as the Internet, cellphone and WiFi markets will make any attempt at draconian regulatory measures obsolete.
June 29, 2016
|C-SPAN, the Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network, was established by the cable television industry in the USA in 1979, providing the public with live coverage of a variety of governmental proceedings and congressional debates, historical programming as well as soft news. As reported on Wikipedia, it is a nonprofit organization, funded by a six-cent fee paid by the cable and satellite affiliates.
Emulating the US, Israel established the Knesset TV channel in 1995. Eight years later, the Knesset enacted a new law – “TV Broadcasts from the Knesset” – which firmly established the concept that there would be live broadcasts of Knesset deliberations. The funding for the channel comes from the Knesset budget, that is, we the taxpayers. TV Channel 2 won a 10-year contract to operate the channel starting November 2006.
In comparison to other TV channels in Israel, the Knesset channel is the most pluralistic.
Its presenters include people with diverse opinions, representing Right, Left, secular, religious and others. Notably though, the Arab minority is quite absent. The channel maintains a culture of fairness and equality. The other media channels have much to learn from it in this regard.
With the 10 years contract of channel 2 almost over, Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein has started the process of searching for a new carrier for the next decade. Wisely, he decided that after 13 years since the law was enacted, it is time not only to renew the contract, but first to review the operations of the channel, see what is positive and what needs to be changed. For this purpose he appointed a committee headed by former judge Sara Frisch.
The other members were Prof. Amit Shechter, a former legal adviser of the IBA; Prof. Alean al-Krenawi, president of Achva College and a sociologist whose expertise is the Beduin communities; Dr. Dina Shkolnik who lectures on behavioral science; Dr. Revital Amiran, a political scientist; Mr. Haim Zisovitch, the spokesman of Bar-Ilan University and a former radio host and correspondent at the IBA; Mr. Zvika Brot, the Knesset correspondent of Yediot Aharonot; former Likud MK Yossi Achimeir; and journalist and Likud member Naftali Ben-Simon.
The Frisch Committee submitted its recommendations to Edelstein in February. The latter decided to adopt most of them, and they certainly include some sweeping changes.
Perhaps the most important relates to improvements in communication technology; the report recommended that all Knesset deliberations be shown live via the Internet. It also recommended rephrasing the law’s title to “Law of Knesset TV Broadcasts” which would limit the broadcasts’ content. Issues which have nothing to do with the Knesset and its deliberations would be avoided.
The committee further noted that the purpose of the channel is to serve the Knesset and so suggested the law should include a paragraph disallowing degradation of the Knesset.
As might be expected, these suggestions (and others) raised a brouhaha. People like journalist Amit Segal, who has a weekly program on the Knesset channel and is also the political correspondent of TV Channel 2, obviously have to worry about their future in the channel.
The present recommendations might imply that there is no space for soft news programs such as his. Unsurprisingly, Segal promptly and severely criticized the committee’s findings. As reported in Globes, his ire was especially directed toward Dr. Amiran, accusing her of allowing the Knesset speaker to use her as an academic fig leaf. Amiran did not agree with all the committee’s recommendations and added minority opinions. For example, she thought that the legislation should not deal at all with the means of recording, considering these to be professional concerns regarding which any interference would be a sort of cewnsorship.
At the same time, she defended the “degradation paragraph” which has been the central target of criticism by, for example, Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich, who accused Knesset speaker Edelstein of attempting to exploit the channel for political purposes.
Last week, the Knesset initiated deliberations on the proposed legislation. The “degradation paragraph” was roundly criticized by the opposition.
Not less important, though, was the sharp criticism of Avi Weiss, CEO and czar of TV Channel 2’s news company.
With tongue in cheek, he noted: “We are very concerned about the Frisch Committee recommendations, independent of the question of who will get the contract. I have a difference of opinion as to the depth of the work of the committee.”
The “concern” of people like Weiss and of Amit Segal, whose blatant conflict of interest should have led to a total rejection of their comments, is but another reflection of the dominance of TV Channel 2.
Let us hope that at least the Knesset channel will no longer be under the hegemony of Channel 2 in the next decade.
June 22, 2016
|Last October, in our weekly column entitled “Managing the news,” we described how Oshrat Kotler, a two-decade veteran of Galei Tzahal and Channel 2, and currently Channel 10’s news presenter, manages the news. We complained about her ethics infractions in 2014, but her bosses wrote back that they allowed her to be “opinionated in places where required.”
On October 3 last year, Kotler asked, “Why are Jews still permitted to enter the Temple Mount?” and called Temple Mount activists a “bunch of crazies.” Neutrality isn’t her style.
Nor is proportionality; four out of five people who appeared on her panel at the time opposed the right of Jews to benefit from the Law for the Protection of the Holy Places.
Back in January 2008, Kotler called for Israel’s government to negotiate with Hamas “before we sacrifice hundreds of victims on the altar of Israeli masculinity.”
Earlier, on Remembrance Day 2003, Kotler asked her viewers to “count 365 days of death, violence, government stupidity, poverty, ignorance, corruption, brutal warfare, suicide bombings.” She then broke down and cried, live on TV.
This past Saturday evening, hosting the week’s magazine news round-up, which included an item on the Samarian community of Yitzhar whose spokesperson also sang, Kotler informed her viewers that “he knows how to sing, to compose and direct – there is no doubt that he is a sane settler. It seems that those types do exist, even in Yitzhar.”
Channel 10, realizing that a storm of criticism was brewing on social media, quickly announced that its CEO had spoken with Kotler and that she would formally clarify her comments during the next program.
However, as the comments, overwhelmingly negative, increased, Kotler used the program’s Facebook page to inform readers that, “At the end of the report I decided to compliment Ezri Tovi, who sings well in my opinion, and I mentioned that it is good to know that there are sane settlers, in quotes, even in settlements such as Yitzhar.”
“My intention was obviously to commend Tovi’s moderation,” Kotler wrote, adding, “I certainly do not think that the settler community is insane, period.”
The real point of this latest episode is simple: if a media person violates the law or the professional ethical code the network has adopted, and is not punished or reprimanded, why should infractions or misbehavior not continue? Israel’s mainstream media elite, the guild of left-leaning liberals known as the “branja,” cares for ethics only if violations come from “the other side.”
To be fair, Kotler has been criticized from the far Left. Here is Gideon Levy in a column published in Haaretz on July 14, 2006: “There was always something didactic and teacher- like about her… For years, Oshrat Kotler was a newscaster on Channel 2. She came across as relatively intelligent, but with a sanctimonious streak.” It is amusing to note what bothers the extreme Left.
Given the fact that Kotler and others who have been the subjects of our media critique in this column have gotten away scot-free, is it any wonder that the spokesperson of opposition leader Isaac Herzog, Ofer Newman, felt it was quite acceptable to post his opinion that “The settlers built swimming pools on the blood of children they murdered… They blatantly abused our chances of not dying here. They violently took our hopes. They trampled Jewish ethics under their coarse feet… What kind of a twisted moral basis enables these people to stride along on a path toward the deaths of thousands of Israelis without anyone saying to them: ‘You have gone too far! You are lowly murderers. You belong in prison!’”
Newman obviously has been hearing too much from other “dignitaries” such as Amos Oz, David Grossman, Yair Garboz and a slew of politicians, many from the Labor Party, who over the decades used far worse language in their attempt to degrade the “settlers.”
True to form, Newman also apologized, with his excuse being his viewing that evening Shimon Dotan’s film, “The Settlers”. As it happens, one of us (YM) posted a blog back in July 2013 detailing, from an application Dotan made for funds for his film, the extreme negative views Dotan held and his agenda to paint the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria in the worst possible light.
Herzog realized his spokesperson was a potential albatross around his neck and said, “The post by my spokesperson, was… very wrong, because it creates a generalization that I am unwilling to accept and uses imagery that we mustn’t use under any circumstances…even in the middle of the debate, we will uphold their honor and do so respectfully.”
But as if from a script from one of our satirical programs, Newman himself sought a unique defense. He pointed to Oshrat Kotler’s own apology that Saturday night.
At least her diatribe was useful for someone.
June 16, 2016
|Israel’s media knows that it can flex its might, especially with a right-of-center government.
Conservative politicians have an incomprehensible fear of negative reporting. The Rami Sadan brouhaha, over supposed remarks made by the new Channel 10 news oversight committee chair, is but one of many. It should be clear that Sadan did nothing illegal. His job is that of a regulator and his powers are limited.
Even so, some of the people at Channel 10 are afraid of a regulator who lived many years in Gush Etzion, has a kippa on his head and in the distant past worked for the prime minister.
Since Sadan is one of the founders of Israel’s Media Watch, we will not say more about his case, except that we believe that his detractors will be surprised at how well he carries out his job.
Ran Baratz was nominated in November 2015 by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be the director of communications in the Prime Minister’s Office, a job held previously by former editor of The Jerusalem Post David Bar-Ilan. True to form, the media searched, found a Facebook comment by Baratz relating to President Reuven Rivlin: “He is a peripheral person. One can send him with a paraglider to the Syrian Golan controlled by ISIS [Islamic State]. Just take him.”
Baratz did not violate any law. He made a negative comment, which one may or may not disagree with.
The damage, though, was done. To this day, no one has filled the job.
The prime minister is very sensitive to such criticism.
From 2000-2010, Danny Seaman was the director of the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO). From there he went on to become the deputy director general for information at the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs. Seaman was a veteran official, but his vast experience did not help him when in August 2013, he made the following Facebook comment about the Japanese: “I am sick of the Japanese…. holding their annual self-righteous commemorations for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims… instead they should be commemorating the estimated 50 million Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Malay, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Indonesian, Burmese and other victims of Japanese imperial aggression and genocide.”
True to form, Haaretz not only publicized his comments, it made sure that there would be international trouble for Israel by requesting the official response of the Japanese government to the criticism. This created a crisis in Israel-Japanese relations and the result was that in January 2014 Seaman resigned. Since then he is retired, no longer contributing his expertise for the sake and good of Israel as a government official.
Another example is the failed appointment of Danny Dayan, former executive director of the Yesha council, as Israel’s ambassador to Brazil. Extreme left-winger and Israel basher Alon Liel, a former Foreign Ministry director general, took it upon himself to block the appointment. He went to Brazil to convince the corrupt government of Dilma Roussef to veto the appointment. Liel is a private citizen, and can do what he wants, although we think his actions were treasonous. But the Israeli media just went ahead and publicized the issue.
It did not roundly criticize Liel for his actions, making it impossible for him to further show his face here in public. Quite the contrary, he is still considered an expert for example on relations with Turkey, due to his stint as Israeli charge d’affairs there from 1981-1983 and his PhD thesis, “The Dependence on Imported Energy and its Impact on Turkey’s Foreign Policy.”
He is sufficiently “respectable” that the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya is proud to have him mentioned on its website as a faculty member of the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy. Consider what would have happened had Ariel University employed Baruch Marzel as a lecturer on Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Haaretz would be the first to go on a McCarthyist binge against the university, calling for its closure. The rest of the media would then follow suit. But Liel? He’s untouchable as he is an extreme leftist.
Consider a more recent case, that of Gen. Yair Golan, the IDF deputy chief of staff since 2014. On May 4, 2016, Golan infamously compared Israel to Nazi Germany, saying: “Revolting processes that occurred in Europe in general, and particularly in Germany, back then – 70, 80 and 90 years ago – [are] among us today.”
Were his words at all comparable to the comments of Seaman or those attributed to Sadan? Of course not.
Yet there were those of the media who praised him.
When in response to the expulsion from Gaza in 2006 some people wore yellow stars of David they were severely criticized for daring to equate the expulsion with the Nazi era. But Golan not only continues in his job, he is hailed for his courage to speak out. Religious high-ranking officers, who dared pray publicly to the Almighty that he should help them out in their combat mission, were in contrast tied to the stake and burned alive.
Truly, McCarthyism is alive and kicking in the Israeli media. Sadly, Israel’s majority is not capable of putting it in the wastebin.
June 2, 2016
|It was almost 20 years ago that the Peled Commission, appointed by then communication minister Limor Livnat, recommended to the government that it create an Israeli version of America’s Federal Communications Commission. Regulating the media is a necessity, just as regulating restaurants is needed to ensure that the public does not come to harm. Yet, the regulation of the media in Israel is ridiculously complex.
There are separate regulators for the commercial radio and television, for cable and satellite TV, and for the new Israel Broadcasting Corporation.
This situation is very convenient for many people. The politicians profit for they can appoint their friends to the various oversight bodies, and for the employees of the commissions this is a source of livelihood.
It is thus very surprising that finally, the Netanyahu government seems to be getting around to actually implementing the unification of the Second TV and Radio Authority (SATR) and the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Authority (CSBA).
In fact, an in-depth discussion of the proposed legislation took place on Tuesday of this week in the Knesset Economics Committee.
Especially in view of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s capitalist ideology, which looks toward reducing the involvement of the government in our lives, one would have expected that the new regulator would operate under conditions that minimize its interference in the daily operations of the broadcasters. Competition would be encouraged. The regulator would only step in when really needed. This would be especially important for the upkeep of a minimal code of ethics, which would ensure clean programming and upholding basic norms, such as the right of retort.
In practice, the proposed law will lead to the opposite. It will strengthen the involvement of the new regulator in the various media organs. Consider the following example which was raised in committee by the representative of the YES cable company.
She complained that the communications company Cellcom, by broadcasting Internet TV, is unfairly competing with her company. YES is regulated by the SCBA while Cellcom, being defined as a communications company, is not. So far, so good. But then she demanded to have Cellcom regulated by the new authority. Neither she nor anyone else who participated in the deliberations, apart from Ziv Maor, the CEO of Israel’s Media Watch, apparently had the thought that the solution is not to regulate Cellcom, but to deregulate YES.
Indeed, the committee accepted as fact that the regulator would be involved in the programming of the private media stations, or that new players would have to live up to the present norms, which include hefty royalties to the government and intrusions into content. No one present even tried to stop this ludicrous and destructive involvement.
Ludicrous? Yes. Modern technology has made it possible for almost anyone with reasonable means to broadcast through the Internet, whether radio or TV. There is no way that the Israeli regulator would be able to control these broadcasts. There is also no need, for example, for the regulator to limit advertising minutes. If there is sufficient competition, the public would simple turn away from a broadcaster that advertises too much.
The real challenge of the regulator is thus to encourage competition as the best means of assuring quality TV.
Yet it is precisely this goal which SATR for one has consistently and successfully fought against.
TV Channel 20 is still limited in its ability to provide news. Why? Because the CSBA is more interested in defending the rights of the major players, such as TV channels 10 and 2, instead of representing the interest of the public.
It should be noted that the MKs who participated in the deliberations of the economics committee were from the opposition. The Likud and Bayit Yehudi factions are simply not interested and do not partake in the legislative process. If Israel’s conservatives show no interest, it is not surprising that the socialist point of view, which calls for excessive government involvement in almost everything, becomes dominant.
Israel, the “start-up nation,” is unfortunately also well known for its heavy-handed bureaucracy. Opening a business in Israel is no trifling matter.
It is for this reason that Prime Minister Netanyahu has formed a new department in the Prime Minister’s Office whose task is to streamline Israel’s regulatory practices, making them more efficient and user friendly. Seemingly a positive step forward, alas, not one representative of this new department took part in the Knesset discussions. Could it be that someone really believes that the SATR and CSBA are doing a good job? Has anyone in government actually reviewed these regulators? For many years, we have been advocating for an Israeli FCC, modeled after the American FCC. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. In the United States, the FCC does not involve itself in programming, but when there are serious issues having to do with indecent programming the FCC is there to set things right.
In Israel, the situation is exactly the opposite. There is over-involvement in the daily operations and lack of power to enforce the minimally needed ethics code.
The message of the new Israeli FCC comes from Ecclesiastes: “What was is what shall be and there is nothing new under the sun.”
May 25, 2016
|The Ya’alon-Liberman drama dominated the airwaves this past week. Much ink was spilled and airtime filled with the comments of senior pundits, most of whom were full of praise for outgoing defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and extreme fear of his incoming replacement Avigdor Liberman.
The appointment of Liberman is indeed a serious matter; defense touches on the very essence of our existence in the Middle East. Still, the media did a poor job. It missed the really important issues and doted on the trivial ones.
We all are aware of the content of Ya’alon’s recent declarations defending deputy chief of staff Maj.-Gen.
Yair Golan and his incendiary remarks, or his immediate condemnation of the soldier Elor Azaria for his shooting of a terrorist in Hebron, or defending the chief of staff for his remarks that IDF soldiers should not shoot to kill 14-year-old girls armed with scissors.
These remarks were at the center of an ideological struggle between applauding liberals and critical hardliners.
The liberal media went out of its way to support Ya’alon, describing him as the last sane voice in the Netanyahu government. What the media did not do is ask itself and the experts what Ya’alon’s record as defense minister really was. What does he leave as his legacy and imprint on the IDF? After all, he was defense minister for the past three years, not a short time in Israeli politics. His tenure included Operation Protective Edge during the summer of 2014.
Yaakov Amidror, former national security adviser, summarized what he believed Ya’alon’s three major achievements were. One was arranging for a longterm budget for the IDF. Second was maintaining good working relations with the IDF’s top brass, and third was bringing about relative quiet around the Gaza Strip and lowering the flames of the recent terrorist acts against Israelis.
At the same time though, we know today that Ya’alon did not understand or at least did not prepare the IDF for the tunnel threat. When Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett repeatedly questioned Ya’alon and the IDF in the cabinet as to what he was doing to contain the threat of the tunnels he was ignored or worse, castigated for having the gall to question the judgment of the defense establishment.
As the transcripts reveal and as the ombudsman’s report indicated, Bennett was right, while Ya’alon and the top brass realized only belatedly the strategic threat of the tunnels.
Channel 2 TV’s military correspondent Roni Daniel used the top-rated Friday night news roundup to categorically state that: “After this week, I’m not sure I want my children to remain here.” This made quick headlines, but was not serious journalism.
The fact is that he did not even consider the idea that Ya’alon’s preference of a “quiet for quiet” policy is leading to the continued rearmament of both Hezbollah and Hamas and might just be much more dangerous than Ya’alon’s replacement by Liberman.
But even on the question of the army’s morality and Ya’alon’s defense of army officers’ freedom of speech the media did not get it right. Army officers are government employees who by law do not have the freedom to criticize the government publicly. Setting the legal issue aside, if an IDF general had publicly stated during the Gaza disengagement (which was planned by then chief of staff Ya’alon) that the mass expulsion reminded him of the actions of Nazi Germany, would Ya’alon have defended his freedom of speech? Would this same media been supportive of that general? Of course not.
Let us recall the letter sent by Col. Ofer Winter to his soldiers during the 2014 war, in which he wrote: “I raise my eyes to heaven and read together with you ‘Hear O Israel, our God is One, God of Israel, please make sure that we are successful in our endeavor.’” Winter was roundly criticized, especially by Haaretz, and did not receive the same support from Ya’alon that Golan did. Has Ya’alon been called out for his lack of consistency? The media went to great lengths to remind everyone about Liberman’s various pronouncements concerning the need to retake the Gaza Strip and end Hamas rule there. But it did not even try to consider Liberman’s record as foreign minister. Did he prove himself an able administrator? Did he create any change? Did he leave any legacy as foreign minister? As readers of this column know, we have expressed criticism of foreign minister Liberman, noting that he did not create change in Israel’s image abroad.
Just as Ya’alon did not foresee the strategic threat of the Gaza tunnels, so Liberman did not foresee the anti-Israel sentiment abroad, especially in Europe, and did not do anything about it. There was no review of how our ambassadors are preparing for this issue, how they cope with it, whether they defend the government’s policies on the settlements or support those who consider them as illegal.
These questions and many others should be asked, and answers should be given. But a lazy, one-sided media that cannot think out of the box missed it.
May 18, 2016
|Do you ever question whether the media is really doing its job as a watchdog of the powerful government and private sectors, providing an objective picture and verifiable facts? Or do you think media monitoring groups are too aggressive?
As we now know, during the negotiations with the Iranians, Benjamin Rhodes, US President Barack Obama’s adviser for strategic communications and speechwriting, and his team created a media “echo chamber.” The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen termed Rhodes a “master manipulator of the moronic media.” Politico’s Jack Shafer wrote that “the Obama administration’s propaganda machine… [has a] cold, casual style.”
Rhodes attempted to take back his words but the reality was that most of the media actually did not adequately analyze the Iran deal and most importantly, the media’s liberal bias provided the White House with an advantage.
In Israel, reporters play an important role in presenting the government’s positions, but here, the more they criticize the government and its institutions the more famous and honored they become. Their colleagues heap praise on them, award them prizes and they become celebrities. Certain standards, usually those the media criticizes when government or tycoons fail to meet them, are, however, not applicable to themselves.
Let us recall: it is the media that sets the agenda of how the news is reported, how it is framed and, through repetition and multiple presentation forms (interviews, films, studio discussions) how important we media consumers should think an item is.
The media hullaballoo over the indiscreet words of IDF deputy chief of staff Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan – that “the Holocaust should bring us to ponder our public lives and… if there is one thing that is scary in remembering the Holocaust, it is noticing horrific processes which developed in Europe – particularly in Germany – 70, 80 and 90 years ago, and finding remnants of that here among us in the year 2016” – conveniently ignored the fact that significant sections of the media are responsible for twisting the terminology used to describe the IDF’s behavior to fit a post-Zionist perception.
Only Ma’ariv’s Kalman Libeskind had the honesty to point a finger at the media itself.
It is the Haaretz newspaper in particular which, for the past few years, has used the Nazi analogy to describe processes within Israeli society with which it disagrees. Yediot Aharonot’s Yigal Sarna is another “Israel is akin to Nazi Germany” proponent, as we have pointed out in our columns. We could even go back to the radical Left’s darling Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz’s description of IDF soldiers as “Judeo-Nazis,” first made in the early 1980s. Only Israel’s media could aid and abet Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who called on army officers to comment on civilian affairs, in violation of one of the basic tenets of democracy: army officers do not participate in politics while in uniform.
Incidentally, Sarna is currently involved in a lawsuit with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, concerning a post on his Facebook page. His line of defense includes the statement that “social media allow less meticulousness… than the traditional media… the post [is] not necessarily an accurate reflection of actual reality, but a possible reality.”
In our opinion, as well as according to normative professional journalism guidelines, that standard of ethics should get him fired immediately. Who would trust a journalist with those views about his profession? Which editor would continue to employ him? To earn the trust of consumers, media outlets cannot assume they will always be above criticism and able to hide their faults. Take, for example, our complaint that the IDF’s Galatz Radio network, in employing many civilians, does not reveal their salaries as well as much of its operating budget.
Now, in England, for example, a group of BBC stars may be forced to declare how much they are paid as part of plans unveiled in a white paper on the future of the corporation. In Israel this does not seem likely to happen.
In Israel, any overhaul of public broadcasting is treated as a fascist onslaught on the country’s democracy.
In the UK the BBC’s future is a matter of major disagreement and anxiety, but also a subject of healthy discussion. There, a former chairman of the BBC Trust, Sir Michael Lyons, spoke forthrightly on a BBC radio program and declared: “I can understand why people are worried about whether some of the most senior editorial voices in the BBC have lost their impartiality….”
There, the bias, it is claimed, is against the Labour Party. Its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has even told supporters that the party needed to use social media to communicate with the public. When our own prime minister makes a similar claim, the media ridicules and reviles him. When was the last time any senior Israel media executive admitted that perhaps his staff could be biased and unfair? The BBC also compels producers of natural history shows to sit through a fakery prevention course, after shows were found to have broken editorial guidelines.
Do diplomatic/political/military journos here in Israel undergo similar courses in their own fields?
Can we trust our media? Is it indeed reliable?
Isn’t it high time that it was improved?