October 7, 2015
Media comment: The late Moti Kirschenbaum
by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 10/07/2015
Like most leaders, Kirschenbaum made important contributions to the Israeli media, yet his failures were no less spectacular.
Media icon Mordechai “Moti” Kirschenbaum passed away suddenly at the age of 76 on September 25. Immediately, the media competition was on for who could eulogize Kirschenbaum more dramatically and favorably.
Kirschenbaum left his mark on Israeli society and media. He was awarded the Israel Prize for Media Art in 1976. He was one of the founders of Israeli television and his special strength lay in his ability to present, direct and orchestrate satire on Israeli society. His successful career led to his appointment as director general of the Israel Broadcasting Authority in 1993 by communications minister Shulamit Aloni of the left-wing Meretz Party. However, as in many cases, the quality of his legacy is debatable.
Indirectly, Kirschenbaum is responsible for the establishment of Israel’s Media Watch. In the wake of the Oslo accords, one of us (EP) organized and participated in a demonstration in December 1993 attended by almost 100 academics, members of Professors for a Strong Israel, who protested the biased coverage of the accords by the IBA. Never before had such a large number of professors gathered together in Israel to protest over a political issue. Yet the demonstration, which took place directly across from the Israel TV building, in the street aptly named “Torah from Zion,” was not even mentioned in any of the IBA’s reports.
We met Kirschenbaum to demand an explanation and were told it was his policy not to cover demonstrations outside of the TV building so as to discourage such events, which he said disrupted the lives of the staff working there. He added that while we were complaining about the biased media coverage, so did prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. If everyone was complaining, he felt, he must be doing his job well. Finally, he noted that he had the big picture while we did not and, knowing fully what was going on in the IBA, he could be certain it was acting professionally.
This last comment served as one of the sparks which led to the formation of IMW. Israel did not have at that time any organization which consistently monitored the media not only qualitatively but quantitatively.
In a country which had only two TV stations and two national radio stations, this was not too difficult to carry out, and was an essential need. Without any checks and balances the media could skew any issue, and it did not hesitate to do so.
The demonstration of December 1993 was our first experience of Kirschenbaum’s dictatorial policies and his successful attempt to politicize the IBA. Indeed, Kirschenbaum’s tenure at the helm of the IBA was characterized by the stifling of any attempt to criticize the Rabin and Peres governments and the Oslo accords.
One of the central “news and views” shows at the time was Popolitika. The “discussion” on the screen revolved around the question of who could shout more. The program was hosted by Dan Margalit, who together with his regular panel members Tommy Lapid, Amnon Dankner and Yisrael Eichler were all in favor of the Oslo accords.
They were so in favor that prior to the 1996 elections, the Supreme Court ordered them to refrain from using their podium for the sake of political propaganda, an order that they ridiculed and violated. Where was Kirschenbaum? A second incident which involved the Supreme Court had to do with Amnon Abramovitch, then the premier commentator of Israeli TV, who also used his position to drum up support for the Oslo accords and to stifle any criticism. Israel’s Media Watch petitioned the Supreme Court and, contrary to a recent misleading statement of Abramovitch’s, the court upheld our brief – yet accepted Kirschenbaum’s claim that Abramovitch was balanced out by others “over time.”
In fact, this case was a clear victory for those forces that demanded fairness and balance in the public media, a principle which Abramovitch violates to this very day. However, our issue here is not Abramovitch but rather Kirschenbaum. His assertion was, to put it mildly, not precise. No one provided any balance to Abramovitch and in fact, a few years later, when Kirschenbaum was no longer director general, Abramovitch was forced to leave the IBA.
But these instances cannot compare to the IBA’s programming in the six weeks prior to the assassination of prime minister Rabin and in its immediate aftermath.
IBA TV produced a piece, orchestrated by IBA reporter Eitan Oren, depicting a swearing-in ceremony of the fictitious Eyal organization, whose leader, Avishai Raviv, was a Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) agent provocateur.
One of us (YM) realized the severity of this report and IMW immediately complained to the IBA. We did not know of course that Raviv was employed by the security services, but it was clear to us that the whole scene was orchestrated. Yet Kirschenbaum stood behind Oren and allowed a clip to be broadcast which indicated that assassination would not be outside the realm of possible actions for this organization. Had Kirschenbaum followed some basic journalistic principles, not only would he have canceled this infamous report, but would have gone to the police and demanded an immediate investigation. Yet, he did the opposite.
Prime minister Rabin was assassinated six weeks later.
Following this tragedy, Kirschenbaum orchestrated a week-long bout of programming which could not even be called one-sided. Rather it was what one might have expected from the Communist media when Stalin was in power. The Right was “guilty” of the assassination.
Religious people were attacked in the streets, yet the IBA would have nothing to do with allowing any attempt by the accused to defend themselves.
No less damning was the IBA’s reaction to the Arafat tapes affair.
In late January 1994, MK Benny Begin became aware of the existence of video footage of speeches by Yasser Arafat in which he expressly stated his intention to violate his commitment to peace with Israel. Begin repeatedly attempted to interest the IBA. As he later recalled, some four months passed before he was afforded air time on Channel 1. Even then the angle that interested the news editors was Shimon Peres’ claim that Begin was presenting footage that had been tampered with.
Kirschenbaum was also not forthcoming when it came to IBA finances. He fought against any attempt to open the IBA’s books to the public. His budget was not balanced and not surprisingly, the missing funds, to the tune of hundreds of millions of shekels, were always approved by the Rabin government. He also tried to minimize the powers of the ombudsman of the IBA.
His legacy then was a politicized IBA, one which manipulates the news according to the personal views of its heads and their political bosses. Fairness, professional journalism and balance were all lacking. With hindsight, one may argue that Kirschenbaum’s tenure as director general signaled the twilight era of the IBA. This is also part of his legacy. Like most leaders, Kirschenbaum made important contributions to the Israeli media, yet his failures were no less spectacular.
October 1, 2015
|Former prime minister Ehud Olmert was sentenced in March 2014 to a six-year jail term for accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust. In March 2015 he was found guilty again for fraud and breach of trust in the context of the “money envelopes” affair and was sentenced to a further eight months in jail. But Olmert has yet to spend a single day in prison. His trusted aide, Shula Zaken, has already completed her jail term.
How is it that Olmert is still walking free and few seem to think this is a travesty? Olmert is not alone; all those convicted in the Holyland affair have yet to go to jail.
This sad state of affairs comes in the wake of a decision of Supreme Court Justice Noam Solberg in September, 2014, to accept Olmert’s plea for a stay of sentence until a decision is made on his appeal to the court.
Solberg noted that on the one hand “it is in the public interest that court sentences be imposed immediately, and one has an uncomfortable feeling when seeing someone who has been found guilty and sentenced to prison walking around freely in the city streets.” Yet, he added, “the public’s trust depends also on defending the rights of those who have been accused and found guilty of crimes. A jail sentence which is found to be after the fact unjustified of course harms the individual but it also undermines the public trust in the rule of law and the justice system. The law has given the right of appeal and it is necessary to enable realization of this right.”
He noted that although the District Court’s decision seems to be substantiated and that most of the accused will ultimately serve their sentences, nevertheless, “there are a few claims by the appellants which deserve a hearing.” Over a year has passed since then, and the Supreme Court does not think that it is making a travesty of the law by allowing convicted criminals to escape imprisonment.
Compare the Holyland affair to that of president Moshe Katsav. On December 30, 2010, Katsav was convicted in the District Court for rape and indecent assault of an employee in the Tourism Ministry and sexual harassment of several other women. On March 22, 2011, Katsav was sentenced to seven years in jail, an additional two years’ suspended term and NIS 125,000 in compensation payments to the women he harmed. Katsav appealed to the Supreme Court. He, too, received a stay of sentence. Justice Yoram Danziger also noted then that his appeal was not without merit. However, the court decided on November 10, 2011, to reject it and a month later Katsav began serving his jail term.
Can we imagine what would have happened in the Israeli press had Katsav’s case been deferred by the Supreme Court for over a year? Indeed, the press was one of the major players in Katsav’s conviction. It repeatedly demanded his prosecution. Attorney general Menachem Mazuz was roundly criticized for his handling of the affair. When Olmert almost got off scot-free in the first round of the Talansky affair the media was joyful.
The bon mot was that Olmert would now be able to return to the leadership of Israel’s progressive democratic forces for peace. Yoav Yitzchak was a sole voice in the wilderness. Even today, after Olmert’s conviction, the media does nothing to demand that justice be not only handed down, but carried out.
This travesty by the Supreme Court is not limited to Olmert and company.
Consider the case of former Ramat Gan mayor Zvi Bar. On February 26, 2015, Bar was found guilty for accepting two million shekels in bribes from construction companies. He was also found guilty of attempting to subvert the investigation, tax fraud and breach of trust. District Court Justice Zvi Gurfinkel noted in his judgment that “the severity of the decision is a result of the substantial sums Bar took for himself, his behavior is not what is expected from a mayor.” Bar, who is over 80, was the mayor of Ramat Gan for 24 years. On June 4, Bar was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in jail. Like Olmert, Bar claims to be completely innocent, and appealed to the Supreme Court on September 9. Supreme Court Justice Zvi Silbertal decided to give an interim decision to stay the sentence until his request of stay of sentence is accepted. Three weeks have passed, and the court has not even decided whether to accept his request for stay of sentence.
This story repeats itself also in the case of Bat Yam mayor Shlomo Lachiani, but with a different twist.
On September 30, 2014, Lachiani, who previously was found guilty of fraud and breach of trust, was sentenced to six months of public service, infamy and a fine of NIS 250,000. In contrast to the previous cases, Lachiani admitted guilt and cooperated with the prosecution. Yet, on November 13, 2014, the prosecution appealed the lightness of the sentence to the District Court. The appeal was accepted, and on April 27 this year, the court sentenced Lachiani to eight months in jail, starting June 1. The president of the Tel Aviv District Court, Devorah Berliner, was very clear, writing, “The public trust… is based on the assumption that its servants carry out their duties for the sake of the public honestly and with clean hands… In this case, we must agree with the prosecution that the breach of public trust borders on bribery.”
Lachiani’s lawyers know their business, and of course appealed to the Supreme Court. On May 12, Supreme Court Justice Uri Shoham accepted the appeal for stay of sentence.
Lachiani has yet to spend a day in jail. Interestingly, while researching this article, we found that Israel’s premier criminal issues journalists did not even know whether Lachiani was serving his sentence or not.
This is then the new norm set by the Supreme Court. Bribery is not deemed to be sufficiently criminal to impose immediate implementation of a jail sentence. The Supreme Court, knowingly, is allowing a whole slew of criminals to roam our streets freely.
Katsav violated the sanctity of other people’s lives and was sentenced rather quickly. Yet, at the end of the day, Katsav injured a handful of women – he did not leave behind him a monument of criminal activity such as the Holyland complex in Jerusalem or the various buildings in Ramat Gan.
These are with us to stay.
They are a monument to a press which allows the Supreme Court to get away with making a travesty of the judicial system with impunity and without criticism. Worst of all, it will symbolize for years to come the deep contempt our Supreme Court has for the rule of law.
^e a monument to a press which allows the Supreme Court to get away with making a travesty of the judicial system with impunity and without criticism. Worst of all, it will symbolize for years to come the deep contempt our Supreme Court has for the rule of law.
September 24, 2015
|One of the strong messages the Israeli media has sought to make to those who would, they claim, interfere with and restrain their freedom during the past year was the need for media pluralism. This was the reason given for allowing Channel 10 to continue broadcasting and even providing it with a license for 15 years. This, in spite of the fact that Channel 10 repeatedly violated the law, violated its financial commitments and blackmailed politicians. The same reason was given for providing a further lifeline to the public broadcaster, the IBA.
After decades of mismanagement, employee unions who did all they could to prevent streamlining and cost cutting, and a continuous usurping of the public airwaves by the employees who largely felt that the public broadcasting stations belong to them, it was high time to start a completely new page. But instead of releasing all employees and starting anew, the Histadrut labor federation, together with the media, in the name of pluralism and media independence, demanded and received a stay. The employees remain in place, we the tax payers provide their unnecessary salaries, and can expect more of the same old public broadcaster that has never understood what the word pluralism really means.
The third chapter in this saga, which has unfolded during this past year, was the question of the future of Channel 2. At present, the channel’s entertainment belongs to two concessionaires, Reshet and Keshet, who split the time between them. Channel 2 news is funded by the concessionaires but run by a separate independent public board. In the wake of the Channel 10 fiasco, former communications minister Gilad Erdan and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested that Channel 2 be split into two separate channels. This would have created media pluralism. But the idea was not supported by the media. Channel 2 wanted to remain the way it is. Not surprisingly, what the media wants, it gets. Pluralism is only a nice word, used to bamboozle the public to further the interests of the media, its owners and journalists to the detriment of the media consumers and, we stress, the state’s democratic fabric.
In principle, there should be public oversight over the media’s activities. This is the job of the Second Authority for TV and Radio, which, instead of carrying out its duty to the public, let Channel 10 continue and spit in the eyes of the public. It would have been the SATR’s job to split up Channel 2 and provide us, the public, with pluralism.
In fact, after giving in to Channel 10, SATR’s chairwoman, Ms. Eva Medziboz, publicly announced that she would support the splitting of Channel 2, moving the two concessionaires to receiving broadcasting licenses. Last week it turned out that these were words only, meant to calm an irate public. Medziboz, in a complete volte-face, announced last week that it would be better to allow Reshet and Keshet to continue with their concessions, which will terminate in 2017. Ms. Medziboz now supports non-interference. We suggest that Ms. Medziboz should be serving the public, not the concessionaires.
There is another, even sinister, element linked to the need for pluralism. The natural assumption is that the public will get more information if there are more sources. In a normal country, usually this is true but in Israel, maybe. As noted by veteran columnist Matti Golan in Globes last week, Channel 2 news did not inform the public about the strange goings on in Bank Hapoalim concerning the financial problems of Moti Zisser who was reported to have hired private eyes and attorneys to bring down the bank’s CEO. It also did not mention the recordings of Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, who according to Channel 10, gave out a PR contract to “friends,” a charge vigorously denied by Regev and all those accused.
Golan claims that the blackout has to do with ego. Since the scoops were brought by the competitor, Channel 10, Channel 2 news left its public uninformed. But isn’t Channel 2 news a publicly run news organization? Where was its public oversight committee? Where was Ms. Medziboz in all of this? Media pluralism? Another element in this saga was the recent closing down of the independent Voice of Israel Internet radio broadcaster.
The Voice of Israel, after a year of broadcasting, had to close down at the end of August due to lack of finances. It provided what Israel’s mainstream media failed to do. It had news formulated from an editorial outlook that sought to provide world Jewry, and Israel’s non-Jewish admirers, with news and views not colored by a left-of-center worldview.
It was Jerusalem-based and its 30 person staff included media professionals who declared their Zionism proudly and a good number with a religious orientation. Pro-Israel advocacy and confronting the global pro-Palestinian propaganda was an agenda item. It reached audiences in 170 countries. Among its 14 regular program hosts were Daniel Seaman, Yishai Fleisher, Josh Hasten, former MK Dov Lipman, Eve Harow, Gil Hoffman, Dan Diker and Judy Lash Balint.
As its CEO Glen Ladau was quoted, “There’s just this disconnect between Israel and the Diaspora. They can read the news and the other English sources, but it wasn’t giving people a real connection.”
Diker, who hosted a show that focused on National Security, said, “It truly revealed the real Israel, showing it inside out… and I think it is a great tool to fight delegitimization of Israel.
It really revealed Israel as a Jewish state with great sensitivity to other cultures and peoples.”
Critical voices were not denied airing and prominent left-of-center politicians and public personalities were invited into the studios.
It was, however, a reverse image of Israel’s broadcast media. The censorious, condemning and negative fault-finding standard of Israel’s media was replaced by something positive, Zionist in its nature.
Excluding the IBA’s very short English daily TV show that will probably disappear shortly, our media fails those abroad who listen and watch via website streaming. The mainstream foreign affairs commentators either cannot grasp the intricacies of global politics and military affairs or are themselves part of the “progressive” camp.
One need not be a truth-denier to find good things to say about Israel or to highlight the many advances its citizens are responsible for in the fields of science, culture, social action, archaeology and hi-tech business and much more. The closing down of the Voice of Israel is a loss for true pluralism, perhaps that is why the media largely ignored it and did very little to try and help save the station.
We, the public should start getting used to receiving our news from sources such as the Voice of Israel. As Israel’s Media Watch has been stressing, we can all listen to Internet radio in our cars, using a simple wire to connect our smartphones to the “aux” outlet in the car radio – IMW supplies it for free. In this coming year, all of us should become part of this revolution; by listening to other sources we can create true media pluralism.
September 17, 2015
|It is usual that on the campaign trail, the media has full access to a candidate running for political office, even over-access, at times.
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog early this year went so far as to have a reporter follow him everywhere to film his campaign, which he hoped would lead to victory. Once ensconced in office, however, most politicians prefer to keep the press as far away as possible. The cancellation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s usual round of interviews on the eve of the New Year this past week is an example of the frustrating situation that political commentators and correspondents face. Politicians avoiding the press is nothing out of the ordinary.
For example, in England, The Sun newspaper has been in a broil with Andrew Burnham, who is expected to take a senior job in the Shadow Cabinet as James Corbyn was elected Labour leader. Burnham has refused to speak to the paper during his campaign, and in fact since 1989.
The big loser is the public, which is not exposed to the opinions and actions of a leading politician.
The other side of this coin is that when the press treats a politician unfairly or blackballs a candidate, that is not only a problem for the candidate but a danger to the public and the democratic process.
We have always maintained in our columns that a free press, albeit responsible and committed to ethical journalism, is a requirement for a thriving democracy. Open access should be the norm (unless a specific punishment for egregious behavior is in place, which is also a time-honored practice in many countries). Unfortunately, the prevalent practice in Israel, as in many other Western countries, is that direct, open access does not exist. At best, a “senior government official” releases some information.
At worst, politicians feed scoops to their favorite journalists. An especially egregious example was that of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who informed the public that he would be bringing the Gaza disengagement plan to a cabinet vote via a newspaper interview with Haaretz journalist Yoel Marcus.
Prime Minister Netanyahu maintains a Facebook page, the Government Press Office issues statements and there is a prime minister’s web page, but the live give-and-take of a press conference, even with the prime minister’s spokesperson, is missing. Such sparring is the heart of a democratic discourse between the elected and the voters.
As Aditi Bhatia points out in his 2009 academic article on press conferences, they are “a part of media discourse, since [they] are held more for the benefit of the general populace and members of the media…
in part creating the reality we are familiar with.”
The American system is different.
Most weekdays, the White House conducts, and then provides both video-recorded footage and a transcript of press briefings, including occasional briefings by the president and other administration officials.
The State Department follows the same basic practice.
The prime minister owes the public answers to many questions.
He, as well as the finance minister, should explain to us why for example they believe that reducing VAT by one percent will heal the economy.
The prime minister should explain why he does not keep his campaign promises, for example the further development of Judea and Samaria. The defense minister owes us an explanation regarding his decisions to evacuate Jewish communities while delaying planning and authorization of new construction.
The education minister should give an accounting of his handling of the crisis in the Christian school system, a crisis that is giving Israel a black eye abroad. Yet, none of this happens.
Instead, the politicians get away with Facebook or Twitter comments – or worse. According to Vigo, hired by the Walla news website to track the viewing statistics of a short video clip Netanyahu released on the theme “what the media won’t tell you about me and my government,” the number of times the mainstream media (television, radio and websites) mentioned the clip was five million, which more or less equaled the number of people who would have seen/read an interview conducted with him in those same outlets. That effort of Netanyahu’s was a form of talking to the public above the heads of the media. The monitoring traced at least 11,000 “likes,” 1,500 responses, 1,500 “shares” and another 5,000 spin-off “conversations.” Netanyahu beat the press on their own turf.
The public, and our democratic process, would have been served much better by a give-and-take interview.
The relationships between the press and politicians, and especially senior government officials, can be portrayed as murky and Machiavellian.
But the same is true for almost any intersection of any other institution with the media, from rock stars, industrialists and academics to sports club managers. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the media seeking sources and the sources seeking publicity.
Herbet Gans wrote in 1979: “[T]he relationship between sources and journalists, resembles a dance, for sources seek access to journalists, and journalists seek access to sources.
Although it takes two to tango, either sources or journalists can lead….” To paraphrase a 1993 study, the country’s highest elected official is more than newsworthy, but possesses the equipment to manage the flow of news. Instant news, photo opportunities and ceremonies are the tools. By using them (or not), one can exert considerable influence over the citizenry.
The essence, though, is interaction between the elected and the voter. If that interaction is disrupted, from either side, or one side or the other unfairly manipulates the information received or distributed, it is the public that loses out. In Israel, both the so-called “leading journalists” and politicians prefer the situation as it is at present; the former get scoops, while the latter can enact policy with no serious questions asked.
This practice undermines the media consumer’s ability to comprehend and make decisions on issues of politics, economics, diplomacy and culture; passively listening to or reading the words of a prime minister is the closest a citizen can get to an unfiltered conversation.
Almost unfiltered, that is.
The other side of the picture, which perhaps justifies to some extent Netanyahu’s avoidance of direct contact with the press, is that the media does not treat him or his government with the required objectivity. We would guess that Netanyahu is not averse to criticism – provided that it’s honest, as opposed to politically motivated and narrow-minded. Silly interviews such as those conducted in the past by people such as Aryeh Golan or Nissim Mishal are the other side of the coin; lack of jouralistic professionalism creates an aversion to the media among too many politicians.
Israel’s democracy and public would gain if journalists would simply do their homework and consider themselves agents of the public, rather than Netanyahu’s ideological rivals. If this were to happen, we would be in for a good start to a new year.
September 10, 2015
|Last Thursday, in the wee hours of the morning, it seemed that after 65 years something was really moving in our public broadcasting system. Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud) and Rabbi MK Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism) spearheaded a welcome change in the ethical principles guiding our public broadcasting. After years during which especially the public broadcasting journalists usurped the airwaves for their own purposes under the guise of free speech and democracy, the Knesset, guided by Akunis and Eichler, passed the following amendment, which would be applicable to all employees of the public broadcaster: “Avoid one-sidedness, prejudice, expressing personal opinions, giving grades and affixing labels, ignoring facts or selectively emphasizing them not according to their newsworthiness.”
These words resulted in a brouhaha. Our public broadcasting journalists led the pack, shouting gevalt! a crime! Here’s one example, from the Facebook page of IBA representative Yigal Ravid, who had this to say to Minister Akunis: “You were the patron of crooked and stupid administrators who provided you with the microphone without your asking for it and you did not pay attention to warnings about their flattery.”
In one sentence, this public broadcast journalist potentially violated the new law twice. He attacked not only the minister but also his colleagues in the IBA, who were carrying out their duties as public servants. Ravid expects that a minister or MK has to request to be interviewed, but does not think it reasonable that sometimes an editor might invite a politician to be interviewed without having pressure put upon him.
Another example is Amnon Abramowitz, who in his Friday night weekly sermon on Channel 2 TV reminded us all that 20 years ago Israel’s Media Watch went to the Supreme Court against the IBA, demanding that Abramowitz’s private opinions be withheld from the public. Abramowitz, as in many other cases, was not accurate in his report. Our brief at the time was to assure that he would be balanced by someone else with different opinion, to assure pluralism. The IBA had no choice but to accept the demand but argued that balance need not be achieved on a specific day, but over time. It took but a few more years until Abramowitz had to leave the IBA, since he was not willing to have anyone challenge him on air. Abramowitz and pluralism do not go together.
It is precisely this kind of unethical and unprofessional behavior that Minister Akunis and MK Eichler tried to bring to a halt. Not that one should expect Israeli journalists to abide by the new guidelines; Ravid and his friends have a deep disdain for professional ethics. They also do not understand democracy – after all, the public broadcaster belongs to the public, not to Ravid.
Unfortunately though, our prime minister lost his will to do battle with these self-serving prophets of doom. He gave in to the noise, and it took only two days for him to draft a revision of the law, canceling the impertinent paragraph of Akunis and Eichler.
Minister Akunis, an avid supporter of the prime minister, had no choice but to resign as minister responsible for implementation of the public broadcasting law. If the prime minister is going to overrule his decisions, why should he take the responsibility? Indeed, during the past few weeks, the prime minister on two other occasions overruled Akunis, likely out of fear of the media. The original law mandated that all employees of the IBA would cease working on the day the new law is implemented. The workers, with the Histadrut, threatened a general strike, even implementing a minor two-hour shutdown of the airport, and the prime minister relented. At present, no employee of the IBA will be fired, everything will be done “by agreement” between the employee organizations and the finance ministry.
The third instance had to do with appointing the board for the newly formed Israeli Broadcasting Corporation.
The prime minister did not ratify the appointments.
The outcry was strong, especially from the opposition, and the prime minister again relented, ratifying the new board this past week.
But let us consider the facts. For one, the Akunis/ Eichler amendment is nothing new. The venerated BBC, arguably the most respected public broadcaster in the world, has the following guidelines: “BBC staff and regular BBC presenters or reporters associated with news or public policy-related output may offer professional judgments rooted in evidence. However, it is not normally appropriate for them to present or write personal view programmes and content on public policy, on matters of political or industrial controversy, or on ‘controversial subjects’ in any area.”
The BBC is not alone.
The Australian public broadcaster’s guidelines are: “Do not state or imply that any perspective is the editorial opinion of the ABC. The ABC takes no editorial stance other than its commitment to fundamental democratic principles including the rule of law, freedom of speech and religion, parliamentary democracy and equality of opportunity. Do not misrepresent any perspective. Do not unduly favour one perspective over another.”
In fact, a fundamental aspect of public broadcasting is that its employees do not use their positions to further their personal agendas. A permanent employee who has a daily program cannot be balanced by his or her guests. It violates the principle of pluralism and worst of all, especially when it comes to news, it creates mistrust.
After all, if the anchor has a strong opinion, how can she or he be fair to whoever they are interviewing? It was Swedish professor Hans Rosling, and not a “right wing” Israeli, who, on Danish television last week, criticized the media for being “arrogant,” adding, “You can’t trust the news outlets if you want to understand the world.” And it was Maulana Mohammed Ali Jauhar, one of India’s foremost early 20th-century journalists and a Muslim activist, who declared, “Politics was a passion, not a pastime, and journalism a ‘means’ not an ‘end.’” Legislation is, in principle, bad policy. Ethics and professionalism are implemented much more successfully if they come from within, rather from an external law. The sad truth though is that for decades, pluralism, objectivity and respect for the public have not been part of the public broadcaster’s ethos. This is not to say that one cannot identify some impeccable professionals who do not follow the pack. But it is the majority that create the spirit, which in this case is bad.
Moreover, even though the law provides for oversight in the form of public commissions and ombudsmen, in practice they have no clout and more often are simply unwilling to censor their colleagues. The Akunis/Eichler legislation was a necessity, but was overruled by weakness.
To end on a positive note, we wish all of our readers a happy, healthy and blessed New Year and pray that among many other needs of our valiant country, the newly formed public broadcaster, too, will find the way to turn a truly liberal, pluralistic and democratic page.
in our original article, we wrote:
September 3, 2015
|During the past week we were exposed to repeated comments from employees of the Israel Broadcasting Authority as to how professional they are. They criticized the government for its meddling in their domain, claiming that their record fully justifies the continuation of employment of all IBA employees. Any attempt at involuntary termination of IBA employees is met with forceful opposition. The Histadrut, in solidarity with the IBA employees, has already flexed its muscles, stopping work at the airport for two hours this past Sunday. Employees took over the Broadcasting House in Romema over Shabbat.
As our readers know well, we believe that the IBA is a sick organization which must be thoroughly revamped, and this has been our position since 1995. Not only is the management inadequate and wasteful – to the tune of billions – but the employees have not internalized that they are public servants and that the IBA should reflect Israeli society.
There is no better example of the narrow-mindedness of our public media’s shallowness, ignorance and lack of service than its relation to obituaries.
We all hope and believe that our life’s work will continue to be appreciated by later generations.
Especially when someone who has made her or his mark on life passes away, the sadness is not limited to family and friends but affects society at large. The legacy of the deceased may affect us all, and may also serve as a role model, especially for the younger generation. The reaction of the media to the death of such individuals is thus quite important. It provides an opportunity to consider those things in life which are dear to us all and which we would want to see passed on from generation to generation.
Rama Messinger was a highly decorated Israeli actress. Already in high school she had begun studying acting. Her army service was in the Southern Command Troupe.
She continued with her acting studies at the Beit Zvi College for the performing arts. She participated in many of the productions of the Habima theater and received awards for her performances. In 2012, for example, she received the Israeli Theater Prize for her performance as lead actress in the play Souvenir, performed by the Beersheba Theater.
She passed away on August 18, after a seven-year struggle with cancer, at the relatively young age of 47. Her untimely death was headlined in the news reports of the IBA for two days. Some of her recordings were re-broadcast, as a befitting eulogy for a respected actress.
Yossi Piamenta, a singer and musician, passed away on August 23 at the age of 64, also after a long bout with cancer. His army service was in the Artillery Forces Band, as a guitarist. In 1974, together with his brother Albert Piamenta he formed the Piamenta Troupe, which appeared in various Israeli clubs. In 1978 he left Israel for the United States, where he was considered one of the highly gifted guitarists of his generation. He returned to Israel in 2005. His death was not widely covered by the media.
Perhaps not surprisingly, his claim to fame, as reported in the Makor Rishon newspaper this past Friday, was Jewish music. He was one of the first to use the electric guitar within this context. At the same time, he was also a “ba’al tshuva” (Jew who returns to Orthodox Judaism) who joined and supported the Chabad movement.
Piamenta did not belong to the traditional Israeli performing elite.
The news editors did not rub shoulders with him, were not conversant with Jewish music, and so he simply did not exist.
We do not accuse the IBA or Galatz of purposely ignoring him because he was religious, but the fact that there was no obituary for him is a reflection of the narrow-mindedness and lack of professionalism of those who present us with the arts on in our electronic media.
Professor Jacob Bekenstein, a physicist, is a very different case.
Bekenstein, who was born in 1947 in Mexico, made aliya to Israel from the United States in 1974. At the age of 31 he was already a full professor at Ben-Gurion University. He then moved in 1990 to the Hebrew University.
He was elected to the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities in 1997. He was a recipient of almost any prize one could think of, including the Wolf Prize in Physics in 2012 and the Einstein Prize of the American Physical Society in 2015.
His life’s work revolved around the thermodynamics of black holes.
His contributions are of the same caliber as those of Stephen Hawking.
He passed away suddenly in his hotel room attending a conference on August 16 at the relatively young age of 68.
Israel is a “startup country.” Education of our youth in the sciences is essential to upholding our advantage.
Professor Jacob Bekenstein was a role model. A modest and unassuming person, readily accessible to anyone who wanted to approach him, but a genius at the same time, who made deep contributions to society at large and to Israel’s excellent reputation and recognition in the sciences all over the world. His early death was simply not mentioned. Yes, he was also an Orthodox Jew, who did not hide his convictions, and this, too, was part of his personality; the model of “Torah with Derech Eretz.” Yet, our media ignored him.
Is this what the IBA people consider professional? Professor Robert Wistrich passed away suddenly on May 19 at the age of 70. He was a professor of European and Jewish History at the Hebrew University and head of its Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism. Wistrich grew up in England and received his PhD from the University of London in 1974. He made aliya in 1982 and joined the Hebrew University as a full professor. He was one of the most important defenders of the Jewish People and the State of Israel of our time. He repeatedly warned that anti-Semitism was on the rise in Europe. Wistrich was not politically correct. He did not kowtow to the historians and other academics who have made it a habit to pursue and vilify the State of Israel in the name of revisionist post-modern history. His untimely death was a loss to Israeli society. Yet it was hardly mentioned on our airwaves.
Space limits us from going into detail regarding other great people who have left their mark and passed away recently. One of them is Professor Benjamin Gross of Bar- Ilan University, who passed away at the age of 90 on August 3. Gross was French in origin and was considered one of spiritual leaders of French Jewry. One might have thought that at a time when French Jews are coming on aliya to Israel and under attack in France, Gross’ death would have some impact, but no, our professionals know better.
Is it any wonder that the IBA is now being eulogized?
August 27, 2015
|The crisis in the financial markets made headlines this past week. The pundits discussed why it came about, and how it affects Israel and Israelis. There was a consensus on a few issues.
One is that no one knows to predict how serious the meltdown is. It is not clear whether it is a “short term correction” or whether we are in for a prolonged decline which may seriously affect the world economy and Israel. The second is that the decline affects the pockets of almost all Israelis. The average citizen can no longer afford to ignore the markets for all of our savings are linked to them. Fifty years ago, the careful citizen would put savings into a government-backed and cost-of-living-indexed savings account and sleep well. This is today nigh impossible.
We are a rich society, and as the saying of our sages goes, one who has lots of possessions has many worries.
Listening to our radio or viewing our TV sets however, one would think that nothing has changed. Economics reportage on Israel’s mainstream electronic media is rather poor and does not provide good service to the responsible citizen. At face value, one might wrongly perceive that there is broad coverage. Kol Yisrael’s Reshet Bet has a daily hourly economics program at 4:05 p.m., usually presented by Anat Davidov. Galatz has such a program at 7:05 p.m., presented by Oded Levinson, who has a law degree. Both stations have permanent economic reporters, Ran Binyamini at Kol Yisrael and Yuna Leibson at Galatz.
A similar situation is found on TV. Oded Schachar is the economics czar of TV channel 1. He is a graduate of Hebrew University, with a B.A. in economics and an M.A. in business administration. Keren Marciano is his counterpart in Channel 2. Her B.A. is in law, her M.A. is in business administration. She runs a daily program at 7:30 p.m., The Savings Program, which provides the average citizen with financially related advice. Channel 10 has Matan Chodorov, who also served as head of the channel’s labor union.
Chodorov’s professional education is in law. Is it only by chance that the formal education of most of these “stars” is law, not economics or finance? Or is this a poor professional choice which seriously impacts quality? One may safely say that many of the reporters are socialist in their outlook, and this reflects itself in their reportage.
The question of employment is very important. If any Israeli company fires employees or is on the verge of bankruptcy, these reporters will immediately pick up the story, even though usually it affects only a very small minority. Messrs.
But perhaps most problematic is that their reportage has very little to do with the financial markets.
A simple example is the bond market.
Anyone who listens to the news programs with the intent of understanding how the bond market fared is naïve. At most, the reports will refer to TA 25, Israel’s analog of the Dow Jones Industrials index, which provides a very partial reflection of the market. The bond market is huge. Most of our savings are in the bond market, not in stocks. Why is it ignored? Is it because the reporters are just not sufficiently conversant with bonds? The rule of thumb is that bonds, provided they are not junk bonds, are the more conservative investment.
Why then did our bonds lose enormous value at the same time that the stock market failed? An Israeli invention is the “Keren Hishtalmut” which can be translated as “education furtherance fund.” The fundamental idea was a good one: any employee should have the opportunity to further her or his education. This is good for the employer, for the state and the employee. The government thus decided that any funds deposited in such a fund would not be taxed for profits. Today, the fund is just another source of income – even the best deal in town. Not only are the profits exempt from taxation, most of the financial companies that service these funds are willing to give out loans at sub-prime rates using them as collateral, thus even further increasing their value.
Different funds have different policies.
Does the public know this at all? Do our diligent reporters keep an eye on them or are the funds in the news only when someone in the Finance Ministry suggests taxing them? But there is even more to it. The managers of the funds are quite negligent in their financial reports. The customer receives one only once a month and even then the report is 20 days outdated. Given the volatility of the markets, it becomes very difficult for the concerned owner to decide when to sell the holdings. We once pointed this out to a senior economic correspondent, who was completely unaware of it. When asked if anything would be done about it the answer was evasive, and to this day nothing has changed.
It is much easier to feed the consumer the facts the major financial companies give out, rather than delve in-depth into their operations. Most companies offer financial management programs and even advertise them in the media. Their fees are high and their performance is nothing to be very proud of. When was the last time that Oded Shachar provided his public with an in-depth analysis of these companies? Why is it that their actual fees are a well-kept secret? Israel radio had an ongoing advertisement from a real estate company indicating a 20 percent return on investment in US properties. This reminded us about a famous story attributed to Professor Moshe Kaveh, the former president of Bar-Ilan University. Someone tried to convince him to invest the university’s endowment funds with Bernie Madoff, noting the assured 10% annual return.
Kaveh’s supposed retort was that this was the very reason why one should keep away, since no one could provide such high returns on a year to year basis. Bar- Ilan University saved a lot of money. Has anyone investigated this real estate company? Or is it sufficient that it pays for advertising to keep them immune from a serious study? We are not economists nor are we trained in finances. However, the lack of professionalism of economic reporting in Israel’s electronic media is just another symptom of the prevailing attitude – we know everything better, the consumer should just appreciate us and not ask questions. In truth, Israel does have very serious economic reporting in the written media, but somehow, this information, vital for a “start-up nation,” has not yet diffused into the electronic media. Sports are covered much more thoroughly than finances! It should not take a financial crisis to bring the markets to the forefront.
August 20, 2015
|Summer vacation is upon us, the High Holiday Days are still a month away and it is quite hot. Our media, however, remains as active as ever. Too much of it is colored by the political persuasions of the personnel who bring us our news, leading to avoidable errors.
As we have highlighted previously, when even the supervisory systems of the regulatory bodies lack the will to set things right, correct what’s wrong and punish malfeasants, Israel’s media consumers bear the brunt and our society’s democratic fiber suffers.
A few vignettes from the past week or two are instructive.
Torching at Duma vs. Eli’s Gas Station
The horrific crime in the Arab village of Duma on the evening of July 30 was “naturally” assumed to be the work of “Jewish extremists” and/ or “price tag youth.” Official government and police spokespersons didn’t even take the trouble to make the usual, if laconic, announcement we have heard dozens of times in the past that “police are investigating all possible avenues.” From our review, no reporter pressed the police or politicians on this at question time.
Of course, ever since the Rabin assassination many fear being tarred as promoting conspiracy theories.
Nevertheless, no one thought the fact that the father, who has since died, was transported to Beersheba, bypassing three Jerusalem hospitals, while the rest of the family were flown to Sheba Hospital in Ramat Gan, was worthy of a query. There could be very good medical reasons for such a decision but it does seem odd that no question was asked.
On the other hand, this past Friday night, the gas station near the Binyamin region community of Eli was torched. Given the fact that it was Shabbat and the station was Jewish-owned, one might suspect the perpetrators were not Jews. But while the media had no problem establishing a specific ethnic identification for the Duma crime, in the case of the Eli gas station most mainstream news sites did not suggest that Arabs could have been involved.
Emily Amrousi writes a column in Israel Hayom and has appeared in the recent past as a regular panelist on Channel 10 and more recently Channel 20 television. After posting on her Facebook account that she had introduced her nine-year old son to elements of the subject of sex, she discovered that Haaretz’s Chaim Levinson had not only disparagingly parodied her post but had done so in an obnoxious, pornographic and misogynist fashion. She felt, she responded, verbally sexually abused.
She was also astonished to learn that many of Levinson’s friends, some highly placed, after learning of her intention to file a complaint with police contacted her to persuade her no to do so.
Here was a classic case of a woman being victimized for her gender in a very public place – but Amrousi is religious and resides in the Samaria community of Talmon. The incident was treated more as a situation to be observed rather than one in which the media actually becomes involved. Haaretz did not even report it while NRG/Ma’ariv and Makor Rishon did. The media was divided along clear ideological lines.
As it happens, over in England this week, Mark Latham, a former Labor Party leader who became a regular columnist for the Australian Financial Review resigned. The behindthe- scenes buzz is that he was forced to do so. The suspected reason, as reported by The Guardian, was that he maintained a parody account on Twitter which contained not infrequent “derogatory remarks [aimed] at numerous prominent women.”
Among those targeted, the Guardian mentioned journalists Anne Summers, Leigh Sales, Lisa Pryor, Mia Freedman and Annabel Crabb.
Latham’s punishment was swift.
The liberal press knows how to deal with men who attack women – unless the victim is an Amrousi: quick-tongued and sharp, with a political orientation the media doesn’t share.
The Temple Mount
One of the activities associated with the struggle for Jewish rights on the Temple Mount is the monthly “Walk Around the Gates.” The several thousand participants do not enter the Temple Mount but very much demonstrate their desire for Jewish rights to be protected within.
The “walk” is described by the mainstream press as just another one of those fanatical episodes, endangering the “peace” on the Temple Mount. The fact that the walk is legal, is a defiant call against the trampling of human rights, is at best ignored.
This week, though, an announcement sponsored by the Jerusalem Municipality appeared informing all and sundry that between the dates August 25 and August 28 a new public artistic “festival” will be held, in the shadow “of the Temple Mount/Haram E-Sharif.” The festival’s organizers specifically note that instead of the normal discourse relating to the Mount which is “political and religious,” a “new voice” will be heard, one that is a “square of creativity and art.” The festival will spotlight not only the site’s sacredness but also issues such as “occupation.” It remains to be seen whether it receives fair treatment by the media.
The supporters of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club, notably the “Familia” gang, are notorious for their violent behavior. The team has often been penalized; fans were barred from games, translating into a significant financial loss. Epithets of a racist nature are sometimes heard in the stands and although they are noisy, they still are not the majority.
The media has devoted documentaries to the phenomenon. Political figures make comments, prompted by reporters, and the condemnations are part of the folklore.
This past Sunday, at a game between the local Hapoel Tel Aviv club and its guests from Maccabi Petah Tikva, several signs were seen in the stands aimed at foes of the old Ussishkin stadium, now dismantled, who are members of the municipal Tel Aviv council. The letters “aleph” in their names were written in a distinct font, one that resembled a swastika as well as the SS insignias worn on the lapels of the Nazi uniforms.
The police were called in but “accepted” the explanation of the fans that the Hebrew letter was not written to echo any Nazi symbols.
Oddly, the aleph in the name “Ussishkin” appeared quite normal.
In this case, the fans were not tarred and feathered by the press.
The incident was simply reported in a straightforward manner. Would Beitar, the darling of Jerusalem’s Mizrachi and nationalist camps, have been treated with such understanding? We haven’t even touched upon the general attack on the appointment of Danny Danon as our new ambassador to the United Nations.
All these examples and many others lead inexorably to the day when the public will simply shun those whose journalism is not professional.
August 12, 2015
|Much has been written lately about the gas monopoly and how the state should or should not deal with it. No matter from which angle the issue is discussed, all admit that monopolies are not desirable. The state has an obligation to do its utmost to end such economic anomalies.
There is also no reason to permit outrageous private profits from a national resource. There is, though, one monopoly that is hardly ever raised in the public discourse, namely the monopoly of the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) as well as that of the Army Radio Station (Galatz) over our radio airwaves.
For historical reasons, only these two stations are permitted to broadcast nationally. The regional radio stations are what their name implies; they are limited to certain geographically defined regions. The local Jerusalem radio station cannot be heard in Tel Aviv through the regular FM transmission. The commuter from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, or vice versa, who wants to listen to a regional station has to switch somewhere along the middle of the route. This is unpleasant, and so the average driver and passenger opt to listen to the IBA or Galatz, whose broadcasts are uninterrupted.
The result is that the reported audience listening to the two public stations is almost tenfold that of the regional ones. This has immense implications.
It is much better to advertise on a national station and so these two get the majority of the advertising market, even though they are publicly funded. Their competitive power to get advertising, which is based on their monopoly, is unfair to other networks, yet neither the government nor the press care. The immediate victim of this unfair practice is the quality of programming on the regional radio stations.
The smaller income perforce implies smaller budgets for programming.
The monopoly has, however, some additional aspects which are troubling.
It is no secret that both stations are dominated by left-wing liberals. One can just imagine how large segments of the population who have no choice but to get their information from the IBA and Galatz are seething about the media attack on Israel’s right wing and the residents of Judea and Samaria following the criminal attack which led to the murder of the infant Ali Dawabsha in the northern Samaria village of Duma. Even though to this day no one knows who the perpetrators are, the fingers are pointed immediately and consistently at Israel’s Right. Is the Druse population similarly castigated for the murderous attack on Syrians wounded just over a month ago? The anchors of the IBA and Galatz simply do not understand, nor do they want to understand, a position which differs with their own.
There is an added aspect concerning the programming of the IBA and Galatz: they don’t care at all about what the public thinks. Consider the “Kol Hamusika” channel of the IBA, which is supposed to broadcast classical music. It has never even occurred to the IBA management to ask the public whether they like the programming, or whether the musical content should be changed.
The monopoly can be changed and it only depends on you and me.
In past years, listening to radio broadcasts meant owning an FM receiver. This is no longer so. Anyone of us can tune in to their favorite radio station on the Internet. Even though this technology is available for over 10 years, it could not compete with the monopoly. It was still impossible (except for the very rich) to receive high-quality radio programming via the Internet.
But the technological revolution has arrived and now almost everyone, for a pittance, may listen to Internet radio through their smartphone, 24 hours a day. The third-generation cellular phone technology has allowed this to happen. The monthly cost is negligible, the bandwidth used is much less than the typical five-gigabyte listening package provided by the cell phone operators. Yet, one problem remains: how can one connect the smartphone to the car radio? In fact, this is really very easy. Almost all cars have in their radios the “AUX” option, which allows connecting an auxiliary apparatus to the radio. All one needs to connect the smartphone is a cable with two “male” ends. One is inserted into the phone, the other into the AUX jack. One sets the radio receiver to AUX and the monopoly is broken. There are dozens of apps which allow a smartphone user to surf any radio station she or he desires. Pick your favorite one and you can listen to it anywhere in Israel, indeed from anywhere in the world, including the US, Europe or even China.
Is the quality good enough even for classical music? From personal experience the answer is yes, and in many ways even better. In most road tunnels in Israel, FM reception is poor, but phone reception is maintained. In other words, using the AUX option, one will have better reception than on the FM radio.
This technology has an additional advantage. The owner of a website knows how many people are logged in at any given moment. In other words, instead of the “standard” rating procedure, which depends on inaccurate polls, here there is no question how many people are listening. The station’s managers can then use these precise statistics with the advertisers. A good station will profit and may become even better. A bad station will eventually disappear.
This technology, whose cost is negligible as the necessary cable can be bought for less than NIS 30, brings another revolution. The Second Authority for TV and Radio can now become the Second Authority for TV Only. There is no need for anyone interested in radio broadcasting to go through the hellish administrative demands of the Authority to open, at most, a regional radio station. Just go online, spend some money on advertising to let the public know you exist and you’re in business.
The upshot of all of this is that technology allows us to get rid of the monopoly of the IBA and Galatz over our airwaves. Don’t get angry at them, just do the right thing: stop listening to them. Go to your favorite radio station through your smartphone and start enjoying your daily trip to and from work.
August 6, 2015
|One of the more intriguing, as well as potentially explosive issues when it comes to media ethics is the question of in-built bias among journalists. Is there a newsroom atmosphere? Is there a herd instinct that influences how the reporters and editors do their jobs, thereby creating a dominating discourse that all too often may punish those in the media who do not toe the line? Let’s look at the BBC, where there seems to be a problem.
A fortnight ago, we learned that members of the BBC Newsnight program were pressured to leave due to their actions in the Savile expose. This claim was made by Meirion Jones, the former head of the program’s investigations unit, who also had to leave. (Jimmy Savile, a top BBC star, was exposed as a serial child abuser.) Jones was quoted as saying, “We were told at the time that you won’t be sacked but over a year or two years you’ll realize you are being treated as an outsider, that you will never be trusted because you blew the whistle, and you will find yourself leaving.” He insisted that those who tried to expose the BBC’s handling of the case were seen as “traitors” while executives who tried to suppress the scandal had continued their careers unhindered.
The problems with modern-day TV in England are not limited to news but also to programming. Tim Hincks is president of the UK Endemol Shine Group, and is considered a leading British TV executive. His company is one of the world’s largest independent production companies. He produces low-quality but highly popular shows such as Big Brother and Master-Chef . In a lecture last week, he described England’s television industry as “hideously middle class” and even called for forced diversity in broadcasting and production. He further noted that “It’s not moral, it’s not political…There’s a weak spot that we have that hampers the program-makers and the broadcasters. It’s an industry-wide problem….”
On June 27, Christopher Booker published an op-ed in The UK Telegraph on the BBC. He was blunt, writing, “BBC’s senior executives are so lost in their corporate groupthink that they have no real idea just how biased it is” and provided examples of “how mindlessly the BBC falls into its party line.”
The BBC took another hit that same week when Brendan O’Neill, editor of the Spiked website, who describes himself as an atheistic libertarian, published this indictment: “For an institution that loves sneering at politicians, the BBC is remarkably thin-skinned when a politician fires back.” The BBC’s “irritation…shows how sacralised the Beeb has become, how much it fancies itself…a worship-worthy institution that none may blaspheme against.”
Here in Israel, many media people, feeling pressure from complaints, often defend themselves by comparing their standards to those of other countries. The employees of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, especially those in the news division, always point to the BBC as the paradigm of public broadcasting. We would suggest, especially in view of the evidence, that it is high time that the BBC no longer be considered an example and role model which should be emulated or revered.
Is mediocracy a characteristic only of British media? Is the failure of professional standards limited to England? In America they think not.
The 2015 State of the First Amendment Survey released two weeks ago indicated that nearly three-quarters of Americans believe the news media report with an intentional bias. Only 24% of American adults agree that “the news media tries to report the news without bias.” That is a drop of 17 points from the previous year.
Investigative reporting should be the media’s bread and butter, but it is most difficult to maintain. Typically, one reporter is insufficient. Even with leaks from within, as in the Watergate affair, a team is required. Money needs to be invested, while results are usually months away. A good and reliable investigative reporter must be of higher quality than the standard journalist who parrots press releases of interested parties.
In Scotland, for example, there has been a steady and substantial decline in investigative reporting by the country’s established media. As published last month in The Scotsman , it has been accompanied by sharp cuts in staffing, pagination and funding in many daily papers. In parallel though, a group of freelance journalists has launched a new subscription-based, crowd-funded investigations unit to make up for the failure of the traditional Scottish news media. The Ferret, as the web- based project has named itself, parallels investigative journalism collectives such as De Correspondent in the Netherlands and the Belfast-based The Detail.
Here in Israel, we have a large assortment of writers or programmers who consider themselves investigative reporters. These include TV star Dr. Ilana Dayan, whose program may be characterized more by sensationalism and money making than with the need to supply the consumer with well investigated facts. The same malaise may be found in the major news-papers; the investigative weekly page of Israel Hayom may be considered more of a gossip column.
The only truly independent and influential investigative reporting in Israel which is also unbiased, willing to deal with any topic irrespective of its ideological or personal implications, is the News1 website of Yoav Yitzchak. Yet Yitzchak is ostracized by the mainstream media, who all too often “steal” his scoops, belittle them or even worse, ignore them.
Claiming that the media is over-ponderously slanted to the Left and that editorial and newsrooms are staffed by those who consider themselves liberal is pooh-poohed by media insiders, at best. More typically such a charge will result in the critic being besmirched, lambasted and other – wise pilloried. We should know. Israel’s Media Watch is invariably described as “right wing” while other NGOs, markedly leftist, usually merit the description “working for peace and/or democracy.”
When right-wingers suggest that the media should be more pluralistic in terms of content and editorial personnel, that, too, is not encouraged in the name of liberalism and democracy, but roundly denounced. This was never more obvious than in a session of a Knesset committee’s deliberations this week on amendments to the new public broadcasting authority.
Minister Ofir Akunis, who adopted IMW’s suggestion to name the new body the Israel Public Broadcasting Authority, had to vigorously defend himself instead of being acclaimed for his Zionist stance.
It is high time that our media stops copying the worst in the media abroad and instead become a “light onto the nations” as befits our start-up Jewish state.