July 9, 2007

Responsible Public Broadcasting

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:30 pm by yisraelmedad

RESPONSIBLE PUBLIC BROADCASTING

by Yisrael Medad and Eli Pollak

An op-ed piece about the Israeli electronic Media.

Eight years ago, the then Director-General of Israel’s Broadcasting Authority, wrote to the employees of the IBA on June 21, 1988 regarding their obligations under law to journalistic ethics. His letter read, in part: “I am enclosing a copy of the ‘Nakdi Document’ which should be your oracle every day of the year and surely the more so on the eve of elections. If we act in accordance with its content…no one can come to us with complaints and if there will be complaints, we can, with quiet and sure hearts, refute them”.

The text of his letter is contained in a popular school textbook dealing with the issue of mass communications. The book, Hamon Tikshoret, is authored by Ronit Eldar with academic assistance provided by Professsor Rafael Nir and Dr. Yitzhak Roeh.

The ‘Nakdi Document’, referred to previously, is a a collection of guidelines for broadcasting news and current affairs. Patterned after the BBC’s Producers Guidelines, the ‘Nakdi Document’ contains 52 pages with 161 paragraphs . Eldar’s textbook touches on aspects of media ethics.

It mentions several of these guidelines but fails in one central aspect and that is: the pupil is left without any information regarding what can be done if any of the ‘Nakdi Document’ guidelines is violated.

  • To whom does one complain?
  • How does one complain?

In essence, Israel’s schoolchildren are introduced to themes of media ethics, issues of freedom of expression and of the press and the interrelationship between the media and democracy. But it is all very theoretical. The pupil is told, on page 208, that in demanding the right to know and the right to express an opinion, he is fulfilling a personal obligation as a citizen.

  • But how is he to act?

In today’s world, the influence and effect of the electronic media are extremely powerful. The viewing and listening habits of the population favor the electronic media over newspapers.

In such a situation, the values of accuracy, objectivity, fairness, balance and other journalistic ethics are paramount, especially in a system of government-sponsored public broadcasting.

Israel’s democracy is dependent to a large extent upon the information its citizens receive via the media as well as their ability to assure that it is ýpresented in a way that is commensurate with accepted principles and the law.

It is imperative that a public broadcasting system be pluralistic and allow for all opinions to be heard. In addition, as it is a public broadcasting system, there exists an obligation and responsibility for citizens to discern news, in-depth discussions, background reports, debates and other presentations with a critical approach.

Israel’s radio and television are largely state-sponsored. Relevant ministers appoint public regulation bodies.

There are principles for journalistic practices within the legal code and professional bodies such as the Israel Journalists’ Association. Yet, for all intents and purposes, regulation is ineffective while public criticism is considered a bothersome partisan interference.

Those appointed to represent the public actually are beholden to political parties. There is a lack of educational material dealing with critical review and monitoring of the media. Public participation in overseeing the media is nonexistent. Media performance goes virtually unchecked.

What should be on the agenda is an educational program that deals with the following topics:

  • recognizing norms of media performance;
  • freedom of the press vs. limits on media freedom;
  • the diversity of the media and the public demands;
  • measuring the objectivity of news information;
  • controlling the media and media professionals.

The introduction to the ‘Nakdi Document’ states that Israel has no media consumer protection authority. After a year and a half of activity by Israel’s Media Watch, we can surely vouch for the veracity of that statement. Complaints directed to the IBA are not dealt with by an independent ombudsman but are handled by the spokesperson.

The State Comptroller’s Office in reviewing the IBA has interested itself solely in concerns of budget, proper managerial practices and, occasionally, matters of local production programming. The IBA’s executive board, including its Chairperson, are firmly kept away from any of the “professional’ decisions.

The public broadcasting system is public in name only. The content is very selective. The reality is that a guild of “open, “liberal” and “a vanguard” persons, as current IBA Director-General Motti Kirschenbaum termed them on Radio Kol Yisrael on May 2nd this year, sets the agenda for the news, culture, religion, leisure and children’s programming.

Any interference is termed a threat to the freedom of the press. Even the High Court of Justice is extremely wary of applying the regulatory laws that exist to the media.

The media teaches our children a lot.

  • But what are our children being taught about the media?
  • Are they instructed about methods of critical review?
  • about how to monitor and to distinguish between news and views?
  • Do they know their rights, along with we adults, for we are the “public” which consumes the broadcasting?

Israel’s Media Watch experience is that there is a long way to go. In the main, complaints are treated as a nuisance and the answers received to specific instances of ethics’ code violations are more an exercise in creative composition that answers.

Journalists, editors and hosts indeed have a professional obligation and a commitment to the highest standards of reporting.

In a public broadcasting system, as in Israel, they also have a responsibility to the public. There’s is not to control the news but to allow for free, informed and democractic dialogue.

That’s not an easy task and Israel’s Broadcasting Authority needs all the help it can get. For all our sakes.

A “Damning” Press

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:29 pm by yisraelmedad

A DAMNING PRESS

by Yisrael MEDAD

When approached by a blackmailer with a copy of a love letter Lord Wellington had authored, the Waterloo hero retorted: “publish and be damned!”.


Reviewing the story of a presumed “fix” between politicians and the previous State Attorney appointee aired last week, it would appear that the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) missed the actual message imparted by Wellington’s oft-quoted remark.

In the latest imbroglio involving the media and politics, TV reporter Ayala Chason and her editor, Rafik Halabi, seem to consider that journalistic ethics allow them to report a story without offering any supporting impartial evidence. Their viewers are simply to trust them. But what they are telling the involved personalities, whose reputations and careers are threatened, is that: “we’ll publish and you’ll be damned!”.

Unlike the privately-owned press, there is a major difference when the IBA is concerned. Private journalists have their own professional ethics code and the law only provides for cases of libel. Israel’s Press Council instructs its members not to “reveal information conveyed to them on the condition that it remain confidential and not identify a confidential source unless the source agrees”. American and British codes refer to “protecting confidential sources of information”.

However, the IBA is explicitly directed by law to “broadcast reliable information”. The same law, the Law of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, paragraph 4, also dictates a modicum of balance in presenting views and ýopinions. The private media are not likewise legally enjoined. As a public broadcasting system, the IBA owes those who pay the special license fee, the “agra”, the right to judge whether or not the news is indeed reliable.

Why should the police be the first, if at all, to see exactly what is the factual basis for the very damaging report? If the IBA wants to protect its sources, fine. But why should the viewers not know what IBA executives so confident? After all, in essence, the public is the owner of the authority and its obligation is to the public. The IBA, in addition to serving the truth and the freedom of the press, serves, too, the principle of the responsibility of the press to the public.

Interestingly, the scoop was not passed by the IBA’s own legal advisor for authorization. This is a highly unorthodox failure. A news item of this magnitude should have gone through the legal test. Of course, if a reporter or editor is thinking not about the public nor even ethics but one’s own private agenda, then the negligence is perhaps understandable.

Although Mr. Kirschenbaum, the IBA Director-General, and Mr. Yair Stern, the TV director, made pains to distance themselves from any “political” involvement, two stories from the recent months point, perhaps, to a problem in the IBA, one that generates an unhealthy tension when reporting on government.

The initial IBA coverage of Mr. Netanyahu’s imaginary U.S. Social Security file in the name of one John O’Sullivan, was not only severely critical of the prime minister’s supposed behavior but it was unbalanced and depended on outside sources. Eventually, the Jerusalem Post’s own Steve Leibowitz, who also is employed by the IBA’s English news division, managed to track down the real story on his personal initiative. Mr. Netanyahu’s financial irregularities were non existent.

A second incident was the question of who was telling the truth about the deliberations prior to the opening of the Hasmonean Tunnel: the GSS Head Ami Ayalon, or the prime minister? Again, without real information except what is know in the trade as “conversations in the corridor”, IBA participated in the anti-Netanyahu campaign. When the government minutes became available, it turned out that the IBA was again backing the wrong story-line.

As of this moment, Ayala Chason has altered her first report which intimated broadly that Mr. Netanyahu was somehow involved in the “deal” being concocted between Mr. Ronni Bar-On, MK Aryeh Deri and his own Director- General, Avigdor Lieberman. The problem, though, is that the IBA’s consumers really do not “know” anything that is anyway substantiated by a document, a photograph or other objective proof that what Ms. Chason claims, and which her editor insists is “backed up by a thousand tons of cement”, is believable.

If the story is so good, and, undeniably, is crucial for Israel as a democratic society, why not, without revealing a source, let the public in ? Why not act with respect for the public? For if not, one risks his own damnation

Being Framed

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:28 pm by yisraelmedad

Being Framed
by
Yisrael Medad

This was submitted for publication to the Jerusalem Post, September 1998.

Did you know that as media consumers, you are being “framed”.  Who will protect you?  Who will stand up for your media consumer rights?

News stories, in the academic jargon are framed.  These “frames” – whether you read a newspaper, listen to the radio or watch television –  select, present and emphasize for you what a reporter and his editor presume, in a very subjective way, to be natural.  Frames are the filter than organize reality.  And as such, they can restrict.  In the rush to get the news out, impressions, more than facts, are what are transmitted.

While the media may not tell us what to believe and think, they surely do
tell us about what and how to think about a subject.   We may not be able
to avoid the accepted truth is that “all news is inherently biased”,
nevertheless, the fact is that the majority of media consumers believe much
of what is seen and heard.

In the past two months, news media have impressed upon their consumers the
existence of two different “undergrounds”.  In early July, two residents of
the Golan Heights were investigated by the police.  The charges, we were
informed, concerned the stealing of weapons and other military materiel.
The frame of the story, however, was the additional information that these
two were suspected of forming an “underground” which would act against a
possible withdrawal from the Golan as part of a negotiated arrangement with
Syria.

Late in July and continuing into August, another “underground” made its way
into the news.  This time, we were informed, it consisted of at least four
youngsters, all under the age of 16, residents of Kiryat Arba and nearby
Hebron Hills communities.  They were being investigated in connection with
property damage crimes caused to Arab stores and fields.  This story
followed a previous case, just
two weeks earlier, in which two other local Jewish youngsters and a
Jerusalem resident, 20 years old, were held for several days on suspicion
of beating Arabs on the Sabbath during a horse ride on the outskirts of
Kiryat Arba.

As of now, all suspects, in all three cases, have been released by the
police.  In the Golan instance, the police denied any responsibility for a
charge of illegal conspiracy to promote violent actions, that is, an
“underground”.  At the end of the day, however, the public, as media
consumers, had been fed both by the press and electronic media with
stories, sometimes daily and even hourly, about an “underground”.

During the past fortnight, another media frame frenzy has been the threat
of Jewish “right-wing extemeists” who present an immediate
danger to the life of Defense Minister Mordechai.  This time, however,
alternative media voices related that many presumed that this time, the GSS
was behind the news, less for operational needs than for shoring up its own
publicity needs or even the advancing of political agendas of some of its
present and past employees.

While beyond the scope of this article to investigate who decided that
these stories would be framed in such a fashion, media consumers should
always ask themselves: was it an official police spokesperson speaking
off-the-record, for background?  Was it an unofficial source or some police
“expert”?  Or was it the reporter’s imagination or that of his editor?  Or
just something someone thought would sell?

The fairly simple fact of media life in Israel is that the press cannot
relate to any story concerning “settlers” or other persons living beyond
the Green Line except in frames such as “underground”?

For example, as it turned out, the real story of the detention and
questioning of the four youth from Kiryat Arba, from an objective news
standard, was the fact that the investigation was being handled by the
General Security Services, quite possibly in violation of their rights.  It
took several days for the media to shake off the original “underground”
frame and begin to deal with its real news value – the trampling of civil
rights.

Even so, the story petered out immediately upon the release, in drips and
drabs, of the four suspects.  Despite complaints by MKs, the director of
the Children’s Protection Council and law groups, none of the media
published follow-up investigative stories into the issue.  They could not,
even after printing and broadcasting factual news items on the matter, free
themselves from the frame of onceptualizing Kiryat Arba citizens foremost,
at least, as anything but potential underground activists.

There is a pattern here.  Similar instances of skewered frames include the
scarcity of water in Arab populated areas in Judea and Samaria portrayed on
the backdrop of Jews swimming in pools when the real story is a 40% Arab
theft rate of their own water as well as the PA’s administrative inability.
Or the frame regarding the charges of bribe-taking and worse against
Shimon Sheves, the former Director-General of Yitzhak Rabin’s Office of the
Prime Minister, which downplays any link with Rabin.  This compared to
persons whose links with the current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu
have been highlighted.

If “framing” is an f-word to be careful of, we media consumers should
demand another f-word, “fairness”, from those who seek to inform us and
keep us abreast of the news.  In any case, it’s the law and part of their
own journalist ethics code.

Conspiracy and Complicity

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:27 pm by yisraelmedad

CONSPIRACY AND COMPLICITY

By Yisrael Medad

Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein’s decision to press charges dealing, in part, with an orchestrated “swearing-in” ceremony supervised by General Security Service (GSS) agent Avishai Raviv, was long overdue. It was three years ago that Israel’s Media Watch (IMW) first brought to public attention the probability that Raviv’s performance was staged, perhaps in collusion with Channel 1’s film crew. And today, IMW is still concerned over the role then played by the electronic media in the coverage of the Raviv/Eyal escapades.

Rubinstein’s decision, courageous as it was in the face of opposition from within the State Attorney’s Office and the criticism of left-wing politicians, does not adequately deal with the issue of possible complicity that existed between the media and the political agenda of the previous government. Ami Ayalon, the current GSS director, admitted to the government last year that the prime minister’s bureau was notified a few days after the ceremony was broadcast in September 1995 that it was “a sham, a double deception, also on behalf of the television.” Former attorney-general Michael Ben-Yair has also gone on record that the footage was a hoax.

Thus, the sharp criticism by such left-wing political figures as Amnon Rubinstein, Yossi Sarid, Ori Orr and Shimon Peres, to the effect that Rubinstein is providing succor to those who would believe in a conspiracy theory in connection with Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, should be judged as self-serving in the extreme. Avishai Raviv was planted in that nebulous area of right-wing fringe groups. Ever since late 1987, when he was 21, he has been a paid employee of the state of Israel. But what exactly was he paid to do? What was his mission? One cannot avoid nasty suspicions concerning the GSS’s motives when one reflects more closely on just what the Raviv affair is truly all about.

According to the Shamgar Commission Report, an intrinsic part of Raviv’s job was the perpetration of violent and criminal deeds. He engaged in assault, spouted racist invective, battered Arabs, damaged property, solicited minors to commit illegal acts and, ironically, lied to his handlers. As the Shamgar Report makes clear, Raviv was engaged not only in violence but in provocation. The report notes that “his handlers even chose to order him to write graffiti against the peace process.” In any normal society, his employers would be chastised for moral corruption in serving a partisan political direction. Despite the recent interviews of GSS officers, Raviv’s main task was the promotion of an image, the image of a wild, anti-democratic, felonious and outlaw ideology. And, with GSS prodding, and the willing cooperation of key Israeli media personnel, that image took hold.

The media, especially the electronic media, with its demand for “action,” for pictures and scandal, alighted upon Raviv. His ceremonies, his camps for arms training and his military-style exercise in preparation for the “conquest” of Orient House broadcast on Channels 1 and 2, became a focus of attention. Those scenes were engraved onto the public’s consciousness. As British media observer Patrick Birkinshaw has written, “TV represents the most immediate and effective mass persuader and conveyor of information in our culture.”

And Raviv was a TV star. Eitan Oren’s September 22, 1995 clip of the Eyal group’s swearing-in ceremony was the highlight of media self-enticement. As the Shamgar Report states: “[the clip] was a performance, for anybody who was present at the site must have been aware that it was a fake” (page 28). Oren’s professionalism, it would appear, failed him. His personal agenda overrode ethical judgment for, it seemed, he was convinced that he was serving a higher principle: combating the right-wing.

Oren, his editor, Yisrael Segal, ITV director Yair Stern and IBA director-general Mordechai Kirschenbaum all sought to deny what everyone else perceived: Israel’s state-supervised television channel was acting in complicity, willingly or otherwise, to convince the viewers that what they were seeing was truth, when it wasn’t. Whether or not with malice aforethought, the media took a true outsider with no real support or representative status and with the help of millions of TV screens, placed Raviv, now the epitome of the “extreme Right,” in everyone’s living rooms and in their minds and thoughts.

One cannot deny the atmosphere of antipathy and wrath directed against Rabin and his policies at the time. But, for months, if not years, the outstanding and dominant example and role model of right-wing “incitement” was Avishai Raviv, media star and GSS agent provocateur, paid out of public funds.

The conspiracy to be investigated should not be whether the GSS staged Rabin’s assassination; rather, it should focus on whether the GSS crossed the lines of democratic norms. The GSS is now perceived as having lent itself to the Labor-Meretz coalition to be used as a weapons against a massive public protest campaign. In this, the media was willingly compliant.

Whether there was actual complicity by the GSS and media elements to aid and abet Raviv’s illegal activities may be difficult to ascertain. Raviv’s trial, if there is to be one, will be conducted behind closed doors. But, as Raviv’s defenders are now aware, no locked door can suppress the truth for too long.

(c) Jerusalem Post 1998

The Provacateur and His Collaborators

Posted in Media at 12:11 pm by yisraelmedad

(an old article I found) THE “PROVOCATEUR” AND HIS COLLABORATORS…

by Yisrael Medad

The recently released Shamgar Commission’s secret section details the negligence of the electronic media as a contributory factor to Raviv’s “success”.

The report blames specifically the television for being engaged, in part, in the creation of a virtual reality of a right-wing “incitement campaign”.

“Eyal”, the report states, referring to Avishai Raviv’s fictitious skeleton crew, “existed for all intents only in Raviv’s pronouncements and via the coverage provided him by the television”.

The electronic media failed. The public were cheated of the truth.

The commission directly addressed one unique instance when TV’s Channel One broadcast a “swearing-in ceremony” in September 1995. In the fourth section of chapter four, on page 28, a clear charge of guilt is made when the commission’s members write:
“…all during that time, [Raviv] continued his connections with the media in order to portray Eyal as an existing group and achieved the collaboration of the television when it broadcast a swearing-in ceremony, that was actually a staged event, and anyone who was present should have been aware that it was nothing but a staged affair”.
 

Media consumers, we now know, were, to a large degree, fed misinformation. Raviv sought coverage that would justify himself in his eyes and those of his General Security Services handlers.

The media were interested in the situation because it was good film footage. Each exploited each other. But someone of responsibility in the GSS, and ultimately, someone in the political overview echelon, let developments get out of hand.

Raviv was permitted by his handlers to move fringe actions, in themselves initiated by Raviv, to center stage by titillating reporters and cameramen with material they could not pass up.

  • Raviv was shown instructing teenagers in the art of urban guerrilla warfare;
  • Planning an armed break-in to the Orient House;
  • Patrolling, in a violent fashion, the alleyways of Hebron.
  • Praising Barukh Goldstein for murduring arabs worshipers in Hebron.

No one, though, thought to take a deeper look and focus their lenses on Raviv himself.

His initial taking the credit for the killing of an Arab in Halhul early in September 1995 was widely reported.

So, too, was the supposed links with the Hamas.

Recalled into service in 1993, he was ordered him to paint anti-peace process slogans on walls.

Raviv called for Rabin’s death while being paid by the government.

Somehow, the media accepted his actions as “normal” or as understandably representative of the Right.

The media cannot now avoid its own need to undergo a process of accounting. The media surrendered its professional duties to get a story which fitted a certain mold it felt comfortable with. That mold was retold by the Michael Karpin propaganda film produced for the “We Shall Not Forget” society which highlighted the incitement campaign while conveniently ignoring Raviv. And that mold, one can suspect, was fed by personal ideological persuasions of media persons.

Not one investigative reporter or program producer was intrigued enough to go after Raviv. Even after Israel’s Media Watch filed a criminal complaint against the Israel Broadcasting Authority for transmitting that “swearing-in ceremony”, we as well as the subject were treated with disdain. What the late Law Faculty Dean of Tel Aviv University and the former President of the Supreme Court considered a staged event, was presumed an aberration.

We, media consumers, are owed an apology. Our right to know was harnessed to an out of focus approach by many media persons. The time has come to clear up matters if they are to fully regain our trust as commentators of the political scene.