July 9, 2007

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

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