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 Ă½presented 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.

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