September 22, 2011

Media Comment: Who does Israel’s press council protect?

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:23 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Who does Israel’s press council protect?
By YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK

Do press councils protect rights of media consumers, provide democratic service, or do they simply protect media and journalists?

Press councils exist in dozens of countries. Germany’s council was founded 55 years ago, and England’s in 1953. They are funded by publishers, who join on a voluntary basis, and sometimes by government. They adopt standards for accuracy and fairness, adjudicate complaints and attempt to mediate solutions.

But are press councils effective? Does self-regulation work? Could they have taken on Rupert Murdoch and the phone hacking affair in the UK? Do they protect the rights of media consumers and provide a democratic service, or do they simply protect the media and the journalists?

The answer, it seems, is no.

Israel’s press council was founded in 1963. Its members are divided between 35 public representatives, 24 representatives of the journalists and 26 representatives of the editors and publishers. It has a presidium of “only” 41 people, and its president is former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner. It has an ethics tribunal, but the number of cases adjudicated annually is less than 20. The various ombudsmen serving Israel’s public media organizations receive thousands of complaints each year.

Israel’s press council does not have any legal means at its disposal to enforce its decisions. Its main authority stems from its ability to focus public attention on pressing issues. Since the council’s members come from the media, one usually finds that its public discussions receive broad coverage. The process by which it decides whether or not to address a given issue, however, is not transparent.

The Council is lax in imposing its own ethics code on journalists. The code states that: “A journalist shall not deal in any occupation, work, service, public relations, advertising and soliciting of advertisements which give rise to the suspicion or appearance of conflict of interest.” These expressly include: “broadcasts of advertisements, public relations or other similar service connected to the area of occupation or expertise of the journalist presenting these services.” Yet Gabi Gazit and Nathan Zehavi of FM 103 “fame” are frequently heard on radio advertisements and the council and its president have not taken any steps against them.

RECENTLY, THE council discussed two pressing issues. One was alleged accusations by the journalists’ labor unions that the Israel Broadcasting Authority was being politicized of late. The head of Kol Yisrael, Michael Miro, was accused of attempting to prevent the voicing of personal opinion by the radio’s employees. An attempt by Israel’s Media Watch to appear before the council was stonewalled. The IBA code of ethics states explicitly that the IBA does not have a “voice” and that its journalists and anchors cannot express personal opinions. Representatives of the IBA were not invited to the discussion and so, with only one side to be heard, the council itself realized that another meeting should be held.

That second meeting took place last Thursday. Miro demanded that the press council apologize for its previous behavior, blatantly unfair. Summing up, Justice Dorner stated that: “the council appreciates the fact that also the executives of the IBA believe that it should not be political and that it should be strictly professional in carrying out its duties.”

Another embarrassing incident was when the council discussed allegations that Ron Lauder used his influence to impose upon Channel 10 an apology to Sheldon Adelson, who was the subject of an investigative program last January. Ruth Yovel, who resigned from her position as the channel’s news editor in protest, claimed repeatedly that she cannot answer any questions since she was bound by a “secrecy agreement” whose “details even I don’t know.” Justice Dorner, despite the fanfare about the need to defend the freedom of the press from the rich, had to meekly end the session, noting that there wasn’t enough evidence for a serious discussion.

Perhaps not less noteworthy are those topics which the press council does not discuss. A degrading picture of Margalit Tsanani as a prisoner was broadcast all over the media. Dorner publicly decried this, but was not willing to convene the council to deal with the issue or to use its influence with the various websites to remove the offensive picture. The council, however, was quick in voicing an opinion when Ilana Dayan was found guilty of libel and fined NIS 300,000 by the Jerusalem District Court for her Channel 2 TV “documentary” accusing an IDF officer of shooting a defenseless child in Gaza. The Council even took the unusual step of requesting to be a respondent in Dayan’s appeal to the High Court of Justice. When Ha’aretz journalist Uri Blau refused to hand over allegedly secret IDF documents which were in his possession, the council quickly declared “it is not appropriate to indict a reporter for holding a secret document as part of his journalistic profession.”

On the other hand, when its deliberations reveal unethical actions by media people, more often than not, its decisions appear in the back pages, low down on the page. The infractions are never corrected in the same way they appeared: not on the same page, not with the same size headlines or accompanying pictures. The press council, we should not forget, is a voluntary institution which not only is self-regulatory but, it seems, self protecting.

In Israel, sadly, it would seem that the Press Council is quick in defending its own, but somewhat slow when considering the media rights of the media consumers. It is impotent when it comes to improving the woeful working conditions of journalists, yet quick to defend the media against criticism. Is it any wonder that the Council is not really considered by many to be important?

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September 15, 2011

MEDIA COMMENT: What? Us apologize?

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:46 pm by yisraelmedad

What? Us apologize?

By YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK
15/09/2011

Channel 10’s apology could have been a watershed, a turning point at which responsible journalists say let’s stop and think about where we’ve gone wrong.

Just how unusual is it for members of the media to issue apologies? In the US, at least, the answer is not very.

In late June, Chris Wallace of FOX News apologized for asking US presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann whether she thought she was a “flake.” Last September, Michael Catherwood, on the E! gossip show The Daily 10, quipped that openly gay singer Adam Lambert “probably wouldn’t have too bad a time” in jail. He was quickly forced to apologize. In July, Reuters columnist David Cay Johnston announced on air that “there’s no excuse … this is a big screw-up on my part” after proclaiming that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. had received $4.7 billion in tax refunds from the US government when the truth was the opposite. Johnston took full responsibility, informing his readers, “I apologize … [I was] 100 percent dead wrong.”

In late November 2004, the highly respected Dan Rather resigned as anchor of CBS Evening News after previously admitting he had made “fundamental flaws” in a documentary report on President George W. Bush’s military service. CNN journalist and editor Octavia Nasr was reprimanded for a Twitter comment she published, and then formally asked to step down. National Public Radio’s Juan Williams was fired for airing unacceptable opinions.

These cases are not unique, and indeed why should they be? What else should be expected of a professional who has erred or fallen short of the standards that his audience expects and his employers demand? But what about the Israeli media? THIS PAST week there was a big brouhaha when Channel 10 was forced to apologize to Sheldon Adelson. In a 25 minute “documentary” broadcast last January, Channel 10 claimed Adelson had not payed a debt of $400,000 for services rendered. It also claimed Adelson’s license for operating casinos in Las Vegas had not been obtained via “standard” legal means. On Friday night, Channel 10 unequivocally apologized for both statements, admitting they were erroneous. In response, Channel 10 news executive director Reudor Benziman and Friday night news program editor Ruth Yovel resigned, claiming the apology was forced upon the channel by its owners.

Israel’s self-appointed media ethics and democracy guru, Moshe Negbi, referred to the apology on his Sunday evening Reshet Bet radio program: “The central threat to freedom of the press and to the public’s right to know … is the censorship imposed by powerful economic powers. …we should no longer discuss freedom of the press but the freedom of the journalist. …it is due to the courage and honesty of those that resigned that the public knows that the apology was imposed…we must be concerned that in the future, journalists will refrain from publishing items which would not be appreciated by their bosses.”

Unions representing Israeli journalists promptly petitioned Israel’s Press Council president, Justice Dalia Dorner, to discuss the issue. They were concerned over this “critical junction in the violation of professional and ethical standards in a central broadcasting organ.”

Channel 10’s Raviv Druker, famous for his recent exposes on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni, initiated a petition signed by 140 Channel 10 journalists stating: “We believe that the channel has no right to exist unless each viewer knows that he hears from the channel 10 news corporation employees what they think and not what was imposed upon them from above. An apology should never be forced on a media organ.”

Avner Hofstein, the journalist behind the Adelson “documentary,” writes in his Facebook wall: “I am a frightened journalist. I get up in the morning, run to my mailbox shaking … check it to see whether I have received a letter … which is very very frightening and official. …I go to sleep with butterflies in my stomach thanking the lord that today I was not sued.”

One wonders whether Hofstein experienced the same level of concern before airing his documentary.

THERE ARE, of course, Israeli journalists who are honest and courageous enough to admit error.

Globes columnist Matti Golan, a recipient of Israel’s Media Criticism Prize (awarded by Israel’s Media Watch) had this to say: “They [Channel 10s journalists] have met with government ministers and MK’s to persuade them to provide the channel with economic incentives. Today, they complain about pressure from the owners, but isn’t this what they themselves did when they lobbied the politicians? …When a journalist requests and a politician gives, the journalist becomes indebted to the politician, a clear waiver of journalistic freedom, much worse than giving in to the owner’s demands.”

News1 publisher and editor Yoav Yitzchak, another recipient of Israel’s Media Criticism Prize, said, “ …It is sad to note that even able journalists [Benziman, Yovel] have seemingly not yet internalized that publishing a correction and an apology is not ‘folding in,’ if indeed they erred honestly, but the right way – and a legal responsibility – to correct a wrong. To err is only human, but publishing irresponsible lies without advance checking, as they did, is a dangerous act which endangers the very existence of Channel 10.”

Israel’s media does apologize at times, especially after being threatened with libel suits. The typical apology is a small item on page 22.

A court fined Ilana Dayan NIS 300,000 for her libel against Captain R, yet even today, she continues as if nothing happened. Army Radio’s Razi Barkai did not apologize for his lobbying of politicians to allow advertisements on the station, thus exposing himself to political pressure.

Benziman and friends could have apologized immediately for the erroneous items while upholding those that were true. Channel 10’s apology could have been a watershed, a turning point at which responsible journalists say let’s stop and think about where we’ve gone wrong. Israel’s media needs to accept that ethical reporting is more important than the “scoop.” An ethical media is one that respects the human rights and dignity of every person irrespective of social standing, personal fortune and political power.

Eli Pollak and Yisrael Medad are, respectively, Chairman and Vice-Chairman of Israel’s Media Watch.

September 7, 2011

MEDIA COMMENT: The liberal bias of Israel’s media

Posted in Media at 11:13 pm by yisraelmedad

The liberal bias of Israel’s media
By YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK

Which is worse, a government-controlled media or a supposedly free media that uses its power to undermine democracy?

In 2002, CBS 28-year veteran journalist Bernard Goldberg published Bias, a book which highlighted the liberal bias he perceived in mainstream media. The problem, Goldberg detailed, includes group think, a lack of newsroom intellectual diversity and mono-perspective outlooks that dominate how the news is filtered and presented to the media consumer. He provided dozens of examples of how reporters dealt with issues by simply regurgitating the propaganda of pressure groups they favor, how political correctness in network newsrooms puts “sensitivity” ahead of facts and how fairness, balance and integrity have disappeared from network television.

Over the past weeks, echoes of many elements of his theory could be seen in the Israeli media’s extensive coverage of the “social justice” campaign which has filled our streets – and our newspapers, television screens and radio waves.

Several days before the opening event of the “July 14 movement,” triggered by Daphni Leef’s desperation at being unable to locate a flat in central Tel Aviv, the print media were already reporting it.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, although commenting that the protest was quite real and genuine, was typically blunt in his criticism, saying on August 11, “The media has to check itself, their coverage of the protest is very one-sided and brutal… I see people at the different protests and I see that they are opportunists, along for the ride.”

Ma’ariv columnist Ben-Dror Yemini was even more critical of his colleagues, writing, “more than any other protest, this is one of the media. Perhaps millions are being invested in organization, adverts, posters and loudspeaker cars, but not one agora (cent) is diverted for the media because most of the media have allowed themselves to become the broadsheets of the protest.

Never in Israel has there been such a mobilized media.”

Uzi Benziman in The Seventh Eye noted that “the media fell upon the protest with great appetite because the media milieu is part of the wave of revolt, because many identified ideologically with the demonstrations and perhaps mostly because it was a good story that photographed well and lasted for a good few weeks.”

It is a fact that media personnel assisted in focusing the overwhelming anti-Netanyahu messages early on by personalizing the headlines. The message to the public was primarily that Netanyahu was responsible.

That this was the “largest demonstration ever” was repeated ad nauseum. The media conveniently “forgot” the 1982 Sabra/Shatilla rally, the pro-Golan Heights rallies in 1995, the 1999 ultra-orthodox demonstration against the Supreme Court or the 2005 anti-Disengagement rallies. No one mentioned the September 1993 anti-Oslo Rally in Jerusalem or the pro-Jerusalem demonstration in 2000, all larger. From the outset, there were violent incidents at the “tent camp” but they were either downplayed or faded out of mind with no followup at the police or district attorney’s office. Ben Hartman reported on July 23 in The Jerusalem Post that demonstrators were arrested by police after blocking an intersection with mounted police clashing with protestors, using smoke grenades to clear the junction. MK Miri Regev was physically attacked and others were verbally berated. The media response was muted, especially compared to the pasting recieved by members of the national- religious camp whenever one of theirs steps out of bounds.

Another aspect was the extensive live-feed coverage of several of the main protests. On at least two Saturday nights, for some three hours there was nothing else one could watch. On Kol Yisrael, they almost forgot to air the advertisements.

THE JULY 14 movement was anything but a grass-roots campaign. This “elephant in the room” was ignored journalistically, with the exception of a Dror Eydar column.

Indeed, another of the criteria by which one could measure media bias was the media’s treatment of those who strayed from the well-trodden path. Sharon Gal, who hosts Channel 10’s daily financial news show, was excorciated by his colleagues for daring to ask Daphni Leef “hard” questions about her upper-class background and lack of military service. Margalit Tzanani, actress Anat Waksman and others who even so much as hinted at criticism of the demonstrators, were promptly put in their place by the media and forced to recant.

Social media group MyIsrael publicized a Rotter net scoop and uploaded a 2002 petition bearing Leef’s signature demanding that soldiers and those enlisting refuse to serve in the IDF. Did this end Leef’s stardom? Did the media crucify her as it did Dr. Gabi Avital for daring to question some aspects of global warming and the theory of evolution? Of course not.

Some journalists did remain true to their profession.

Ma’ariv’s Kalman Liebeskind discovered that Stan Greenberg was involved last March in helping lay the groundwork for a possible protest that would be facilitated by various radical left-wing groups. The memo drawn up demanded “action, not thinking, constant action.” He also showed that the numbers game was patently false and that reports on the number of participants could not be trusted. Guy Maroz and Orly Vilnai exposed the political bias behind the demonstrations and especially the financial backing of tycoon Daniel Abrahams. Additional independent research uncovered that 80 percent of the movement’s leadership are professional left- and far left-wing activists partially supported by the New Israel Fund.

Yet the media did not uphold equal standards. Nationalist camp demonstrations typically involved youth.

This was criticized on educational grounds. Parents were admonished for exposing their children to the reality as they saw it. Yet baby carriage marches were organized as part of the “social justice” campaign, with even infants being exploited by their parents. If that’s legitimate for one side, it should be for the other side, too.

The media was not caught ruminating about the fact that at the end of the day even a few hundred thousand demonstrators are a minority. The media should not attempt to undermine a democratically elected government whose election platform promised a free economy.

The media should have noted that the Netanyahu government, in contrast for example to the Sharon government, is making an effort to answer at least some of the complaints of the demonstrating public. Sadly, the past six weeks have demonstrated yet again that Israel’s democracy is shaky.

Eli Pollak and Yisrael Medad are, respectively, chairman and vice-chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il)

September 1, 2011

Media Comment: Hebrew Now

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:31 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Hebrew Now
By YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK
31/08/2011

After being revived to life, Hebrew is now once again threatened by a careless media and the general trend is an increasing use of English.

Samuel Johnson, who devoted himself to improving the English language, wrote in the preface to his dictionary that he did so in order that “its purity may be preserved, its use ascertained, and its duration lengthened.”

Over 50 countries exercise an official language regulation framework, tasked with the responsibility of maintaining standard usages, vocabulary and grammar. For example, the esteemed L’Académie Française, founded in 1635, publishes a dictionary of the French language which is regarded as official in France. Its main involvement in contemporary cultural affairs revolves around its attempts to prevent the Anglicization of the language. Taking their cue from the Academy, other languages so supervised and protected include Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish and Russian.

The revival of Hebrew as a spoken language is considered one of the greatest achievements of the Zionist movement. Many doubted that a “dead” language could be brought out of the books and into the mouths of young sabras. Theodor Nöldeke, a wellknown Semitic studies scholar, wrote in 1911 that: “The dream of some Zionists, that Hebrew… will again become a living, popular language in Palestine, has still less prospect of realization than their vision of a restored Jewish empire in the Holy Land.”

In Israel, the Academy of the Hebrew Language prescribes standards for modern Hebrew, and by law is charged “to direct the development of Hebrew in light of its nature, requirements and potential, its daily and academic needs, by setting its lexicon, grammar, characters, orthography and transliteration.”

The Israel Broadcasting Authority has a language maven, Dr. Ruth Almagor-Ramon and a “Moment of Hebrew” corner. Dr. Avshalom Kor broadcasts a popular Hebrew-language slot on IDF Radio.

Today, however, Hebrew, as an agent of national identity is under threat. The special status of Hebrew is being undermined by those who should be preserving its uniqueness.

Arguably the worst offender is the advertising industry. The ad agencies believe that English sells better than Hebrew. Otherwise, how can one explain the plethora of businesses using Americanized names such as “Yes” and “Hot”! English is used too frequently in radio and television ads. Some egregious examples include: a bank which provides a “second opinion”; companies advertising “sales” or “campaigns”; Israel’s national lottery – Mifal Hapayis –uses “overweight”; the word “happening” describing a sales campaign or a social event; a price which is “attractive”; and much more.

One of the responsibilities of the Israel Broadcasting Authority is to preserve the Hebrew language. But as Ecclesiastes has it, at the IBA “money gives everything.” The repetitive ads, especially on the nationally broadcast Reshet Beth radio of Kol Yisrael, have contributed significantly to the decay of the Hebrew language, not to mention, that the English used is too often less than “perfect.” The IBA’s Dr. Almagor does not have the power to confront the NIS 150 million per year stranglehold that advertisers have on the IBA’s budget. Previous efforts by the president of the Academy of the Hebrew Language, Professor Moshe Bar-Asher and the former chairman of the IBA, Moseh Gavish, to stem the tide have not succeeded. The present leadership of the IBA has publicly stated that it will deal with the problem. Miki Miro, Director of Radio at the IBA, is taking steps which would prevent English advertising, but the results are not yet evident.

The ongoing deterioration of the Hebrew language is not limited to ads. Many of our broadcasters, editors and writers either do not know Hebrew well enough, or have very little respect for the language, or perhaps believe Hebrew is somewhat outdated and Americanese is to be preferred. How else can one understand the pervasiveness of English in their reports, conversations and articles? Examples abound. The use of the misnomer “shemona esreh” is ubiquitous, it should either be the feminine “shemoneh esreh” or the masculine “shemona asar.”

What is the Hebrew for “primaries”, “campaign” or “playoff” – and are there adequate Hebrew terms for those words? Are our media people displaying a cultural inferiority complex? Mr. Yaron Dekel of Reshet Bet radio, in one sentence, has used the words ‘negative’, ‘positive’, ‘effective’ and ‘campaign’, stating in Americanized Hebrew that a negative campaign is more effective than a positive campaign. Why must Ayala Hasson of Channel One TV talk about “noman’s land”: when surely she knows the Hebrew terminology: shetach hefker? Mr. Yoav Limor, also of the IBA, uses the expression “to prove their point,” and so on.

Israel’s newspapers are not obliged to uphold the Hebrew language. Some of them are post-Zionist, so the language is of little interest to them. Yet some of them, such as Makor Rishon and Yisrael Hayom, pride themselves that they are Zionist. Israel’s Media Watch once checked a single weekend edition of Makor Rishon, and found over 300 Anglicized words such as “fair play,” “freak,” “deadline” and “due diligence.” A letter to the editor, Mr. Shlomo Ben-Zvi, was not even honored with an answer. Yisrael Hayom was found to have over 150 English words in one weekday issue. The editor Mr. Amos Regev responded positively, but in fact nothing much has changed.

On the bright side, the guidelines of the Second Authority for Television and Radio state that the usage of foreign-language expressions should be minimized. If they must be used, they should be simultaneously translated to Hebrew and shown on screen. This is implemented, especially in advertising clips.

Yet the general trend is an increasing use of English. The shops and stores reflect what is heard and read in the media. Our society is dominated by an urge to respect all that is in English and belittle the importance of Hebrew. There is a need for restoring the language Zionism all but sanctified.

Are the post-Zionists among us celebrating?

Eli Pollak and Yisrael Medad are, respectively, Chairman and Vice-Chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il)

Correction –
Last’s week mention of Ms. Haimovitz was erroneous, the Channel 2 TV anchor presenting the Glenn Beck item was Ms. Yonit Levi.