November 24, 2011

MEDIA COMMENT: Concentrated media power – in whose hands?

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:22 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Concentrated media power – in whose hands?


Has Israel’s media twisted out of control?

“The press loves reading about the press… and those corners of it which I neither understand nor knew about, well, they’re all the more fascinating.”

That incisive observation was not made of Israel’s media, although one could be excused for assuming so. It belongs to Hugo Rifkind, who published a column on November 19 in the UK’s Spectator on press standards.

He added: “We’re on the quite frightening cusp of accepting that media is becoming an organic, twisting thing that nobody can ever quite understand or control.”

Has Israel’s media twisted out of control, a version of HAL 9000, the computer villain of 2001: A Space Odyssey? HAL suffers from a contradiction: although he is to accurately process information without distortion or concealment, nevertheless he submits to other, secret orders.

Last year, on July 7, this paper quoted the IBA’s Moshe Negbi, who stated that Israel’s media were “guilty of promoting one-sided coverage of the Gilad Schalit story… promoting [an] agenda to garner a ratings boost… shirking their responsibility toward the public.”

He believed that commentators in the media were letting their personal beliefs cloud their journalistic integrity.

Most newspaper, television and radio outlets, with some exceptions, he asserted, were engaged in “slanted coverage.”

THIS PAST week, Israel’s journalists gathered in “emergency” conclave.

The message was that the freedom of the press is under attack by the government and Knesset legislators.

They are incensed over a bill which calls for increased fines for libel, with no need to prove damage. Worse yet, the legislation demands prominent publication of the right of reply for anyone who is criticized.

Such “draconian measures,” they claim, would silence the media. The “exorbitant” damage payment would jeopardize the economic foundations of media outlets to the extent that investigative reports would be stifled for fear of retribution through the courts.

The auditorium in Tel Aviv was full.

All the “stars” were out. The speeches were full of pathos, damning the dark powers-that-be, those who would put an end to democracy.

There were some contradictions, however. Meirav Michaeli wrote in Haaretz that “the media are pro-establishment by nature. They identify with the ruling power, until they don’t, according to their own need for drama.”

Was that cognitive dissonance a la HAL? Ilana Dayan spoke at the conference, admitting in a mea culpa that demonstrations and protests of the national and religious Right were not covered as were those of the liberal Left.

In the same week yet another serious issue was placed on the agenda.

A report by the Knesset’s research unit, initiated by Independence Party MK Einat Wilf, discussed the possible dangers inherent in the concentration of media ownership in Israel in the hands of a select and small group of financial moguls.

Cross-ownership of media outlets, as well as multiple ownership of businesses and journalistic establishments could lead, according to the report, to serious distortion of the public’s right to know and suppression of freedom of expression.

Four business groups – the Ofer family, the Dankner family, Mossi Wertheim and Yitzhak Tshuva – have holdings in media companies, including cross-ownership and diagonal ownerships whereby a company owns shares in a media company and other business interests. A prime concern is that news coverage could be biased in favor of economic interests.

Cross-ownership weakens the advertising market. During the discussion in the Knesset this week, drama producer Yariv Horovitz claimed that Wertheim, who also owns the Israeli Coca Cola franchise, purposely froze advertising costs on TV so as to lower the expense for the Coca Cola company.

The press could be used to influence politicians to make favorable decisions for the other holdings of the same mogul. Hadash MK Dov Henin spoke wistfully of the days when Israel’s media was owned by the various political parties. In those days there was more pluralism, and one knew exactly what the paper’s owners and editors were thinking.

Although the two issues, of libel legislation and media cross- and multiple ownership would seem to be different issues, in reality they are two sides of the same coin – the extent of freedom that the press should have in a democratic society.

While the need for investigative reporting cannot be denied, if a reporter honestly errs and clearly admits the error there would be no cause for a libel suit. The new legal measures apply when the media outlet insists that it reported the truth and the victim can prove that he was libeled. At most, the new legislation would force some reporters to finally do their homework, lest they be forced too often to submit retractions, which could harm their careers and reputation.

Multiple media ownership can lead to slanted news coverage. Professor Sam Lehman-Wilzig and Nava Sharvit of Bar Ilan University published in 1999 a study which showed how Yediot Aharonot, Ma’ariv and Haaretz slanted their reports on media companies owned by the conglomerates “Yediot Tikshoret” and “Hachsharat Hayishuv” which, in turn, own the papers.

The damage to the media consumer in Israel from concentrated ownership is not the most pressing challenge facing our society. The moguls have little influence on the public broadcasting stations which make up a sizable fraction of Israel’s media.

Israel is a very small country. The number of media outlets is small, so necessarily the number of owners is not big. The TV business, especially, is necessarily a very expensive one, and Israel’s advertising market is limited.

Only the very rich can afford the luxury of owning a TV station – and of absorbing its losses.

The real danger to Israel’s democracy and freedom of the press comes from the media itself. Dror Eydar of Yisrael Hayom observes that in the Israeli media “there are almost no balanced debates… only the ‘sons of light’ versus the ‘sons of darkness’ …the media has itself become a political player… [with] charlatanism, anti-intellectualism, silencing of voices, and lack of independent thinking… There is no desire at all to maintain a balance, hear the voices of people who think differently, and accord legitimacy to different world views.”

Razi Barkai of Army Radio, who organized the journalists’ meeting, would be well advised to heed those barely audible voices who insist that freedom of the press is not a license to willfully attack innocent people.

Nor does it give him and his friends the right to usurp the media for their own purposes. Such standards are certainly more dangerous than the not-too-frequent meddling of some rich owners.



November 17, 2011

Media Comment: The sorry saga of Channel 10

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:37 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The sorry saga of Channel 10


The threat to the TV station has led to a media campaign about the threat to Israel’s democracy. But its news coverage has been fairer and more balanced than its competitors.

The establishment of Channel 10 television in early 2002 was marked by a shopping spree, for big-name talents as well as the broadcast rights to the European Football League games of Maccabi Tel Aviv. Among those hired were Yaakov Eilon, Tal Berman, Manny Pe’er, Rafi Reshef, Yaron London, Avri Gilad, Meir Einstein, Gideon Reicher, Shai and Dror, Merav Michaeli, Avi Ratzon and later, Erez Tal and Miki Haimovich.

The outpouring of cash forced Channel 1 and Channel 2 to enter the frenzy and pay ridiculous sums of money for the so-called “stars.” Rather than focus on content value, all that occurred was the wasting of a large amount of money to achieve a “splash” at the added cost of upsetting the budgets of the other two stations. The financial difficulties began to show up when Channel 10 had to implement its content obligations on screen, and they haven’t ended.

Not all is the fault of Channel 10. From the outset, it was supposed to be accessible to all citizens of Israel through the analog broadcast system, like Channel 2. The government did not stand by its commitment to the public, so for many years Channel 10 was available only to those who could afford hooking up by cable or satellite, paying exorbitant fees to receive the broadcasts.

This didn’t only hurt the consumer. The unfair advantage of Channels 1 and 2 hurt Channel 10’s ability to maximize profits. It is only since the inception of the DDT operating system three years ago that this historical injustice was corrected. Analog TV was eliminated last year so that for the first time equality was achieved between the reception possibilities of all three channels.

The establishment of Channel 10 as a third broadcasting channel was the brainchild of former communications minister Limor Livnat. She firmly believed, and justly so, that a third channel would contribute significantly to media pluralism in Israel. Over the years, Channel 10 made a sincere effort to implement this vision, through its news company and investigative reporting.

Israel’s Media Watch has found on many occasions that Channel 10’s news coverage was fairer and more balanced than its competitors. Indeed, it was Channel 10 that most recently was the first to report on a left-leaning American millionaire’s funding of this summer’s tent protest.

SADLY THOUGH, the channel was also an unfailing source of junk programming. Among some of the “outstanding” contributions were The Next Generation: 24/7 (2011), Survival (2007), Beauty and the Geek (2008), The Biggest Loser (2006), Pick Up, The Bachelor (2009- 2010), “The Models” (2005) and more. Its 2.3 Per Week (2011) show was defined by Second Authority for Radio and Television’s (SART’s) ombudsman as soft porn. Instead of being a true alternative to Channel 2’s content, it was at best a pale imitation.

Again and again, this was reflected in its viewer percentages. The losses piled up and investors abandoned the channel one after another. As early as March 2003, in view of NIS 160 million losses in 2002, the channel’s chairman, Yossi Maiman, said “I will not pay for Channel 10 by myself” and demanded other shareholders inject money to prevent a closure of the channel.

Since then, the channel’s economic base remained shaky. Closure threats came both from the owners and SART. They stemmed not only from the considerable financial losses, but were also due to non-compliance with franchise commitments including payment of royalties to the treasury.

The closure threats were accompanied by a campaign led by the channel’s senior executives, assisted by colleagues from other media organizations. The argument was that closure of the channel would be a black day for Israel’s democracy, no less. This concerted media pressure convinced the politicians time and again to provide the kind of financial relief which other companies could only dream about.

Already in April 2003, the channel received a stay of proceedings against it which resulted from its financial difficulties and low income as compared to expectations. Original productions were frozen. Layoffs included about 15 percent of the channel’s employees. The Second Authority Law was amended, reducing the channel’s investment and content commitments.

Not only financial debts were waived. The channel has consistently refused to implement its commitment to broadcast from Jerusalem. Almost a decade since its establishment, the channel still transmits from Givatayim while “negotiating” not to relocate.

In July 2009, Channel 10’s CEO announced that cash flow was sufficient for only one more month. He warned that without change, the channel would cease operation. On July 14, 2009, a demonstration of the channel’s employees was conducted outside the Knesset to protest the impending closure. As usual, the threat did not materialize. The ministries of Finance and Communications reached an agreement with the channel’s management postponing most of a NIS 35 million debt repayment to 2012.

On October 23, 2009, the Second Authority decided to open a new tender for the channel, ending Channel 10’s franchise. But this decision did not last. By the following January, SART’s council decided to again extend the franchise, subject, however, to the channel’s honoring all its debts. But the channel did not keep its commitments.

In September 2011, Ron Lauder decided to stop financing the channel. Vilifying publications against him alleging that he applied improper pressure on Channel 10 to force it to apologize for a libelous documentary broadcast on the Uvda HaShavua program against businessman Sheldon Adelson supposedly were the reason.

This series of events led to the remarkable decision of the Knesset Economics Committee to close the channel. But the decision did not last even a week. Chairman Carmel Shama allowed an appeal of a few opposition MKs, so a new vote was to be held yesterday. It did not take place, apparently to provide yet another opportunity for a “compromise.”

THIS LATEST threat to Channel 10’s existence has led to a high-profile media campaign warning about serious consequences to Israel’s democracy.

Israel is on the verge of opening the DTT free broadcasts to numerous new channels. The explosion of Internet-based TV is creating fundamental changes in viewing habits. Israel’s democracy is being improved all the time. The closure of a poor channel will not really impact us all for long. No one denies that Channel 10 has not lived up to its commitments. But SART is weak and the politicians fearful. It is precisely this type of example which demeans Israel’s democracy and demonstrates how lawlessness can dominate us.

The writers are respectively chairman and vice chairman of Israel’s Media Watch.

November 10, 2011

MEDIA COMMENT: Price Tag – Israeli or Palestinian?

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:20 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Price Tag – Israeli or Palestinian?


It is the media’s job to spotlight criminal activity, but it is disconcerting when there is a lack of equal intensity for similar acts when perpetrated against Jews.

The New York Times’ linguistic blog, Schott’s Vocab, defined the “price tag” phenomenon on July 24, 2009, as “attacks on Palestinians by Israeli settlers in the West Bank protesting against the actions of the Israeli army.”

Wikipedia, based on a report by Efrat Weiss on Ynet, credits Itai Zar with coining the phrase back in 2008, after the dismantling of Adei Ad on July 25 of that year. The term began appearing on the Arutz 7 website, and by 2009 it was widespread in the media in Israel and abroad.

A recent and highly-reported incident involving the term was the torching of a mosque in the Israeli Beduin town of Tuba Zanghariya in the Galilee on October 3. The headlines were strident, intensive and prominent, and lasted for almost a week.

Follow-up interviews, columns and feature stories abounded.

Three days after the mosque arson, a suspect was arrested, identified as a West Bank yeshiva student from northern Israel. Three other suspects were also arrested, all connected to the settlements, one from Bat Ayin, one from Elon Moreh, and one from Yitzhar.

All this, one may safely assume, made the public well aware that “settlers” were responsible.

Does the public, though, know the end of this story? Since then, all the suspects in the case have been released due to lack of evidence.

But that is unlikely to deter Dan Ronen who accused the settlement movement of carrying out the attack regardless of who actually carried out the attack. On October 5, he wrote, “We don’t know who lit the fire. We can hope the perpetrator will be found. But the people who encouraged and poured oil on the flames are well known.”

In other words, according to Ronen, regardless of who actually carried out the attack, it’s still the settlers’ fault. Now that all the “settler” suspects have been released, can we expect Mr. Ronen to issue an apology? Furthermore, is it at all possible that the perpetrators had other goals in mind? Ami Dor-On suggested on the News 1 website that the act might have been a provocation by extreme Islamic elements interested in stoking the flames of hatred against the State of Israel. The vast majority of the residents of Tuba Zanghariya are intimately involved in Israeli life, and the community has a rich history of service in the IDF going back to the days of the Palmah.

Could this have led to an Islamic Movement provocation?

A FEW days later, “price tag” graffiti was found in the non-Jewish cemetery in Jaffa.

The Israel Broadcasting Authority headline screamed “Suspicion of price tag in a Jaffa cemetery.” But to the chagrin of the settler bashers, however, the graffiti also included statements like “Death to the Russians,” and the suspects according to police were Maccabi Haifa sports fans.

By including the “price tag” grafitti, the anonymous vandals had the media pin the blame on settlers.

As reported by Ynet, a Jaffa family was arrested in May on suspicion of preparing to bomb the Hassan Beck mosque in Jaffa and assassinate a senior Muslim cleric, all under the guise of extreme right wing activities.

One may argue that the media was merely reporting the facts as they became known, for that is its job: to report while the police investigate. But the media does not only report. It comments, distorts and accuses.

On October 28, Channel 2 news ran a 15- minute documentary that “explained” why after three years of “Jewish terror,” not one case has ended with a prosecution in court (actually, this past Tuesday, Hillel Leibovitz was prosecuted for “price tag” activities).

The star of the documentary was Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran, whose home this week was once again smeared with “price tag” graffiti. Reporter Noam Amit did not hesitate to mention the Jaffa case, even though the central suspects were not “settlers.”

The clip was followed by the wise words of Amnon Abramowitz, who “knows” that thousands (!) are involved in price tag activities and that the security services simply do not want to find the perpetrators.

Roni Daniel prepared a long list of actions perpetrated against Palestinians and complained that these acts should be referred to as “terror” rather than “price tag,” especially since some were aimed against the IDF.

The third commentator, Udi Segal, claimed that these actions demonstrate the moral bankruptcy of the settlers, who are no better than their Tel Aviv counterparts.

The fact that virtually all settler leaders have rightly and repeatedly denounced “price tag” activities did not prevent nor mitigate the harsh criticism.

It is important to state clearly that neither the slanted reporting nor the biased commentary is the real problem. “Price tag” activities are taking place and it is the job of the security services to stop them. It is the media’s job to spotlight criminal activity and demand that the state put an end to it. But it is disconcerting, to say the least, when there is a lack of equal intensity and demand for punishment for similar acts when perpetrated against Jews.

Consider the following example, reported in the Basheva newspaper by Chani Luz, director of the Tadmit media review organization.

The IBA’s Nissim Keinan reported that a complaint had been lodged with the police for the destruction of 1600 trees adjacent to the Jewish town of Omer. Omer regional council head Pini Badash was interviewed by Esti Perez on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet. Badash claimed that the perpetrators were Beduin. Perez retorted: “When you say Beduin, you too are generalizing and without proof.”

Later, however, Perez interviewed MK Taleb a-Sanaa, who explained that the incident in Omer could not be separated from the fact that on the same day five Beduin homes were destroyed by the Israeli authorities. Perez did not seem bothered by this “price tag” attack, apparently because the perpetrators weren’t “settlers.” Nor did she demand that the Israeli Arab leadership learn from the Jewish leaders’s example and roundly condemn such acts. Even worse, the same item was hardly mentioned by most media purveyors.

Following the Tuba Zanghariya events, graffiti was scribbled at what many believe to be the burial site of the talmudic High Priest Elazar in the Samarian town of Awarta. The gravestone was chiseled in two places. Yet hardly anyone knows of this, since the media apparently does not find such acts against Jewish holy places to be sufficiently reprehensible.

Even if Jews were responsible for the mosque torching, does this justify the rioting that followed? The media took pains to present the efforts of Israel’s leadership to placate the residents and denounce the acts. Yet the same did not take place when Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus was desecrated by Palestinian security forces two years ago.

We would want to think that fair and balanced media reportage on criminal activity, irrespective of who perpetrates it, would significantly contribute to its reduction.

Perhaps, on the other hand, Israel’s biased media encourages, in its own way, those people who are violent under the guise of a “price tag.” Shouldn’t the media at least demand of all sides, with equal intensity, to speak against violence of any kind?


November 3, 2011

MEDIA COMMENT: A second-rate Second Authority

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:20 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: A second-rate Second Authority


The Second Authority for Television and Radio’s work is often sloppy, lacks attention to detail and shows mercy in cases that could be considered criminal.

The Second Authority for Television and Radio (SATR) is one of the largest regulatory bodies in Israel. It is very much a central to the operation of the country’s commercial broadcast media. With an annual budget of almost NIS 50 million, SATR oversees TV Channels 2 and 10, as well as 16 regional radio stations which; in turn, these outlets represent a great deal of money, with requisite economic influence and political interests.

The Authority’s influence, however, is not limited to granting franchises, determining rules and ethical guidelines for franchise holders and monitoring their performance. SATR is at the nexus of the move away from a system of licensing towards one that awards concessions. In addition, it controls the digitization process (the conversion of media to digital form) by maintaining the nationwide DTT infrastructure (the “IDAN+” project).

Analog television broadcasts in Israel ceased in March, 2011; today, terrestrial television is broadcast digitally only via the IDAN+ network. A third issue is the growth in the bandwidth.

SART is responsible for both protecting and promoting the public interest. To do so, it supposedly regulates issues such as unethical advertising, political bias and garbage broadcasting. But SATR work is often sloppy, shows a lack of attention to detail, and Authority policy has been to show mercy in cases that could be considered criminal.

So what do we need the Authority for?

CONSIDER PRIME Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s May address to the US Congress.

Viewers of Channel 2 news were not only given a simultaneous translation by Ms. Yonit Levy.

They also got Levy’s personal political opinions.

Such behavior is not only extremely unprofessional, but it also violates some of the most basic ethics of broadcasting.

The station was flooded with complaints. Dr. Ilan Avisar, SATR’s chairman, promised a review in June. But five months have passed and we know of no decision.

A rampant illegal practice by Channel 2 News is incorporation within the news of subtle, and not-so-subtle, advertising content. Eleven months ago, Israel’s Media Watch pointed out to Dr. Avisar that this policy was also in violation of the SATR’s 2007 decision forbidding the practice.

But nothing was done. Yisgav Nakdimon, the Channel 2 News directorate’s lawyer, asserted that the director of the news company has the authority to overrule the SATR council on issues of content. End of story.

A recent Israel Media Watch report on the satirical program Eretz Nehederet (It’s A Wonderful Country) revealed its ideologically biased content.

But SATR ignored it. One member of SATR’s Public Council, Dr. Dalia Zelikovitz, prepared a separate report on the rampant practice of implicit advertising on channels 2 and 10. The report has been lying on Dr. Avisar’s desk for months; it, too, has been ignored. At another media outlet, the Kol BaRama radio station, unlawful gender discrimination continues apace, despite our expose on the topic (Rachel is weeping, published on this page on August 10), has now been condoned by the SATR, and no regulatory action taken.

EVEN WHEN SATR does wag its finger, the results are unimpressive. Several years ago, Reshet was fined 10 minutes of advertising time for producing a “documentary” on how Fox prepares its advertising campaigns – effectively free advertising for the company, at the expense of programming time.

Did the fine deter them? They repeated the performance the following year, and again in 2009.

Even the news presenters couldn’t contain their smirks. SATR’s punitive action? A warning.

The 2011 State Comptroller’s report confirms that from 2008-2010 SATR’s response to infractions was simply substandard. Sanctions were rarely applied. Of 60 radio violations, only six (10 percent) monetary measures were taken, for a total of NIS 172,000. As for television, 336 violations led to 3 (0.9%!) punishments, for a total of NIS 200,000.

The comptroller found further that the SATR simply did not formulate regulations for fining the concessionaires. As a result, SATR remained powerless to impose its authority. The comptroller also noted that SATR failed to fully regulate the concessionaires’ contractual responsibility to provide quality programming.

SATR’s bureaucrats also developed the habit of delaying the publication date of its annual reports, making it virtually impossible for the public council to receive up-to-date information on the concessionaires’ level of compliance.

So to whom can the individual media consumer complain? Giora Rozen, the complaints commissioner, officially left his position almost a year ago, then returned to work on a part-time basis. No replacement has been appointed. So, the already poor response rate to complaints has suffered. Furthermore, in his new position as head of Israel’s umbrella organization of non-profit groups, Rozen is in a clear conflict-of-interest situation.

The groups he represents receive prominent news coverage.

The Second Authority has a legal obligation to act on behalf of the public good as well as assuring the proper nature of the broadcasting industry.

But instead of being the second authority they seem to be at best, second rate.

The authors respectively the executive director and vice chairman of Israel’s Media Watch.