February 23, 2012

MEDIA COMMENT: The Watchdogs

Posted in Media at 12:40 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The watchdogs


If Israel is bashed, if anti-Zionism rages, if anti-Semitism is allowed to run rampant without response, we have only ourselves to blame.

The audience that had gathered for a special showing of the new documentary by Gloria Greenfield, Unmasked: Judeophobia, at Jerusalem’s Cinematheque on Thursday, February 16, was quite upset. The scenes that had been shown from campuses, media reports, pockets of progressive politics and centers of Islamic extremism as well as the delegitimization campaigns and the testimonies from many experts had a very depressing effect.

After the lights came back on, the panel discussion participants found themselves, with everincreasing intensity, responding to questions and complaints. These were not so much related to the real threat from anti-Semitism as documented by the film, but rather about the fact that Israel’s governments have done very little in counteracting it.

The panel included Yisrael Ne’eman, of the University of Haifa’s International School, Manfred Gerstenfeld, of Jerusalem’s Institute for Global Jewish Affairs, Robert Wistrich, director of the Hebrew University- based Vidal Sassoon International Center for Study of Antisemitism, Andrea Levin, head of CAMERA, Daniel Diker, Secretary-General of the World Jewish Congress and Ma’ariv columnist Ben-Dror Yemini. All, in one form or another, had to agree that Israel’s governments had, for all they attempted to accomplish, a sorry record in the face of the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns, and to a great extent underestimated their influence on the resurgent anti-Semitism.

The audience’s secondary target was the role of the media, and especially Israel’s own media, in facilitating and pushing the BDS and delegitimization efforts. Our media was even perceived as lending support, intentionally or through lack of professionalism, to enemies of the Jewish people and Israel. Too many media outlets, here and abroad, have become forums for the discourse of narratives rather than for the reporting of facts.

One of the many sponsors of the film as well as a host of the screening was CAMERA, a media monitor with a 30-year record. Present also were representatives from Honest Reporting, Comment-is-Free at The Guardian Watch as well as Israel’s Media Watch. The past 25 years have seen an unprecedented growth of Jewish media review organizations seeking to counteract bias, demand accountability and assure that the mainstream media will not unjustifiably defame Israel and the Jewish people.

Although the Israeli governments and their bureaucracies have been on the sidelines, many individuals have decided to “do something.”

On the other side of the globe, Australian Jewry has created AIJAC, the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, “to highlight and counteract instances of anti-Israel bias and misinformation in the Australian media and the wider public debate.” AIJAC’s executive director Dr. Colin Rubinstein is one of the leaders in this struggle to keep the record straight.

Anti-Israel bias in the European media has been researched recently by Elad Segev and Regula Miesch from Tel Aviv University. In their paper, published in the International Journal of Communications, they find that “news reports are largely critical and negative toward Israel, with British news being the most critical, Italian news the most sensational, and German, French and Swiss news relatively more neutral. Opinions featured in the news are not in line with public opinion as presented in annual surveys of each country.”

The anti-Israel biases of the BBC are today well documented. The pioneer of BBC review is Trevor Asserson and his BBC Watch reports, which first appeared in the year 2000. His work led in part to the BBC’s commissioning the “Balen report” to investigate accusations of bias in its Middle East reporting. The BBC to this day has refused to make the 2004 report public, and the UK Supreme Court, adjudicating a complaint by the late Steven Sugar, has now unfortunately concurred.

Honest Reporting is another well-known media review organization. It monitors the news for bias, inaccuracy, or other breaches of journalistic standards in coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The organization mobilizes the public to take issue with false reporting, as for example in the June 2011 report by the BBC alleging that a rabbinical court in Jerusalem sentenced a dog to be stoned to death. Public protest led to a BBC retraction of the false story and an apology, in which it stated specifically “We failed to make the right checks.”

German Media Watch and Honestly Concerned are two organizations formed at the turn of the 21st century to combat anti-Israel media bias in German- speaking countries. GMW describes itself as replacing the question “Why didn’t you do anything?” in response to Nazism with the question “What can we do today?”

Eye on the Post is a media review organization which has taken upon itself the job of assuring accuracy and fairness in The Washington Post’s coverage of Middle East events. An original method of combat is the “Bad News Movement.”

Bad News blogs exist in 10 countries. For example, Bad News from the Netherlands, which was prompted by Manfred Gerstenfeld, describes itself as setting out “to demonstrate that media coverage can degrade a country’s image by using selective news without context… It is a reaction to the frequent misrepresentations of Israel in many ways in major media…, including those of the Netherlands.” And, of course, there was the late David Bar-Illan and his hard-hitting Jerusalem Post “Eye of the Media” column, focusing on the foreign journalists working from Israel.

Dr. Yehuda David is a prime example of a concerned citizen who could not accept the worldwide Israel bashing induced by the false Muhammed al- Dura story as had others like Phillip Karsenty and Nahum Shahaf. Dr. David exposed the lies that the father Jammal’s scars were IDF-caused, winning his French court case last week. David devoted time, finances and probably health to defend Israel. On Sunday, he will be given a special citation by Israel’s Media Watch for his effort.

Should the government be doing more to defend Israel’s name? Certainly. But a government cannot do it all. Its responses will always be considered propaganda. Private, non-political organizations such as the few of many mentioned in this article are at least as effective, and have led the battle to clear Israel’s name. Perhaps the true question which should be answered is why is our government, our philanthropists and the public at large not doing more to provide the necessary funding for such organizations to do their good work? Why do we find an Israel Prize in Chemistry and even Media but none for media review? If Israel is bashed, if anti-Zionism rages, if anti-Semitism is allowed to run rampant without response, we have only ourselves to blame.



February 16, 2012

MEDIA COMMENT: Fact or fantasy?

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:09 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Fact or fantasy?


Israel’s Supreme Court decided last week to reverse a two-year old decision against media celebrity Dr. Ilana Dayan. in 2005, Dayan, on her Channel 2 TV documentary program, Uvda (“Fact”), described how Captain R., while commanding a military outpost in the Gaza Strip, confirmed the death of Iman al-Hams, an 13-year-old Arab schoolgirl who had approached the outpost, by shooting her from close range.

The facts, though, were different.

Captain R. was completely absolved by a military court of any wrongdoing.

Jerusalem District Court judge and soon-to- be Supreme Court Justice Noam Sohlberg found Dayan and the production company Telad guilty of libel and fined them NIS 300,000. However, two months later Dayan filed an appeal against the ruling, which was unanimously granted last week by Justices Eliezer Rivlin, Uzi Fogelman and Isaac Amit, although they ordered Telad to pay NIS 100,000 compensation to Captain R. The fine was for a promotional video which implied that R. had indeed confirmed the killing.

Defamation, libel and slander have engaged society since ancient times. The Talmud deals with the subject in Tractate Erchin 15a, recalling the report of the spies in Numbers 13. Bonnie Docherty notes in the Spring 2000 Harvard Human Rights Journal that American law: “defines defamation as a communication that ‘tends so to harm the reputation of another as to lower him in the estimation of the community or to deter third persons from associating or dealing with him.’” In current Israeli law, the essential element is truth.

Dayan was absolved because, so ruled the justices, her assertions were correct at the time of their broadcast. Captain R.’s acquittal by the military court occurred long after the airing of the Uvda broadcast.

The court accepted Dayan’s claim that she based her story on credible sources and had taken reasonable steps to verify the facts. Her program “…reflected the truth as the journalist could reasonably understand it at that time” and was “founded on the principles of freedom of speech.”

Her production company hailed the decision in a release that claimed that “ignoring these principles would have been a fatal blow to the vital role of Israeli investigative journalism.”

Professor Yaron Ezrahi, a senior fellow emeritus at the Israel Democracy Institute, also applauded the court’s decision.

In a February 12 Ha’aretz op-ed, Ezrahi wrote that “the heat with which some commentators attacked the decision of the Supreme Court… is based on an anachronistic understanding of the concepts of truth, fact and reality… [the] anachronistic concept which was ‘truth at the time’ has collapsed during the past 70 years… just as the lifetime of scientific theory is limited, so is the lifetime of facts. …Democracy respects the connection between freedom and uncertainty which always leaves space for innocent human judgment.”

What Ezrahi seems to have forgotten in his post-modernism and relativism is that democracy is supposed to defend the human rights of the individual, especially when these are trampled by strong governmental or social powers such as the media. The judges decided that democracy is a supreme value which precedes other values in Israel’s law book, such as upholding a person’s right to his honor and a good name. The court preferred the means – democracy – to the goal: the protection of the rights of the individual.

The 100-page judgment hides some jewels of constructionist thinking. On page 52, Rivlin admits that the program did not include particulars which could have affected the viewers’ opinion differently.

In plain English, the program was slanted and biased. On page 82, Fogelman describes his worldview as one that considers earlier restraints as inapplicable today. It would seem that he interprets judicial activism as a license for inserting his private ideology into his rulings.

The judges did not let the “little details” get in the way of their own “big picture” which was imposing their values on society, creating a new form of “truth.” They admitted that some of the scenes in the documentary, which accentuated the supposed inhumaneness of Captain R., had nothing to do with his actions. Yet, such falsification, they felt, was acceptable since it dovetailed with the artistic license of the journalist who wants to prove a point and impress an issue upon the public.

The Dayan judgment follows a series of previous controversial decisions by the court. Consider the 2011 opinion of Judges Miriam Naor, Yitzhak Amit and Yoram Danziger on Muhammed Bakri’s Jenin, Jenin film. They admitted that it was “full of things that are not true,” and hurtful. But since the film made reference to the IDF’s operations in Jenin as a whole and not to any specific soldier, they adopted the line that a reasonable person viewing the film would not recognize any slander against any single soldier and rejected the civil suit, as if the five petitioners were not members of the IDF. Here, too, the court disavowed any commitment to the individual.

Many in our media expressed near-joy at the court’s decision, interpreting it as a further step in strengthening and defending investigative journalism as a lifeline of democracy. It would seem that they are unaware that it might just catalyze a backlash which will do the opposite.

Professor Stephen Plaut of Haifa University, who was found guilty of libel by the Supreme Court for associating Professor Neve Gordon of Ben-Gurion University with the Judenrat of World War II infamy, observed that “if the men and women at the helm of Israel’s media outlets steer the recent Supreme Court ruling to a bad place – a place of personal interests, superficiality and one-sidedness – the media’s status will only deteriorate.”

Our columns stress too often that the media does not abide faithfully by its own rules of verifying facts and assuring the credibility of their sources. Dayan’s sources were, among others, senior soldiers who were angry at Captain R. for imposing equal rules on his whole platoon, without giving them any preferential treatment.

Absurdly, the court’s judgment justifies the media’s claim to the mantle of “democracy’s watchdog.” If democracy is interpreted as freedom of speech above all, then Dayan and her Uvda program made an important contribution.

The court’s decision further protects a press which is already too free with society’s safeguards that seek to assure the integrity, accountability and professionalism of the media.

All this could have been avoided. Dr. Dayan could have heeded the advice of Justice Sohlberg. All she had to do was convene a press conference and apologize for her errors. In fact, she can still do that. This very week. And she could perhaps donate the 200,000 NIS the court “saved” her and Telad to a worthy charitable cause recommended by Captain R. and his family.

Dayan may have “won” but she needs to act so that we all do not lose.


February 9, 2012

MEDIA COMMENT: The future of army radio

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:11 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The future of army radio



The truth is that Galatz today is a luxury that Israel can do without.

Military broadcasting services exist in many countries, and all share the common dilemma of attempting to serve military interests without losing credibility with an audience accustomed to civilian broadcasting.

In the UK, there is the British Forces News, with three radio networks broadcasting, at present, to 23 countries and two television channels with satellite broadcasting to 17 countries.

The United States American Forces Network produces 10 streams, of which seven are music-based, two are sports-based, and one is a general news/talk/sports channel broadcasting all over the world via 800 stations throughout the time zones. Canada has the Canadian Forces Radio and Television.

Then there’s Israel’s Galei Tzahal (army radio), or Galatz as it’s commonly known, which has its own special problems.

Galatz was a continuation of the pre-state underground Hagana transmissions and began broadcasting in September 1950. Only during the 1973 Yom Kippur war did it broaden to a full 24-hour daily schedule.

In 1993 Galei Tzahal added a “light” channel, Galgalatz, which broadcasts music interspersed with traffic reports. Its activity was first regulated by law in 1956, and it was placed under the supervision of its competitor, the civilian Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA).

Paragraph 48 of the IBA Law establishes that the IBA supervises Galatz’s “non-military programming.” At the time, our legislators did not realize that the army station would become the competitor of the IBA’s Reshet Bet radio station.

They also did not anticipate that almost 50 years later, the law still has not been implemented fully for the IBA never carried out its obligation to fix a set of supervision guidelines.

The net result is that there is no real or effective public overview of the army radio station, which is very much present in civilian life.

In contrast to its well-funded foreign counterparts, Galatz has assumed an almost dominant position over Israel’s entertainment and “infotainment” industry. It annually recruits almost 40 soldiers who serve in the station for three years and carry out various journalistic duties. After finishing their army duty, many of these soldiers go out to the infotainment market and become its leaders. Galatz is Israel’s most prestigious and influential school of journalism.

But let there be no mistake – the station is not run by soldiers.

Its major programs are presented by civilian professionals, “celebs” who reportedly receive high salaries (Galatz refuses to reveal what they are) and who create the tone and content of all that is broadcast on Galatz. The soldiers are effectively cheap labor, carrying out the whims and needs of the “stars” of the station, who host the main talk shows and news roundups.

Over the years, the military content of the station’s broadcasts has dwindled. It is very difficult to distinguish it from Reshet Bet. On the other hand it is rather easy to note the true atmosphere at the channel, which is dominated by secular, left-of-center Ashkenazi ideologues.

The morning programming starts with Micha Friedman, who although a news anchor finds it difficult to keep his audience in the dark about his political inclinations. It continues with Razi Barkai, who last year, in an open vote held by Israel’s Media Watch, was elected by the public as the most irritating radio personality. It continues with the only balanced radio program, “The Last Word,” pitting Left versus Right. But at noon, the public has the honor of hearing Yael Dan for two hours. She does not even attempt to provide the public with a semblance of neutrality.

There is no pluralism in a structure which should represent the army of all the people.

Is this in the army’s best interests? Not if you ask the people of the MyIsrael (Yisrael Sheli) Facebook group. In a recent heated debate at the Knesset’s economic committee, Yisrael Sheli brought reserve officers who complained bitterly that when they had a bit of spare time and upon coming home from the Second Lebanon War, they heard on Galatz that the justification of their war was questionable. The station found it necessary to interview some of Israel’s Palestinian and Arab enemies, instead of attempting to raise the morale of the armed forces in battle.

Razi Barkai’s view is that “the station is not the deodorant of the army.”

Over the years, many people, from both the Left and Right, questioned the justification for an army radio station. There is an inherent contradiction between journalism, which demands full freedom of opinion and open access to information, and the military, which almost by definition must have secrets and cannot bow to journalistic standards. There is also a serious problem with the station’s recruitment of soldiers.

Only non-combatant soldiers are allowed to serve in the station.

This discriminates against the aspiring journalist who is also idealistic, healthy and strong enough to serve in a combat unit. That soldier cannot enter Israel’s most prestigious school of journalism.

In fact, the standard makeup of the recruits is largely Ashkenazi, comes from the geographical center of Israel (“Shenkin Street, Tel Aviv”) and is secular.

The periphery, the Orthodox and minorities are underrepresented at the station.

All this paints a bleak picture for incoming station commander Yaron Dekel, whose appointment was announced earlier this week. Dekel is a professional journalist. He started his career at Galatz, has an MA in Communications and Political Science (summa cum laude) from Bar Ilan University and took advanced courses at the universities of Minnesota and Oxford. For the past 20 years he has been employed in various senior positions at the IBA.

He has the opportunity to create real change at the army station. It needs public oversight and an independent ethics commissioner. Will Dekel have the foresight and leadership to accept this? The “stars” should be abolished; the station belongs to the army and the soldiers, not to the professionals who use it to line their pockets and further their own agenda.

The selection process needs a revolution. Instead of barring combat soldiers from the station they should be encouraged to join – after all, they understand the army better than noncombatants. Just as in other professional army units, Galatz should condition acceptance by demanding first one to two years of combat duty and only then three years in the station, for part of which time they would receive a salary.

Galatz should stay away from the temptation to demand advertising to cover its budget.

A public radio station should not provide unfair competition to the private sector, not to mention the fact that mandatory service for soldiers should not include economic activity of any kind.

The truth is that Galatz today is a luxury that Israel can do without. There is nothing about Galatz that cannot be provided by the private sector.

Israel does not need two national public radio stations.

But the influence of Galatz’s graduates is so strong that even Defense Minister Ehud Barak cannot abolish the station. At the least, it should be Zionist, pro-Army, pluralistic, ethical and under public oversight.

The writers are respectively the vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch, http://www.imw.org.il.

February 2, 2012

MEDIA COMMENT: Why not Ynet?

Posted in Media at 12:33 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Why not Ynet?



The future will tell whether the public will tolerate the lack of accountability of Ynet.

One observer of media ethics, Stephen J.A. Ward, writing in the Winter 2012 issue of MEDIA, the journal of the Canadian Association of Journalists, provides us with a concise definition of the ethical journalist. According to Ward, journalists should seek to serve the public but not be activists; journalists must strive to be fully impartial as well as objective; they should maintain professional and personal independence and be truly transparent in their work, even welcoming review. These rules-of-thumb should apply to mainstream media outlets as well as internet sites and the social media phenomenon.

Good journalism in the sense of news-gathering and news-reporting isn’t that difficult to produce. The basics are quite obvious: fairness, accuracy, truthfulness, confirmation of sources, prompt correction or clarification of (and, if neccessary apology for) errors, whether they are factual mistakes or mistakes of omission.

In Israel the broadcast media has a clear code of ethics. Although compliance with it could improve, the very existence of a code guides the media and prevents egregious failures. Or at least leads at times to apologies and corrections.

Israel’s newspapers, on the other hand, are in a different league. Only Ma’ariv has a complaints commissioner. The others at best are willing sometimes to relate to public outrage or complaints, after all they do want to sell and an outraged public will not buy.

The internet is also an entirely different ballgame.

On the one hand, the public can react to any item and article and these reactions, by and large, appear on the websites. This has led to retractions, apologies and even attempts at covering up errors by removing them and presenting the public with a modified form of the same item. All this is of course impossible in the print media.

On the other hand there are no clear guidelines and one finds that reporters often allow themselves to disregard even the most elemental rules, such as the right of reply. It would seem sometimes that there is even contempt for the public users of the sites.

Consider Ynet. Anyone who has placed a complaint with this website probably knows their response by heart: “Shalom, thank you for your letter. We received your comments and passed them on to the relevant persons on the website’s editorial board, who have seriously considered them. We hereby inform you that we found no fault in our journalistic decisions. We are always at your disposal for any question, problem or comment. Signed by Ron K. from the client service department.”

This response is given irrespective of the nature of the complaint. Examples abound. The huge demonstration for equality of this summer brought with it a war of numbers. Ynet started with 400,000 demonstrators. Yet the official police estimate was 180,000, so Ynet corrected the figure and put it at “more than 300,000.”

When Uri Amiram complained that the initial figure was misleading, instead of an apology or an explanation, the answer received was the standard one.

On August 18, Ynet ran an article with the headline: “With G-d’s help, haredim pay less for their apartments.” The facts of the article actually supported the opposite conclusion, noting that apartments in haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighborhoods cost slightly more than those in secular sectors. Michal Galperin complained that the headline was misleading and constituted incitement. Ron K. answered as usual.

On September 1 Ynet had a news item by Haim Klir headlined: “Demonstrated against the evacuation of an outpost and made NIS 100,000.” The facts of the case were straightforward and are given in the article itself. Ms. Tamar Fransi was forcibly evicted from a demonstration against the removal of an outpost in the vicinity of Nokdim. Her arm was broken by a police officer. Due to her resulting invalid status the court awarded her NIS 100,000 in damages.

One wonders how many people would be willing to have an infirmity for life for the sake of NIS 100,000. Amnon Lichtenstein complained. Ynet’s answer? You know it by now; Ron. K is not very imaginative.

The Latma website has actively criticized Ynet for quite some time. For example, On October 3, a news item by Yair Altman let us know that “The state has decided to legalize the Shvut Rachel outpost.” The subtitle was “construction in Gilo was authorized only last week, now Israel may again be criticized: In an answer to a brief of Peace Now to the Supreme Court, the state informed the Court that it decided to authorize the construction in the outpost neighboring Shilo. Peace Now: Netanyahu was and continues to be the servant of the settlers.”

Latma’s response was that now we know that Peace Now also dictates the Ynet’s headlines. We will add that Shvut Rachel has been legal since 1991.

Can Ynet change? Perhaps public pressure will do the job. The MyIsrael organization, headed by Ayelet Shaked, who will be awarded the Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism, has spearheaded a public campaign against Ynet. They write on their website: “It is impossible not to identify that during the past year we are witnessing an increasing wave of incitement against the right wing in general and any group that does not fit with their agenda.”

They, too, provide many examples. On January 15 an article was headlined: “A police report – The extreme right will increase its activities” yet in the next sentence, in much smaller print, Ynet has it that “police estimate that during this year the extreme right- and left-wing activists will increase their activities.” Why does the headline scream only about the right-wingers?

Ynet is one of Israel’s most popular websites. It provides the public with much more than political news. Its consumer section is very helpful for anyone contemplating a purchase of products. It provides information on a wide variety of topics, such as cars, Judaism, sports and much more. Why the owners of the website – Yediot Aharonot – are willing to risk all this for the sake of unethical and unprofessional journalism and a lack of healthy respect for the public is unfathomable.

The future will tell whether the public will continue to tolerate the lack of accountability of the editorial board of the website and its journalists, or whether they will reconsider and provide us with a truly professional and public-serving website.