March 29, 2012

MEDIA COMMENT: Cultural Autism

Posted in Media at 9:22 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Cultural Autism


Elements within Israel’s media suffer from what we could term “cultural autism.” We observe them limiting their coverage.

Autism, according to the United States National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, is a neuro-development disorder characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties and stereotyped patterns of behavior. The hallmark feature of ASD is impaired social interaction. Among its indicators are stereotyped, repetitive, or unusual use of language, restricted patterns of interest, preoccupation with certain objects or subjects and inflexible adherence to specific routines.

Elements within Israel’s media suffer from what we could term “cultural autism.” We observe them too often limiting their coverage to social, political and artistic events which are close to them culturally and with which they easily identify. They do not find interest in happenings which could appeal to audiences coming from different cultural backgrounds. There are too many instances of the “closed circle” phenomenon.

Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg was born in 1910 in Europe. At the age of nine, together with his mother, he joined his father who had emigrated earlier to the United States. The family lived in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He was given an Orthodox Jewish education, studying to become a rabbi at the Yitzchak Elchanan Yeshiva at Yeshiva University. He was ordained by the yeshiva’s head, Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik, the father of Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik, the famous 20th-century rabbinical leader of the modern Orthodox Jewish Community in the United States.

He continued his Torah studies in the Mir Yeshiva in Poland, returning to the United States in 1936. He then served as the spiritual head of the Chafetz Chaim Yeshiva in Queens. In the early Sixties he founded the Torah Ohr Yeshiva in New York, but after a year came on aliya to Israel with his yeshiva which he then proceeded to lead for the next 50 years. He was considered one of the most important American Litvak haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbinical leaders. He served as a member of the “Gedolei Hatorah Council” of the Degel Hatorah political party.

He was also the rabbi of the Matersdorf neighborhood of Jerusalem. He was married for 80 years to his wife Masha, who passed away two years ago.

THE RABBI was the author of numerous books, and was considered the Dean of Yeshiva Heads in Israel. The number of his pupils reaches into the tens of thousands.

His educational influence extends to many corners of the world. The respect he garnered within the ultra-Orthodox community may be deduced from the notice uploaded to the Egged website: “disruptions of the bus service due to the funeral procession of 300,000 of his Hassidim.”

Israel’s most popular newspaper, Israel Hayom, did not report the death of Rabbi Scheinberg even once. A haredi reader sent a letter of complaint. He was answered by Mr. Gonen Ginat in the following language: “This is a spiteful, redundant and baseless complaint.”

Israel Hayom was not alone in ignoring Rabbi Scheinberg’s death and funeral.

Consider Channel 1 TV of Israel’s Broadcasting Authority. On the evening after the funeral there wasn’t even a hint of its taking place. No doubt an item on Israel’s youth boxing champion, which did appear, was much more important and could not be set aside. The lack of coverage was not different in the news magazines of Channel 2 and 10 that same evening.

Compare this with the reaction to the death of Amy Winehouse, a Jewish icon, singer and songwriter who tragically died of alcohol poisoning last July. Her death was broadcast and reported on in almost all of Israel’s major media outlets. Video clips of her singing were shown. Many minutes and column lines were devoted to her. No doubt the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death contributed to the media interest. Yet there is also no doubt that the international celebrity status accorded to her was a major factor.

The same may be said about the death of Whitney Houston, which was naturally extensively covered by our media. In fact, it was the media’s duty to report the deaths of both Ms. Winehouse and Ms.

Houston. They were known and meant something to many people, who enjoyed and respected their music and artistic greatness. But it is the glaring lack of reaction to a death of a haredi leader, who meant much to many people, which demonstrates our media’s “autism.”

Rabbi Scheinberg’s life could be considered by many as exemplary. He lived through tumultuous times in the United States. The history of Jews in the USA during the first half of the previous century is not well known or understood here in Israel, especially the difficulty of keeping one’s Jewish way of life in the face of financial and social pressures. Yet none of these issues came to the fore. Our media’s culture is far from that of the haredi world. They don’t understand it and are even fearful of it.

Almost at the same time, the Vishnitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager, also passed away. His funeral too, was massively attended. He was just six years younger than Rabbi Sheinberg, with a very different history. The media coverage of this event was a bit better, but still rather apathetic. Israel Hayom, as well as Channels 2 and 10, did report his death and funeral. Perhaps the fact that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office as well as Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin communicated to the press their sorrow and condolences helped.

Journalist Yedidya Meir, writing on the haredi Kikar Hashabbat website, noted that the item on Channel 2 was: “The Vizhnitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager, the head of the Gur Hassidim, passed away last night at the age of 95.”

This notification was a prepared and written item yet the editors as well as the anchor who read it on air did not realize the glaring error; a striking example of the cultural distance of our media.

Channel 1 TV did broadcast an item this week on Orthodox Rabbi Dovi and Esty Scheiner, who were named among 2012’s most stylish New Yorkers by Stylecaster, a relative exception to the rule. But the question still remains: are too many of our media elements trapped within their own cultural ghetto?

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


March 18, 2012

MEDIA COMMENT: David Regev – the new ombudsman

Posted in Media at 11:54 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: David Regev – the new ombudsman


In less than three months, Regev used his authority more than his predecessor did in a decade.

Even today, broadcasting in Israel is restricted. The government has yet to institute a free media market in which anyone is allowed to broadcast, via radio, TV, the Internet and whatnot. But even in a free market, there has to be regulation of some sort. Just as a restaurant has to be supervised to make sure it maintains elementary sanitary conditions, the media market has to be regulated to assure its compliance with basic ethics rules. This is even more the case in a media market which is limited, providing the viewing public with only a few local television and radio stations.

The regulatory system is two-tiered. In Israel, the first tier is the regulatory bodies such as the Second Authority for Television and Radio (SATR). Its mandate is to award concessions, regulate and authorize programming, assure a fair amount of local programming and that quality standards are met, and to take punitive measures where appropriate.

Yet this in itself is deemed insufficient, not only in Israel, but also for example in Britain. The second tier is a complaints commissioner or ombudsman as the job is known in Israel (many US newspapers now have in-house public representatives). The SATR governing body is appointed by the government. The ombudsman is appointed by the minister responsible, in our case Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon. The ombudsman reports to the minister, not to the SATR. This provides checks and balances, preventing the rather independent Authority from abusing its powers.

Not less important is that by law, the ombudsman provides the public a venue for expressing its viewpoints, complaints and comments on all issues pertaining to the broadcasts. Media criticism from the public is crucial for upholding the standards of a free media. It is the job of the ombudsman to represent the public, and to pay attention to public sentiment and complaints on both technical and material issues.

The public might not be receiving high-level transmission, as provided by law and contract. Or, the broadcasters might be using too much airtime for advertising, rather than for quality broadcasts. The public may also express frustration with low quality programming, biased and unprofessional behavior and in extreme cases, violations of the law.

A public which feels that the press abuses its power in order to promote agendas will have little respect for the press’ importance in a free and democratic society, and even worse, will lose its respect for the democratic process itself. It is the ombudsman’s job to assure that the public is represented and heard and that its needs are treated seriously. The job also serves as an interface between the journalists, producers and editors and the public, providing them with much-needed information regarding what the public really cares about.

Our laws recognize these sensitivities and provide the SATR ombudsman with some real power. He can demand answers from any employee. Refusal is liable to punishment by law. If he deems that a complaint was justified, he can enforce correction. He can demand that any SATR-regulated station broadcast apologies or corrections. The ombudsman is also obligated to bring to the attention of the responsible minister any violation and especially lack of respect for his decisions.

Giora Rozen was the SATR ombudsman for over 10 years. He carried a big carrot, but only a small stick, which was rarely used. Rozen almost never imposed anything, firmly believing that nice words and finger wagging would do the job.

His abysmal failure was cited by none other than Supreme Court Justice Noam Solberg, who had this to say about him: “The SATR law was an attempt at creating an independent and efficient review process. However, it turned out that it was not used… the viewing audience is under the illusion that there is an address to which they can turn, as if they have an independent representative in the SATR which represents them…. The Ombudsman should have worked harder, viewed the unedited material, compared it to the final product, studied the issue in depth and only then provided his opinion… a proper answer [by the ombudsman] might have prevented the need for legal steps and prevented the need of the court to involve itself in them.”

We will add that it is not surprising that the Israeli public does not have a high degree respect for the journalistic standards of the SATR broadcast media.

It took over a year, but finally Minister Kahlon appointed a new ombudsman – David Regev, who has been in the hot seat since January 1 of this year. Regev was employed for 23 years by the Yediot Aharonot newspaper. In his last job there he was the social welfare reporter. In less than three months, Regev used his authority more than Rozen did in a decade.

Gal Uchovsky, who moderates Channel 2 program “What Do You Say,” called Im Tirzu leader Ronen Shoval a “racist” and “monster,” comparing some of his statements with Nazi-era pronouncements. The public complained, Regev forced Uchovsky to apologize. Although Uchovsky’s “apology” was used to further attack Shoval, the message was clear: the new ombudsman would not tolerate such unprofessional and unethical behavior.

Nathan Zehavi has a foul mouth and is proud of it. He has a program on the 103FM regional radio station. In an interview with a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) listener, Zehavi, feeling provoked, lashed out: “Your God should hit you with the tenth plague brought upon Egypt, 10 foreign workers should rape you, you are a stinking Jew,” and more such drivel. Due to Regev, the SATR has initiated proceedings against Zehavi. Foul language seems to be disconnected to politics.

Advocate Yoram Sheftel, on the same radio station, relates to some left-wing organizations and people as “anti-Semites” and “Judeo-Quislings.” Media outlets he dislikes are referred to as “media terrorists.” Here, too, Regev had the SATR initiate proceedings.

Regev should be complimented for his decisiveness. Had his predecessor acted similarly perhaps Regev would not have had to deal with Zehavi and Sheftel. Regev also initiated proceedings aimed at curbing implicit advertisement on TV programs, offensive advertising and more.

One of the most important aspects of the operation of the ombudsman is that the public is aware of his actions. For this purpose, Israel’s Media Watch has for years opened its website to public complaints which are submitted to the ombudsman, whose answers are publicized on the website. Rozen did not like this and tried to stop it, but MK Zevulun Orlev, chairman of the Knesset’s State Control committee at the time, forced him to accept our procedure, noting that it is in the public interest.

Certain people within the SATR administration have also been trying to stop such public efforts – after all, no one likes to be criticized in public. It remains to be seen whether Regev also understands the importance of assuring that his actions are open to public scrutiny.


March 9, 2012

MEDIA COMMENT: Our great media

Posted in Media, Uncategorized at 2:02 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Our great media


Enjoy your Purim holiday. Buy a newspaper, turn on your radio and press your TV remote control, sit back and enjoy the freedom of the press.

In the spirit of the Book of Esther being read today throughout the Jewish world, and tomorrow in Jerusalem and other walled cities as is the custom, we dedicate this column of ours to Purim.

As we all know, the Book of Esther includes several references to media activity. In those ancient days, communications were facilitated by letters (mentioned in 1:22; 3:13 and 9:20, 30) and the broadcasters were riders on swift steeds (8:10). Editorial decisions were signified by the imprint of a ring. Even the agra, the television license fee we pay, has its roots in the levying of a tax by the king (10:1). Thus, firmly ensconced in the Purim custom, let us praise our local media.

Israel’s media is a leader of the free world’s press, a prime example of how the media should act. It has been outstanding in its demonstration of how the enlightened few keep those of us who belong to the dark Middle Ages from misusing the democratic process.

First, let us consider the Supreme Court, the court of last resort in cases involving media misbehavior. Some parliamentarians, basing themselves on facts gathered by various organizations, have come to grasp that the Court does not truly reflect the plurality of Israel’s society, is not sufficiently balanced by the government in the composition of its public bodies and misuses its powers to impose its will with impunity.

Our press raised a huge outcry. It is unthinkable that representatives of the Likud and other right-of-center parties would even dare consider changing the makeup of the Supreme Court. It belongs to the elites, it has consistently upheld the power of the press to assure that the age of enlightenment is not followed by an age of darkness.

Our legal experts, former judges, commentators and everyone with a bit of journalistic sense in their heads rightly exercised their power to raise such a media outcry that our prime minister saw the light.

There are those in Israel who, in dealing with one of the most central elements in the media narrative, somehow have been misguided enough to believe that Israel has an historical right to Judea and Samaria, and that Jews have the right to reside there.

These ignorant people even believe that a Jew should be allowed to buy real estate in the midst of the local population.

Some of these primitives even dare to claim that the media terminology employed is incorrect, both legally and historically; they assert that Judea and Samaria are not occupied territories but rather disputed territories.

Our valiant press has made sure that not only Israelis realize the fallacy of such arguments, but has managed to convince the world that Israel is an occupying power.

Some of the press is so outstanding the copy they publish merits quotation by some of Israel’s most ugly and prejudiced opponents. Using well established agenda-setting methods such as the selection of onesided panels and “experts,” they have all but convinced Israelis that if it weren’t for those “settlements” and “settlers” we would be at “peace.”

Freedom of religion is fundamental to an enlightened society. It is therefore of utmost importance to assure that Muslim muezzins be allowed to call the faithful to prayer without regard to the decibel level.

The very idea of limiting the volume is an affront to our democratic society, which prides itself on its tolerance of other religions.

In fact, our press is so dedicated to upholding the freedom of religion, it will do so even if it comes at the expense of our own. There is no doubt that those among us who want – heaven and the Chief Rabbinate forbid – to pray on the Temple Mount have no respect for the Muslim tradition and should be stopped. Our press has done a great job of upholding the right of the police to prevent a few warmongering Jews from praying on the Temple Mount by characterizing them as messianic extremists.

It is true that once every few years Israelis ignore the admonitions of our men of letters, our intellectuals and cultural icons, and vote for the wrong parties. But have no fear, this occurs only once every few years, and in any case its sole purpose is to reassure the masses that they are important and that their opinion matters.

Elections are a boon to dried-up journalists with nothing else to write about, but that is as far as the matter is allowed to go. The press is always on hand to make sure that even if the populace makes a mistake and votes for the wrong people, true democracy – that of the editors and producers – will prevail.

Our government tried to implement conservative fiscal policies, which unfortunately have made it difficult for some of our journalists to make a living. The press made an issue of explaining to those of us who do not understand economics that it is the government’s duty to distribute funds. Not to the really poor and needy, or those with large families, whose sons and daughters willingly serve in the army, but to those poor people who cannot afford to pay for a cappuccino when they go to the opera. And yes, they succeeded! The government, led by our astute prime minister, with whom the admonitions of the press carry much more weight than the misguided advice of the Governor of the Bank of Israel, promptly lowered the tax on fuel.

So, enjoy your Purim holiday. Buy a newspaper, turn on your radio and press your TV remote control, sit back and enjoy the freedom of the press.


March 1, 2012

MEDIA COMMENT: That Other Channel – Israel Educational

Posted in Media at 1:35 am by yisraelmedad

That other channel – Israel Educational Television


At present, IETV broadcasts over 200 weekly hours of programming also over Channel 2 as well as HOT’s Channel 23.

The Israel Educational Television (IETV) channel was established in 1965 as Israel’s original television station. Its first transmission was on March 24, 1966. Its purpose was to provide Israel’s schoolchildren with programs aimed at enriching the standard curriculum taught in classes. It was established and funded in its first year by the Rothschild Family Foundation and was then transferred to the Education Ministry. To this day IETV is funded and operates as an autonomous unit within the ministry. Within two years it was broadcasting nation-wide and sharing its channel with the new public channel, the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s Channel 1 TV. At present, IETV broadcasts over 200 weekly hours of programming also over Channel 2 as well as HOT’s Channel 23 and the YES company network. Its annual budget is reported to be about NIS 100 million.

The channel continues to supply educational programs. For example, it has a series called Chemistry for Beginners and special programs aimed at teaching the English language. Adapting from the US Muppet Show, IETV produces its own children’s series, Kishkashta, which adapts educational topics using lovable, humorous characters. The station has a new internet site through which one may view many of their programs and materials.

There is, however, another aspect to the station. In the 1980s, the station moved into broadcasting hard and soft news programs as well as general entertainment and action films. In fact, too often the entertainment programs were geared to adults. The station has broadcast series inundated with sex, violence and drugs, under the guise of programs geared to the adult community. It is only under the guidance of the present Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar that much tighter controls have been enforced, and the noneducational programming has been curtailed severely, especially during daytime hours.

IETV does not differ very much from its commercial and public sister channels. For many years its news programs were dominated by secular journalists. Its “stars” were people such as Dan Margalit, Ben Caspit, Einav Galili, Immanuel Rosen. For example, its banner show, Tik Tikshoret, which is supposedly a media review and criticism program, is in reality a program which largely reflects the journalists’ likes and dislikes and provides them with a convenient stage to present their ideology and biases.

The personal opinion columns in the program are presented by extreme left-wingers Yair Garboz and B. Michael. It has never really provided the Israeli public with serious media criticism which then created real and positive change in the media.

With respect to balance, one may again commend Sa’ar. For the first time since its inception, the panel of the Erev Chadash news program is no longer dominated by the left wing; today the panel includes Erel Segal, Sarah Beck and Idan Queller, the first two identified as being right-of-center. But balance is not perfect at the station. For example, its infotainment program “providing a new order” (Ossim Seder Chadash) is presented by Ben Caspit and Gal Gabbai, both left of center. Jewish values are hard to come by at the station, whose atmosphere is most definitely secular.

IETV’s newly appointed executive director Eldad Koblenz faces some serious obstacles and challenges. Koblenz is a media professional, with an MA in public administration from Harvard University and a BA in psychology from Hebrew University. He directed the “Galgalatz” channel of Army Radio for many years. The station provides popular and avant-garde music interspersed with traffic reports. Only a month ago, the Knesset Economics Committee decided to add IETV to the public access digital TV broadcasting system, making it available freely to all Israelis.

Koblenz assured the Committee that “he would make sure IETV returned to its original purpose,” meaning education. Koblenz’s comment actually pinpoints the fact that the original concept behind the station has changed radically. Today, perhaps too many of our children have smartphones, and they certainly do not lack access to today’s modern media. There is no need for funding an independent TV channel to provide educational materials. It is thus no surprise that over 40 percent of the programs are imported from abroad and that the central aspect of the station has become infotainment and entertainment.

The differences between IETV and Channel 1 TV are disappearing. Yet in contrast to the Israel Broadcasting Authority which is governed by a public oversight committee and employs a full-time ombudsman, IETV, similarly to the army radio station, it lack any public oversight. The public has no address for comments and complaints.

We do not know how much the station pays its “stars,” even though its funding is public, our tax money. Is there then a real need for an additional NIS 100 million in taxpayer money to fund the station? Wouldn’t it be wiser to incorporate the station within the Israel Broadcasting Authority? Can one make better use of the expensive real estate used by the station in Ramat Aviv? Its equipment?

If Channel 10 is forced by law to broadcast from Jerusalem, shouldn’t we demand that a station which calls itself educational be moved to Jerusalem and reflect much more the Jewish values of the State of Israel? Eldad Koblenz faces some real challenges.

Postscript: We take this opportunity to congratulate Mr. Yaakov Ahimeir, a recipient of the Abramowitz Israel Prize for Media Criticism, which was awarded to him by Israel’s Media Watch in 2007, for being selected as this year’s recipient of the Israel Prize for his contribution to the media. In its announcement, the Israel Prize Committee noted that Ahimeirhas been for the past five decades “one of the pillars of public broadcasting in Israel,” especially pointing out that “in his work, he always managed to separate news from opinion. His style has inspired a generation of reporters.” In short, a paragon of media ethics.

We agree fully with IBA Director-General Yoni Ben-Menachem, who said that Ahimeir’s career as a journalist was one of integrity, maintaining a code of ethics and respect for human dignity.