April 23, 2012

MEDIA COMMENT: Limits on free expression?

Posted in Media at 11:51 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Limits on free expression?


Can radio show hosts have too much freedom of expression? Be too independent, too intrusive, too disgusting?

Can radio show hosts have too much freedom of expression? Be too independent, too intrusive, too disgusting?

In late 2009, the BBC launched a crackdown on strong language, issuing new editorial guidelines. Three of the more atrocious words now require approval by an output controller, even after the 9 p.m. watershed. More importantly, the BBC Trust research had found that the public is very concerned especially about “aggressive behavior” on television and radio as well as “inappropriate intimidation and humiliation… derogatory remarks must not be celebrated for the purposes of entertainment. Care should be taken….”

The BBC is in this case an example of public broadcasting listening to its public. The broadcast media regulatory body, Ofcom, issued a nine-page guideline on “sexualized language,” ordering that “broadcasters should… [be] mindful” of what they say. In France, the guideline of the Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel (CSA) indicates that programs describing “certain sexual practices in a graphic, detailed, and trivialized manner may only air after 10:30 p.m.”

In the land of the free, or actually of comedian George Carlin’s seven dirty words, a prohibition the Supreme Court upheld in a 1978 decision (while establishing a “safe-harbor” provision permitting indecent material between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.) is now under scrutiny. A new case which is being considered may alter the Federal Communications Commission’s powers.

The claim is that the government’s standards for indecency on television contained in the United States Code which prohibits the utterance of “any obscene, indecent or profane language by means of radio communication” may have violated the First or Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution. Those who support the current rules argue that the use of the public airwaves is a public trust and broadcasting is a uniquely pervasive medium. Material that is “patently offensive,” and whose context is a graphic depiction or is used to shock is deemed outside protection and should be punished.

In Israel, an egregious incident has brought to the fore the need to discuss perhaps limiting “freedom of the airwaves” or, on the other hand, demanding that relevant supervisory authorities apply the full authority provided them by law.

ON SUNDAY, April 8, Natan Zehavi opened his noon-hour 103 FM regional radio program by apologizing to his listeners for Sheftel’s use of his freedom of expression on the same station to, in Zehavi’s words, utter “filth” and “have feces exit his mouth.” This was in connection to remarks about former MK Aryeh Eliav, who Sheftel accused of being part of the campaign to shut out Soviet Jewry during the early 1960s (Gabi Gazit, who broadcasts on the station, joined Zehavi and termed Sheftel a “reptile”).

“And for those who claim ‘freedom of expression,’” Zehavi added, “even that right has its limit.” In his next breath, he continued to impugn Sheftel and finished by demanding that he be removed from the air or, better put, that Sheftel be denied his freedom of expression. Sheftel, Zehavi later added, “stinks physically and psychologically.”

This led to an outraged female supporter of Sheftel calling in and verbally dueling with Zehavi. She suggested that the host go and “kiss Sheftel’s feet.”

This is perhaps a non-hygienic act, but not at all obscene. It may be found in classic literature, as in Chapter 28 of Anatole France’s Red Lily or Chapter 15 of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.

Zehavi, in response, spewed forth that she should commit a sexual act on Sheftel. He used a highly sexualized phrase, prefacing it with the acknowledgment that he knows he could be fined for saying it but that he didn’t care. In an afterthought, a day later he attempted to gain sympathy by saying he should have added “Sheftel’s feet” as the object of the act, not his sexual organ.

Zehavi has been a “paragon” of guttersnipe language in the past. To be fair, our readers need know that Israel’s Media Watch has complained about his behavior many times in the past. As a result of this latest incident, Zehavi has referred to us as “imbeciles” and demanded that we be investigated.

This incident should be a watershed. It is not a matter of a “lively discussion,” of a “free-for-all” of slang or street talk. Indeed, it is not even about profanity and obscenity. Foremost, it was a violation of the broadcasting ethics code. And secondly, it was language that was intended, even subconsciously if we permit ourselves to be generous, to degrade the woman as a woman.

The language was not only sexualized but was, with malice aforethought, intended to sexualize the caller, to abuse her because of her agenda, to demean her as an independent person.

In America, the country of constitutional democracy, shortly after describing on his radio program the Rutgers University women’s basketball team players as “nappy-headed hos” on April 4, 2007, Don Immus, even after apologizing, was suspended. In April 2011, radio host John Tabacco was fired from station 970 AM after his guest, Drita D’avanzo, uttered the F-word, being informed that “your choice of guests is unacceptable, your programming is unacceptable.”

It’s not that Israel has not had experience with vulgar language. As Motti Kirschenbaum, then IBA Director, reminisced in Haaretz on April 12, the program “The Cameri Five” was embroiled constantly with court appeals, regulatory demands and complaints from media consumers.

“It was a real pleasure, these battles and complications,” was his impression. “All that shouting, that’s part of the business and that’s the beauty of it. Public broadcasting is especially the arena to test out the limits of free speech.”

In other words, the public be damned (pardon my language).

The branja, the media elite, that small self-elected, self-electing minority who consider themselves talented and creative, and by seniority dominate public broadcasting, will reject any attempt to judge them or limit them. They will fight for their right to dictate their perverted opinion of what freedom of speech really is about. They could not care less if they hurt people’s feelings.

Why then does the public let them get away with this? Isn’t it time that Israel’s democratic institutions make sure that the limits of free speech are also respected?

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


April 19, 2012

MEDIA COMMENT: The orphaned success

Posted in Media at 11:31 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The orphaned success


In Israel’s media, even success can remain orphaned.

The past week was a good one for our media in terms of news-to-be-reported. Two incredibly important events took place. The first was Sunday’s “flytilla,” the second was the damning video clip of Lt.-Col. Shalom Eisner hitting a Danish “activist.”

To appreciate how these events were covered by our media it is necessary to backtrack a bit.

Only two years ago Israel had to deal with the “Gaza Flotilla.” The results for Israel were bad – nine “activists” were killed. The Israel haters all over the world reveled and our media was extremely critical of the IDF’s handling of the affair.

Mr. Ron Ben Yishai, a veteran journalist, made the following points in an article published on Ynet in the wake of the flotilla affair: “In the present international climate, anything that Israel undertakes to explain is assured in advance of failing… The army, Mossad and Secret Service should minimize the public demonstrations. It is advantageous to employ covert operations which will prevent or destroy the plans of the provocateurs when they are only at the planning stage.”

Professor Yehezkel Dror, a member of the Winograd Commission which was formed in the wake of the Second Lebanon war, was also very clear: “One must consider both optimistic and pessimistic scenarios.

Preparation for the pessimistic is the ABC of decision making. …One should use a critical mass of forces which will be able to overcome unexpected resistance. …The makeup of the forces and their weaponry must be able to deal with possible scenarios of engagement.”

It would seem that indeed the government and the army took heed and followed these recommendations to the letter when dealing with the flytilla. The results were impressive. The action ended in total failure of the participants, most of the demonstrators were thwarted in their home base and the few that made it to Israel were quickly arrested and taken away from the scene.

How did our media react to this success? Consider the learned words of the IBA’s legal commentator Moshe Negbi on his weekly radio program: “I cannot but remember the… statement used by the traffic safety authority – don’t be right, be smart. One can also cite the… proverb of the French diplomat Talleyrand who said ‘it is worse than wickedness, it is stupidity.’” Negbi then continues: “Isn’t it wiser to demonstrate the deep gap between us and Iran and Syria whereby in contrast to them, we are not afraid of people visiting Israel and discussing the issues with them…. The way to deal with criticism is not to stifle it but to tackle it and question it.”

Mr. Negbi, who did not deny Israel’s legal right to prevent the provocateurs from entering Israel, would have preferred that they enter massively and that we would then “convince” them how wrong they are.

Negbi’s was not a lone voice in the darkness. Israel’s media’s description of the successful preventive operation was at best neutral. Meirav Miller on IBA’s Channel 1 TV opened her description of the events as follows: “Instead of 1,000 left-wing activists in the pro- Palestinian flight action, only a few tens reached Ben- Gurion Airport and were immediately arrested. A few were sent back without any scuffles, and all was done far from the eyes of the media.”

Channel 2’s headline was: “Only a few tens of activists managed to arrive at Ben-Gurion airport. The central confrontation took place between Israeli leftand right-wing activists.”

Channel 10’s correspondent Idan Roth noted that the assumption that 1,000 activists would arrive was exaggerated. In his eyes: “At the end of this tough day it is difficult to know who was the victor in the public opinion arena. The activists succeeded for a whole week to challenge Israel from every possible stage, yet Israel prevented 90 percent of them from arriving, and all this on one of the most crowded days at the airport which somehow passed in peace.”

The media of course interviewed some of the “activists,” allowing them to “explain” why they came. They were allowed to present themselves as the innocent European do-gooders who were only coming to protest “the occupation” and help the Palestinian people. The idea that perhaps one should interview some of our security people who monitor passengers and often face impossible situations and pressure, questioning people who seem to be innocent, did not occur to anyone. The human aspect of providing security for passengers, while remaining civil, was not deemed to be newsworthy.

ISRAEL’S MEDIA could not bring itself to describe the events positively. The words “success,” “victory,” “achievement” were conspicuously not employed. But this brings us to the second great media event.

A Palestinian reporter put on the web his version of the events that took place in the Jordan valley. This is not the first time that Israel’s enemies provoke, film, edit and then publish. Do we not remember the case in Silwan when David Be’eri, the leader of the City of David project, almost ran over a Palestinian youngster? It was only a couple of days later that the full film came out showing that the whole event was set up.

Relying upon video segments selected by pro-Arab activists is a gift to the rioters and a stab in the back of IDF soldiers. And it is unethical journalism.

Yet no one on Israel’s mainstream media found it necessary to put such video clips, which are far from presenting the objective events, in their true context. When reporting on these sad events, the media did not hesitate to describe them as Israel’s failure, defeat, debacle, etc.

Interestingly, as noted by Shlomo Toren in a letter to Israel’s Media Watch, two incidents of a similar serious nature that occurred over the weekend somehow went unreported . One was the beating of a nine-year-old Jewish child by a Border policeman in Hebron near the disputed Machpela House and the subsequent arrest of a couple of “settlers” for intervening to prevent further harm to the child. The second incident was the uprooting of an acre vineyard by Arabs near the Jewish community Achiya.

It would seem that the music of the past week is deafening. When a Jewish soldier, with a kippa on his head, errs and under stress beats up a European activist (who was hardly injured), the crescendo dominates. When a Jewish child is harmed by a Jewish soldier the silence is deafening. When our security forces succeed, the media cacophony is limited and at best low-key. In Israel’s media, even success can remain orphaned.


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