September 27, 2012

MEDIA COMMENT: The perennial scapegoat

Posted in Media tagged , , at 4:06 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The perennial scapegoat

By YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 27/09/2012

Anyone who really looks into the facts realizes that DST is much ado about nothing.

Kol Israel director Miki Miro spoke recently on what he perceived as the delegitimization of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sector of Israel’s society. As reported by Tully Firkash in the Matzav HaRuach weekly, in a guest lecture at the Hod Hasharon Sha’arei Mishpat School of Law Miro stated: “While the haredim are in a process of ascent, they are facing a pushback from the general media.”

He explained that the job actually was easy.

“You take a weak population and bury it. Even though they have Members of Knesset, it doesn’t help… How much of what is done in the haredi sector gets media attention – the self-help assistance societies, the volunteering? Always the frame is that of those who are parasites of the general populace and don’t accomplish anything.”

The anti-haredi press was very much in evidence during the past week. Daylight Savings Time (DST) in Israel was stopped this past Sunday and all of Israel could sleep an extra hour. DST in Israel has an interesting history. In the early years, it was especially the Sephardi religious population who promoted the cessation of DST as early as the beginning of the month of Elul.

Sephardi Jews are hardworking and really want to reach work on time.

But they also start with Selichot on the first day of Elul.

If DST is applied, then sunrise in this period of the year can be as late as 6:30 a.m., making it difficult for a laborer to reach work at 7 a.m. Yes, there were times when people started working so early! But times have changed; most employees now come to work between 8 and 9 a.m., so that the Sephardi community has become rather indifferent to DST.

There were other factors. For example, if the Seder night is already during DST, then it starts late and the young children who are an important part of this historic night have a tough time staying awake. Parents of young families would appreciate delaying DST to after Seder night. Since the vast majority of Israelis participate in the Seder, this perspective has nothing to do specifically with the haredi world.

Similarly, the psychological aspect of fasting on Yom Kippur until 6 p.m. without DST or until 7 p.m.

with DST has to do with the very broad sector of Israeli society that fasts on this holy day. Yet, when dealing with this issue, our media turns it into another haredi-bashing festival, blaming the sector for their primitive demands.

Don’t the haredim understand that this is religious coercion at its worst? Don’t they understand that DST saves lives since people drive more hours during daylight? Don’t they understand that DST saves electricity costs due to the extra hour of daylight? Don’t they perceive that the rest of the world does not have such a short DST year? The facts are not very important, nor do our media believe that upholding agreements is a moral and social imperative.

DST WAS initiated by the British and the High Commissioner would set the period, usually from April through September. With the establishment of the state, the authority was passed to the interior minister.

DST was continued through the years 1948-1957. It was discontinued completely in 1958 and renewed for 1974 and 1975. National Religious Party Interior Minister Yosef Burg discontinued DST in 1976. The Supreme Court, in 1980, forced the government to reinstall DST leaving the details in the hands of the interior minister.

In 1992, Knesset legislation was passed imposing DST for at least five months a year. In 2005 a compromise was reached according to which DST would commence on the last Friday before April 2 and would end on the Sunday before Yom Kippur. The compromise was endorsed by Labor interior minister Ophir Paz-Pines, MK Haim Oron of Meretz-Yahad, Eli Aflallo (Likud) and David Azulai (Shas).

Last year and again this year, it became evident that this compromise would mean a rather early (relative to the USA and Europe) cessation of DST, and the media cried wolf. Bowing to the media pressure, Shas Interior Minister Eli Yishai set up a panel to look into the issues.

The committee, chaired by Dov Kehath, presented its findings in May, 2011. It recommended that DST begin on the Friday preceding the last Sunday in March and end on the first Sunday after October 1. This would increase the average duration of DST to 193 days instead of the 182 days set by the 2005 legislation. The recommendations were approved by the government but the legislative process has not ended, so this year we still have DST according to the 2005 law, and it ended before Yom Kippur.

The whole issue, then, is over a matter of 11 days a year! The Kehath report is illuminating.

For example, the claim that DST leads to energy conservation, since one needs lighting for shorter times, is no longer valid. Nowadays, many homes and offices have their lights on during the entire day, but more significantly the usage of air conditioning implies that DST can in fact increase the usage of energy, as was found in Australia in 2006-7 and lately in Indiana in the US.

The committee found that there is no overwhelming research supporting the need for DST. There are studies which show that the number of traffic accidents increases dramatically during the change to and from DST. Our biological clock causes extra tiredness which is much more dangerous than the added hour of night-time driving. Nowadays, most roads are well lit so that night driving is not as difficult as it was 20 years ago.

The bottom line is that anyone who really looks into the facts realizes that DST is much ado about nothing. Incidentally, half of the world – India and China and other countries in Africa and South America – do not have DST. Yet for our media DST is haredi-bashing time.

TV’s Channel 2 Keshet broadcaster blames the haredi MKs for dragging their feet on the new legislation and provides Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz ample opportunity to use the DST issue to further his anti-haredi political agenda.

He is quoted as saying, without proof, that DST would save hundreds of millions of shekels. A miniscule demonstration of two dozen people on Saturday night against the cessation of DST received prime-time coverage on the IBA Channel 1 news on Saturday night and active promotion by the anchorwoman Michal Rabinowitz.

The Walla website points a finger at the haredi MK’s as do many others.

This saga points out all that is wrong in our media: Shallowness, as the media did not do its homework; otherwise it would have challenged MK Horowitz’s unfounded claims. Bias, since the issue has nothing to do with haredim specifically, it is much broader and discussed also in many other Western countries. Irresponsibility, as it should have made it clear that if anything, research shows that the institution of DST endangers lives, due to traffic accidents.

September 20, 2012

MEDIA COMMENT: The consumer first?

Posted in Media at 1:41 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The consumer first?

By YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 19/09/2012

Many in Israel’s media prided themselves on their support of the social unrest of last summer. Could it have been that their very activism was motivated by self-interest?

Many in Israel’s media prided themselves on their support of the social unrest of last summer. They were even dejected when the “social justice” movement lost momentum and became irrelevant this past summer. Could it have been that their very activism was motivated by self-interest? True, all journalists thrive on and seek out good headlines and pulsating stories, especially so during summer’s doldrum days. However, was their obvious excitement an expression of a deep-rooted subjective feeling among many journalists that Israel’s consumer is mistreated and that consumer rights are trampled upon by industry tycoons and the government?

As we are in the Jewish high holiday period, we should be aware that we are not able to know the inner thoughts and feeling of others, nor should we judge them, as this is the realm of the metaphysical. However, this is perhaps a good time to review what is actually done to defend the consumer in Israel’s media, and whether this reflects a really concerned, consumer-oriented media.

Israel Hayom has been bashed lately by Israel Prize laureate Nachum Barnea who publishes in Yediot Aharonot. His attack was stronger than the regular incessant onslaught between competitors. With tongue in cheek, he claimed that Israel Hayom was a political missionary tract and violated Israeli law. Barnea and his bosses do not consider competition a sign of a healthy society nor can they admit that Israel Hayom provides the consumer with useful information such as a daily comparison of a product sold in Israel with its price abroad. Nor do they appreciate that what started in their paper as an important weekly discourse on governmental and industrial misdeeds by Mordechai Gilat is now carried by Israel Hayom.

All major Israeli newspapers report extensively on Israeli economics, and there are three business dailies, but their main emphasis is on information for the investor and businessperson. They have weekly columns, for example, on cars but these are more advertising for the manufacturers and sales offices than in-depth research which provide the Israeli consumer with dependable information concerning safety, price range and reliability.

Israel’s media does not deem it important to let us know which cars, trucks or buses are more, or less, involved in traffic accidents. We don’t receive a weekly or monthly statistic on the number of cars stolen and where. Reporting on the excitement of a trial drive is much more “sexy” and perhaps sells more papers than providing hard facts concerning the materials used to construct the vehicle, their reliability and safety.

Israel’s mainstream TV vendors also have consumer oriented programs. You Came Out a Tzaddik is TV Channel 10’s consumer program, hosted by Chaim Hecht, who invites individuals and shops to carry out a job and then checks whether they use the materials they committed themselves to, whether the job was at all needed, etc. Vendors who turned out to be responsible workmen are called Tzaddikim – righteous. Those that do not, such as, in one episode, dentists who recommend a certain treatment which is unnecessary, come out badly.

Channel 10 also presents the program called Economic Evening anchored by Sharon Gal. The program attempts to deal with economic issues on a practical level, useful for the consumer. Kolbotek, which began at the IBA’s Channel 1 and then taken over to Channel 2, has Rafi Ginat exposing misdeeds, whether political, such as his most recent program dealing with the state witness in the Holyland case against former prime minister Olmert or lesser fish, such as cosmetics purveyors or safety doors and the like.

Another consumer-oriented program is Worth Checking on TV Channel 2, where reporter Menachem Horowitz provides information on where one can obtain lower prices on various items. Channel 10 has also started airing a program called Where’s the money? It is rather ridiculously advertised as “Guy Maroz invests NIS 100,000 of his personal savings… and will try to double his investment in 100 days.”

All of these programs have one primary purpose, which supersedes all others, namely to make money for the channel. They have had very little impact on the Israeli consumer, on her/his education and consumer habits. Mr. Hecht does not give his “victims” a true right of response, he controls the cameras and assures that the picture is painted his way.

From the outset, the Maroz program sets the wrong theme. Statistical research has shown time and again that there is no way to make easy money on the market in the long term. But the discerning consumer should know whose professional advice can be trusted, what are the various investment channels available, which banks are willing to negotiate business terms and what are their true rates for conversion of foreign currency, investment, etc.

Yet all of this and much more, which would be essential and very helpful to the average family, is nonexistent. In fact, Israel has nothing that comes close to the “Consumer Reports” in the US which pioneered consumer journalism. Israel does have a government-funded unit, the Israel Consumer Council, whose NIS 4 million annual budget is paid via the Trade Ministry.

In 2011, they dealt with approximately 35,000 consumer complaints. The council’s website (http://www.consumers.org.il/) provides the Israeli consumer with valuable information on varied topics, ranging from flight tickets, cellular vendors, the impact of VAT on the consumer and more. The council has been active in pursuing legislation on issues such as price controls, and guarantees supplied by vendors.

One wonders why the media does not ask why this agency does not do more to help Israel’s middle class. The council does not provide an archive of complaints nor a list of companies (or government agencies) against whom complaints were found to be justified.

The consumer council does not have an “app,” readily available for any smartphone, which would provide the consumer with information on prices in various stores and services within her or his community, as for example supplied by WAZE for anyone who wants to find the lowest price vendor of gasoline in his vicinity. Our media does not take the council seriously despite multiple interviews of its director, Ehud Peleg. Our media has not set in motion a movement which would demand transparency in consumerism, the type of transparency which would prevent the major outlets from pulling wool over our eyes, inviting us to their chain to buy one item which is relatively cheap and then pay for it by purchasing others which are outrageously expensive.

Is it possible to create such change? Yes. Let us recall that it was one person and a Facebook page that ignited the cottage cheese protest.

Why then is our media apathetic about consumer rights, yet so involved when people demonstrate for social justice?

Perhaps because it is easier to demonstrate than to exert oneself. Or perhaps it is easier to complain about something nebulous instead of providing information to the consumer which would harm the very advertisers which fund the media’s activities. Or it may be a reflection of lack of imagination and innovation in our media.

It is also possible that the interest in the protest was simply a means to the media’s real end: Israel’s government, and more specifically Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu; that the needs of the consumer were far from their true objective.

During these days of atonement, we would hope that our column has contributed something toward improving Israel’s media and its consumers. We apologize to those who we may have inadvertently misrepresented or wrongly criticized.

^

September 13, 2012

MEDIA COMMENT: A positive media message for the New Year

Posted in Media at 12:14 am by yisraelmedad

A positive media message for the New Year, By YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK
12/09/2012

Israel’s Hebrew print scene seems to be changing. We now will have two post-Zionist-oriented papers and two Zionist-oriented ones.

It was The New Yorker’s Abbott J. Liebling, who also wrote the “Wayward Press” media critique column, that famously asserted that “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”

Journalist Jack Shafer’s 2004 reference to Liebling as having “portrayed the press as a comic circus populated with evil clowns, union-busting lions, and crookeder than usual carnies performing inside a tent that could go up in flames at any moment” should be just as famous.

One has to admit there is a certain contradiction between the idea that a truly democratic society is dependent on a free unfettered press and the reality that that same press, which is expected to confront, criticize, investigate and face down political, cultural and economic power, needs financial support to exist. Without financial investment and profits, the private-sector media collapses.

This past week, we learned that the Discount Investment Group headed by Nochi Dankner will be selling the Ma’ariv daily newspaper to Hirsch Media head Shlomo Ben-Tzvi, who also publishes the Makor Rishon newspaper.

Ben-Tzvi founded a cable television channel a decade ago, Tchelet, but it ceased broadcasting three years later.

He later purchased Hatzofe, the National Religious Party’s newspaper for seven decades and Nekuda, the intellectual monthly of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, which existed for 30 years. They were “merged” into the weekly Makor Rishon, which became a daily in 2007 with Ben-Tzvi becoming editor-in-chief.

During the years 2006-7, he pioneered with Sheldon Adelson the concept of a free daily paper, Israeli, but it closed, amid litigation.

One immediate challenge faced by the presumed new owner is the fate of Ma’ariv’s staff. It is expected that no more than 20 percent of those currently employed will be retained. But the more important issue for the new owner and his editorial management are the attempts already being made to deny the new Ma’ariv-Makor Rishon professional legitimacy.

Already, the radical anti-Zionist +972 web site has employed such epithets as “ultra-rightist” and “extremely conservative,” but nevertheless had to admit that Makor Rishon has “a reputation for high-quality reporting and analysis.”

The Associated Press, reflecting input from the biased local Israeli press, described publisher Ben-Tzvi as “hardline religious.”

In a September 9 column in Haaretz, Peace Now’s Yariv Oppenheimer launched a political assault. Ben-Tzvi, he wrote, in collusion with Dankner, a crass financier, was planning “to make Ma’ariv the mouthpiece representing a one-dimensional world view.” Oppenheimer sees its journalists becoming “servants of a clear political agenda” forced to dictate “a one-sided, right-wing, nationalreligious political ideology.”

That Haaretz and Yediot Aharonot have been mouthing a one-sided, left-wing, professionally unethical opposition to Binyamin Netanyahu is a fact Oppenheimer conveniently ignores.

An Haaretz editorial had a different line, claiming that “the current owner [Dankner]… bought the paper to promote his economic and personal agenda, [but that] the purchase of Ma’ariv by a professional publisher who understands the media business is the right move.”

The objection raised by the editorial was that the concentration of media outlets into the hands of a few individuals is harmful to democracy in itself.

THE PRESS scene today, in an open and robustly democratic Israel, with four newspapers in Hebrew – Yediot, Ma’ariv/Makor Rishon, Israel Hayom and Haaretz – differs, paradoxically, from that of the early days of the state when a much more hegemonic Mapai-led government heavy-handedly dominated public discourse.

Even The Jerusalem Post was visited at times by Moshe Sharrett, who “assisted” in the composition of its editorials.

Party organs such as Herut, HaBoker, Davar, Al HaMishmar, the afore-mentioned Hatzofe and others are no more. The haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community still manages to maintain several competing organs.

Ma’ariv, until the 1980s, was considered a bastion of Zionist Revisionism, sympathetic to the Herut party’s nationalist outlook but not its mouthpiece, before veering to the Left. Moshe Zak, Uri Keisari, Shmuel Schnitzer, Shalom Rosenfeld and Aryeh Dissenchik, all former members of the Betar youth movement, were its backbone.

Dosh, its outstanding caricaturist, drew cartoons for the Lehi underground broadsheet. In the 1960s, Geulah Cohen and Moshe Shamir joined the paper.

Oppenheimer and others need not overexcite themselves.

The paper could said to be returning to its roots.

Another aspect is that the break-off of Ma’ariv from Yediot Aharonot early in 1948 was a precursor to the “private economic and marketing interest vs. the interest of public responsibility” conflict, which is perhaps again being perhaps out today.

Yehudah Mozes and Azriel Carlebach had a falling out and Ma’ariv became a paper of journalists, owned by them, rather than being a commercial money-making venture.

IN 1920, Nikolai Lenin was quoted as saying: “Why should freedom of speech and freedom of the press be allowed? …Ideas are much more fatal things than guns.

Why should any man be allowed to buy a printing press and disseminate pernicious opinion calculated to embarrass the government?” The denigration of the sale of Ma’ariv by far-left figures, whose less-than-honest concern for pluralism and democracy is merely a facade, is nothing more than reconstituted Leninism.

Shafer, quoted above, had another observation: “The press-critic racket has been dominated by liberals and leftists whose critiques have usually owed more to their political mind-sets than to the media they consume.”

But it is not the “press-critic racket” here that they dominate but, as had been highlighted in our columns, too much of the mainstream media, and not only the privately-owned press but the state broadcasting systems including the IBA’s television and radio outlets, the IDF’s Army Radio and much of the Second Radio and Television Authority networks that are either too lax in enforcing their ethical obligations or actively pursue ideological agendas by exploiting their microphones and cameras.

In a 2004 book published in Israel, Our Story: The National Narrative in the Israeli Press, author Ya’acov Yadgar’s thesis was that between 1967 and 2000 the championing of a national narrative by the press underwent extensive alteration, from the exclusivist Israeli- Jewish identity formulation to one more universal, humanist and peace-oriented. His study also asserts that the journalists exhibited patterns of extreme mobilization in the furtherance of this change.

This selling and buying of Ma’ariv might very well break the stranglehold Israel’s elite leftist camp possesses, which is not only political but also cultural. As detailed in the studies of Haifa University’s Dr. Eli Avraham, for example, in his 2002 book The Hidden Israel, the Left has consistently marginalized significant elements of Israel’s society.

Israel’s Hebrew print scene seems to be changing. We now will have two post-Zionist-oriented papers and two Zionist-oriented ones. This seems to be an optimistic message for the New Year. Israeli is maturing, and even its media is no longer monolithic.

^

September 5, 2012

MEDIA COMMENT: Media ethics lessons from abroad

Posted in Media at 11:50 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Media ethics lessons from abroad, By YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK
05/09/2012

Media standards are deteriorating to the point where confidence in the news is weak.

As we have pointed out in previous articles, there are multiple methods available to assure professional and ethical media activity, especially with regard to public broadcast networks.

In the Fiji Islands, for example, there has been debate on a proposal to establish an content oversight and media ownership authority; a media tribunal to hear complaints from the public; a code of ethics for journalists; and laws governing media ownership. The authority’s job would be to ensure the media does not publish material not in the interest of the public or order; against the national interest; that offends good taste and decency; or which creates communal discord.

Very draconian methods, and unacceptable in a democracy.

A free private press underlies the democratic fabric of a country. It must be allowed to operate freely, with little governmental interference.

On the other hand, media standards are deteriorating to the point where confidence in the news is weak, existing regulatory bodies almost meaningless and the media-money-politics axis increasingly dominant – to such an extent that the media consumer’s rights are not only often ignored, but actually violated. This state of affairs, too, does not bode well for democracy.

So how to on the one hand assure a free press but at the same time protect the rights of the media consumer? We will consider six complementary components.

1. Critiques being published by media forums dedicated to the principle of a truly free press, one willing to accept and deal with criticism. In the Hebrew-language press, there exist outstanding media critics, such as Ben-Dror Yemini and Kalman Liebskind.

2. The media, no matter how dominating it seeks to be, still needs people to read it, listen to it and watch it. To buy it or fund it through purchasing products it advertises. A public that takes its rights seriously and protests against unethical media is a necessary requirement for a democratically healthy society. Lethargy and indifference are a large part of the problem.

3. Public editors willing to challenge management and defend the public’s right to an ethical and pluralistic media.

For example, recently, outgoing New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane dropped a bomb in his last column.

(If only our local public editors would adapt the American standard of providing reports on what is wrong on a regular basis, rather than their bland and almost meaningless annual reports.) He accused the prestigious paper as promoting a liberal bias, both in its editorials and its hard news stories.

The paper’s staffers, he asserted, “share a kind of political and cultural progressivism” that “virtually bleeds through the fabric of the Times.” Certain high-profile liberal issues, like gay marriage and the Occupy movement, he wrote, were promoted by reporters “more like causes than news subjects.”

The new public editor, former Buffalo News editor Margaret Sullivan, certainly has a new baseline to protect, as the paper will be shifting its focus toward more online and social media reader engagement. Is it too imaginative to suppose that one day Yediot Aharonot, Haaretz and Israel HaYom will do the same? Brisbane’s appraisal resonates here in the sorry reality of Israel’s media bias. Substitute issues like the Rothschild Boulevard’s summer sit-in, the excessive focus on the haredi community and the under-reporting on the Arab populace, Jews residing in Judea and Samaria and, of course, our own gay parades, and the basic problem is the same.

Even another issue that irked Brisbane – the insufficient transparency of his former employer – is reflected in what happens in Israel, for example the budget of Galei Tzahal.

4. Reliable independent studies of media performance.

Israel’s Media Watch has been monitoring and researching the media both qualitatively and quantitatively for over 15 years. There have been some more recent additions such as the Tadmit group, which was followed by the US based CAMERA organization’s Presspectiva website.

In other countries, public broadcasting bodies conduct internal reviews and even request public feedback. There are citizens’ Press Councils in many locations. Have we ever received from the Israel Broadcasting Authority an in-depth review of their activities and the public’s level of satisfaction with their programming? Two weeks ago, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism in the United States released a study which claimed that “different media skew campaign coverage differently” but that the most balanced are the newspapers. They also noted that “portrayal in the news media of the character and records of the two presidential contenders in 2012 has been as negative as any campaign in recent times.” However, “neither candidate has enjoyed an advantage over the other.”

Can we ever hope for a similarly open and verifiable system? Will those who own and manage media outlets here submit to a more constructive relationship with their audiences?

5. Accountability.

There should at least be a transparent system of scaled internal measures applicable to media personnel found to have been negligent or who have engaged in unethical behavior.

A media personality could be reprimanded, his personal file would have a note added, he could be suspended, an ad could be published about his case, or, perhaps, as is acceptable in the field of sports, even fines could be applied to the “players”.

6. A government-appointed commission of inquiry.

In England, Lord Justice Brian H. Leveson sent out late last week, after his hearings opened last November, an almost 100-page long notice, warning various media groups that he anticipates making rulings against them.

The areas covered include self-regulation, invasion of privacy, prior notification of publication, accuracy and public interest. Even the Press Complaints Commission is expected to be severely criticized.

Would an Israeli prime minister follow in David Cameron’s footsteps and take such a drastic step as the creation of a commission of inquiry into the publicly funded media’s activities? Would he have the courage to face down the resulting press onslaught in the name of democracy and the need for a free press?

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