November 1, 2012

My Remarks at the “Broken Mirrors” Conference

Posted in Media at 1:22 am by yisraelmedad

Remarks Presented to the
Broken Mirrors Conference on Human Rights Organizations, the Media and Israel

October 31, 2012

“Where Are We in The Picture? The Media Presence of the National Camp’s Civil Action Groups”

Summary: The National/Religious/Settler section of Israel is active in many civil society frameworks including media critique, human rights, social assistance, justice and others but, unlike those in the left-wing camps, are considered not “normal” or “accepted”. Their actions and messages are colored with exclusionist terminology, are treated as unreliable or even as unimportant or viewed by journalists as part of Israel’s official establishment or worse, as part of the “problem”. The reports and input of these organizations on their work are not treated well by the media. Is there a phenomenon of ignoring?

Sarah Tressler, a Houston, Texas stripper worked also at The Houston Chronicle but was fired as she did not list that “other” employment on her original job application. She then sued, claiming unfair dismissal. Was the sacking justified because of a bureaucratic slip, or because Ms. Tressler’s side-job “adversely affected” her credibility as a journalist? What else could so adversely affect a journalist’s credibility?

On November 14, 2011, Sir Brian Henry, Lord Justice Leveson, he of the Leveson Inquiry, said, “The press provides an essential check on all aspects of public life. That is why any failure within the media affects all of us. At the heart of this Inquiry, therefore, may be one simple question: who guards the guardians?”

Are these two fairly recent media news items related, and if so, are they relevant to our conference today? Of course they are for quite simply: media consumers need protection from the media.

A Nieman Center report of this past summer entitled “Truth in the Age of Social Media” notes that a central aspect of journalism has been can information be verified, in that a new complexity exists. The amount of photographs, video clips and tweets directed at journalists is immense. Are journalists being manipulated? Well, are they? Or do they permit themselves to be so manipulated and are their clients then manipulated?

There is the new “quasi-journalism” which, as Carroll Bogert, deputy executive director for external relations at Human Rights Watch, said, “We consciously ape the style of media in our communication in order that what we produce looks more like journalism,” adding, “We’re a nonprofit and we’re moving into the media business.”

The topic of this panel is ‘Does human rights really interest the press?’ Of course human rights is a media topic and interests not only the media but, as I am claiming, more insidiously, it serves elements within the media, be they the reporter, his rewrite editor, the desk editor, the foreign news department head, the picture editor, the caption editor, the interviewer, the presenter, the cameraperson and so on, by allowing them to insert their preferences into the news. And that is what I would call bias, not objective editorial considerations.

What interests me further is the more sensitive issue: are media consumers, – those who read the newspapers that still appear, listen to the radio, watch the television or stare at their computer screens, – being manipulated by the media by unfair framing, unethical presentation, imbalanced data and actual illegal editorial subversion? Ms. Bogert of HRW was quoted saying the press release is meant “to look like a wire service story, so that when it arrives in the inbox of a wire service reporter, it moves seamlessly into the mainstream media.” I would claim that in too many cases here in Israel, that effort and that technique is less than necessary. And the issue of human rights suffers.

One of the main groups whose human rights not only are not championed or given a fair hearing in the media but are consistently portrayed in a most biased fashion are the Jews living across the former Green Line cease-fire lines. In short, they really do not have proper mediated human rights. They are invaders and the sole prism utilized by the media is political. Their achievements in agriculture, industry, education and social volunteering is near non-existent in the media. The difficulties they suffer are never a matter of human rights. The presence is a one-dimensional media review. The B’tselem organization which defines itself as The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and is a major player in the supplying of the media with so-called reliable reports, does not really concern itself with Jewish human rights issues. Moreover, their reports are covered as if they are not ideologically motivated or their video clips edited and with no independent checking of the so-called facts.

There are, at present, some 360,000 Jews in those territories of Judea and Samaria, and as B’tselem considers Jerusalem’s post-67 neighborhoods (they are north, south and east of the old municipality borders so the label “East Jerusalem” is quite incorrect and might be a human rights violation) also occupied, we must add at least 220,000 Jews to that number. Only Arabs have human rights is the implication. Rarely are any of the anti-occupation groups ever pressed or challenged on their concern, or lack of, for Jewish human rights.

Over one-half million humans have had and continue to have their existence, their residence and their everyday activities maligned as being “illegal” (US President Obama calls it “illegitimate” but I don’t know which is worse) and yet, when three legal experts including a former Supreme Court Justice and a Foreign Ministry legal advisor, present a counter-narrative, it is ridiculed and even before the full report, I am referring to the Edmond Levy Report, could have been read, it was analyzed the next morning in the media in a most prejudicial fashion.

In 2005, the disengagement from Gaza was done. The term “expulsion” was verboten in the mainstream media. And a major human rights violation, the actions of the State Prosecutor’s Office in arresting under-age youths and holding them in outrageous conditions, not to mention police sexual abuse actions against the teenage girls, was horrifically underplayed with the state’s agents who got a free pass on any criticism. Police violence at Amona could not be ignored because of the various video clips that went viral. But if not for those, as in similar cases, the media would not prominently report on that, as they do with Arabs or leftists. Moreover, Arab violence is not reported as equally as the same level of violence against Arabs is reported except if Jews are actually killed. The pro-Arab NGOs are much more successful at inserting their news stories and the media does not seek out or play out mirror-image stories like the almost 200 Jewish-owned olive trees recently hacked and destroyed in the Shiloh Bloc area. Last September, Asher Palmer and his infant son died when their car crashed near Hebron but it took even the police, and even less so the media, many days to investigate claims that it was a purposeful Arab stone-throwing incident that killed them, and many believe that the army deliberately misled the media and the media played puppy dog.

And in an aside, the consistent ignoring or minimalizing stories of human rights violations in areas of Palestinian Authority control committed by Arabs – honor killings, jailing of journalists, torture of prisoners, etc., as well as anti-Semitic incitement – is the obverse of this phenomenon of ignoring Jewish news.

As for semantics, we all know, don’t we, as the media reports, that there are no left-wing “extremists”. There are only right-wing “extremists”. Left-wingers are always “peace activists” or just plain “activists” as per Keshev’s Oct. 24 report on the “illegal” blockade and those that attempt to run it. Incidentally, unlike Keshev, IMW was not invited to the Minerva Center May 31 conference, another gathering of human rights groups. Right-wing peace activists as a media term cannot be found. Even to hear the word “communist” is impossible although we do have a communist party in the Knesset in another guise. And as for the latest Haaretz fiasco on its fake apartheid story, well, the human rights of all Israelis were besmirched as we now know from the “clarification”.

Do children have human rights or can the media force-feed them content of questionable permissiveness in an unrestrained fashion including nudity, swear words, drug scenes and violence outside the regulated watershed hour so as to purposefully sexualize and traumatize their culture? We don’t have a Jimmy Saville – as far as I know – but sexual abuse behind media’s studio doors has occurred despite self-cover-up attempts.

A second issue is the “price tag” violence. It exists, is pernicious, criminal and I cannot fathom why the police are so unable to do anything. Be that as it may, the media message is that it is “settler violence” and so, the dignity of over one-half million humans has, for the past few years, been trampled in the media. I now quote from the Alternative Information Center’s report of October 9th this year:

“Israel’s police commander of the West Bank, Major General Amos Yaakov, provided an eye-popping interview to the Hebrew-language news site Walla!. Amongst his revelations: the identity of those who set four West Bank mosques on fire is known but they remain free; most “price tag” attacks are conducted by young people, even children, who don’t live in the West Bank”.

Not only was any arrested Rabbi, supposedly for inciting this violence, ever put on trial or found guilty, nevertheless, the media message is one of guilt. Pictures of leg-shackled clerics appear but their release is shunted aside in the media. It is the same charge of guilt which maligns the human rights of the national religious camp since the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin – and, by the way, the Revisionist wing of Zionism since the 1933 murder of Haim Arlosorov. The media “knows” who is guilty.

Another media news theme is the Temple Mount. Two weeks ago, Anat Hoffman of the Women of the Wall was arrested. Her crime? Praying aloud while wearing a tallit at the Western Wall Plaza. The High Court of Justice fixed those conditions of limitation, they are not arbitrary. Media sympathy was palpably evident again. However, the struggle for Jewish rights on the Temple Mount is media-framed as a provocative act, as the fault of the Jews, as an example of messianic craziness. And yet, on the one hand, the simple fact that the law of the land is that Jews do have a right to pray, recognized also by that same High Court of Justice, is not only underplayed, if at all, but usually unreported. The storyline never provides comprehensive information. Here is Bradley Burton of Haaretz on October 23 last week:

“How do you say ‘dehumanized’ in Israel? The extraordinary bravery and commitment shown by the hundreds of women fighting for their rights at the Kotel, deserves to be celebrated.”

It is “media clear” that Hoffman is a martyr to religious obscurantism and terror but the Arab violent behavior, as with the infamous Sharon 2000 visit, is never framed as violating the human rights of the Jews.

Another issue is the characterization of the Hareidi or Ultra-orthodox which is usually one of a parasitical social element. That went out the window the summer before last when the great “cottage cheese revolution” was initiated by a Hareidi. But, still, Hareidi avoidance of army service is very much a media theme. The avoidance of service amongst the cultural icons of song, dance, literature, sports and models, for example, the beautiful Bar Rafaeli, is way down in the rankings, relegated to the rejection list of editors. Why would a reporter seek to malign his milieu comrades in Israel’s second state: Tel Aviv? How many stories do we see about hareidi self-assistance associations or a simple economic analysis of Hareidi poverty?

To a great extent, similar minorities, Arab, Russian and others, suffer from media coverage inadequacy in the field of human rights.

– – – – –

Is there indeed bias or is it just a right-wing imaginatory illusion?

Well, let’s briefly tell the story of the three Kol Yisrael broadcaster’s and editors. Dr. Chanan Naveh, who edited the Israel Broadcasting Authority radio’s news desk in late 1990’s and early 2000’s, admitted in a 2007 Haifa University media conference that:

“The morning audience, stuck in traffic jams or at work, is simply captive – they’re ours…Three broadcasters – Carmela Menashe, Shelly Yechimovich [now a Labor party Knesset Member and party leader], and I – pushed in every way possible the withdrawal from Lebanon towards 2000. In our newsroom, three of the editors had sons in Lebanon, and we took it upon ourselves as a mission – possibly not stated – to get the IDF out of Lebanon… I have no doubt that we promoted an agenda of withdrawal that was a matter of public dispute.”
At this point, Army Radio broadcaster Golan Yochpaz interrupted, “In my opinion, that is just super-problematic – super-problematic.” Naveh replied, “Correct, I’m admitting it, I’m not apologizing, I’m just saying this is what happened. It came from our guts because of the boys in Lebanon, this is what we did and I’m not sorry… I am very proud that we had a part in getting of our sons out of Lebanon.”

And allow me to recall my first meeting with then IBA director Motti Kirschenbaum in 1995 when, presented with multiple examples of anti-nationalist bias and your run-of-the-mill normal ethics violations, retorted: you have to remember, it’s not that media people are overwhelmingly leftist or liberal but that liberals and leftists are naturally curious and so they gravitate to journalism.

I want to be clear: the information, the facts, the pictures and more that tell a different story are out there. Spend some time, or if you are a believer in alternative media sources, and you will be informed that human rights infractions of Jews of a certain political, cultural or religious type are occurring and are not propaganda. You can read the reports of Israel’s Media Watch, my organization, or of Tadmit or Presspectiva. There used to be Manof of the Hareidi watchdog group

I write a weekly Media Comment column together with Professor Eli Pollak in the Jerusalem Post and in the weekly B’sheva. Dror Eydar in Israel Hayom, Kalman Liebskind and Ben-Dror Yemini in Ma’ariv are scathingly critical. But the bon ton is ‘we of the mainstream media disagree and even dislike these people and their politics and we will distort the reality through our control of the media’. How many times do right-wing media critics appear on shows like Tik Tikshoret and the like over the years? In the clubhouse The Seventh Eye? How much coverage does the Honenu legal aid group get, excuse me, neutral coverage? Or Orit Shtruck’s Human Rights Organization of Judea and Samaria?
A decade has passed since anthropologist NYU’s Meg McLagan highlighted the little attention, at the time, that was being paid to the interconnect between human rights politics, politics, I emphasize, and media and I will borrow Allen Feldman’s “narratological numbness” matrix whereby, in my redefinition, it is not so much the inability to tell the story that forces “the recourse to axiomatic story forms and emplotments” but the unwillingness predicated on prejudicial approaches to the subject matter being printed or broadcast. This is the heart of the politicoethical morass we face here in Israel’s mainstream media and how it views, conceptulates and produces for the media consumer.

The media are not simply conduits for stories of human rights matters but possess their own power which they actively use, together with the new-found force of human rights activists who have created, as McLagan wrote in her 2003 essay, “new organizational structures that provide a kind of scaffolding or platform for the production, circulation and distribution…indeed, a whole new arena of social practice has emerged…”.

I would define that platform as that of the Three Cs. There is cooperation, there is collaboration and there is collateralism, collateral in its definition as “uniting in tendency”. In Israel, there is no real media pluralism. Those who worked at Kol Yisrael moved to Channel One TV and those that worked at One then moved to Channel Two and on to Channel Ten. And most electronic broadcasting personnel – editorial, reportage and technical, – all went to “school” at the IDF Galatz Army radio where they learned, among other things, also how to shape the news, how to slant and how to eliminate stories. In Galatz, there are media dynasties of three generations already. Ilana Dayan, a Galatz graduate, could probably better tell her tale of media bias than I concerning the human rights of a certain Captain R.

Craig Silverman, in that previously-mentioned Nieman Report wrote about “A public with the ability to spot a hoax website, verify a tweet, detect a faked photo, and evaluate sources of information is a more informed public, a public more resistant to untruths.” We in Israel are waiting still.

If this conference has been called “Broken Mirrors”, I will suggest that it is more a matter of much-too-much shattered glass in the newsrooms, lending a prism-effect of uncontrolled and inadequate supervision, either by ombudsmen or ethical review boards or the press itself, media bias of the human rights of certain political and cultural groups in Israel’s society.

And as for that Sarah Tressler, the journalist-stripper? At least with her, we got to see all there was to see.

*****

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