January 29, 2013

The Produce of the Rishon LeTzion Vineyards 1920

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January 24, 2013

MEDIA COMMENT: Elections are over, what now?

Posted in Media at 1:38 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Elections are over, what now?

By YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 23/01/2013

Members of Knesset, the new and the old, are entrusted with a civic responsibility to seek the best for Israel’s citizens and residents.

The day before yesterday, with the close of the election polling stations, the 120 members of the 19th Knesset were elected. The final distribution is yet to come as we are still waiting for the computation of the remainders. Nevertheless, there are pressing media issues which should be dealt with by our politicians. They include the extent of media regulation by law, secondary legislation, broadcasting ownership, judicial intervention, and ethics vs. obligatory behavior, Internet media and more.

One remarkable media aspect of the election campaign itself was the fragility of free expression in this country. The chairman of the Central Elections Committee, Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, invalidated the content of election TV commercials at whim. The Supreme Court overruled him, but the result nevertheless was some parties, on the Left and the Right, losing precious opportunities to get their message to the public.

ISRAELI LAW limits the airing of election ads to specified broadcast outlets. There is no free market for election advertisement. As a result, at the height of robust political discourse, one person was able to override the rules of debate.

Ironically, the main reason for the court’s reversal was the existence of a parallel social media reality. There is no reason to be too restrictive and, as Supreme Court President Asher D. Grunis wrote, “It may be time to reevaluate the law in light of the changing unforeseen realities.” By “realities” Grunis meant the Internet and the foreign media.

There is no question that in the best of all worlds, parliament would not have to deal with media issues, rather, the media would regulate itself. However, as the British Leveson Inquiry has indicated, voluntary selfimposed press regulation doesn’t work.

Infractions and violations of the law and professional ethical guidelines are too often practiced by the same media bodies which should be part of voluntary regulation agreements.

Even when our media sets up a voluntary institution, the Israel Press Council, it is insufficient. Time and again the press council has shown itself to be unequal to the task of correcting wrongs in real time. It does not have the power, the means or perhaps the will to do so.

TO BE honest, creating a truly independent watchdog and empowering it to oversee recalcitrant press conduct would, as it has in the past, raise a storm. We doubt that there are enough politicians who could take the heat and still pass the needed legislation.

This is not an Israeli malaise; British Premier David Cameron has also backed down.

However, the simple fact remains that too often the press has abused its privileges to create artificial and damaging agendas. Our society has to decide whether it is willing to allow the press to rule, without any checks, balances or accountability.

Consider perhaps the most extreme example.

The IDF’s Army Radio station, Galatz, is not regulated. The funding for the station comes out of our taxes but we the public have no say regarding how the station conducts itself. Worse, the previous Knesset has allowed the station to advance its commercial interests by increasing its allowed advertising air time, but did not use the same opportunity to even impose a public complaints officer, as is the norm for the IBA and the Second Radio and Television Authority.

The budget of Galatz seems to be a state secret. The station refuses to divulge the salaries paid to the station’s “stars,” who are civilians. A truly courageous parliament would address the stickiest issue: Does Israel still need an army radio station at all? Should soldiers be conscripted to serve in a unit whose income is substantially based on commercial advertising and whose content is overwhelmingly political? GALATZ IS not the only glaring problem.

The Educational Television Network is funded by the Education Ministry – that is, by public money. But we the taxpayers have no oversight regarding how the station is run. As in the case of Galatz, the salaries paid are a state secret. The content is decided upon by a small group of people who have been working at the station for years. There is no public complaints commissioner.

Here too, the central question is why should taxpayers continue to fund the station? Technology has made it obsolete.

If our educators need educational programming, it can and should be supplied through the free market directly into the classrooms, rather than via a wasteful and unnecessary bureaucracy.

THE SERIOUS challenges facing our parliamentarians are not limited to the publicly funded media. The 18th Knesset passed a law which presumably allows anyone who so desires to open a TV channel. But apart from changing the name from “concession” to “license,” the Knesset left in place draconian laws which make it virtually impossible for any TV channel to thrive economically.

Instead of imposing strict but minimalist rules which assure the ethical and lawful conduct of the media, the Knesset has left in place rules which force the stations to provide news, to buy a percentage of their wares from the local media market and more.

Reality has shown that these draconian laws don’t work. The concessionaires have disregarded them shamelessly and the Second Radio and Television Authority has been powerless to do anything about it. The only real result of these laws is that Israel is limited to two commercial TV stations, whose content is difficult to distinguish.

Freeing up the market would provide for more pluralism and cannot lead to programming inferior to what is on offer today.

The challenge facing the 19th Knesset is to assure a true “open skies” media market.

Technology has created a wonderfully fresh and competitive media market, through the Internet and social media sites.

The Knesset has been very slow to react to these developments, and thankfully so. It is the Internet that has seriously limited the freedom of the mainstream press to pursue only its own agenda. The proliferation of cameras given to the public by both left- and right-wing NGOs in Israel is ample evidence of the power the public has to reveal what the mainstream media ignores or hides.

YET, JUST as we want the government to regulate restaurants and assure the proper hygiene of our food, so too we need serious thought to be given to the regulation of the Internet. For example, should the right of response be imposed on news websites? How does the individual protect herself from Internet excesses? Can the private citizen require an Internet site to publish an apology when justified?

How does one relate for example to an Internet site such as Mako, which belongs to the Channel 2 TV Keshet concessionaire? On the one hand it is a full-fledged media content website. On the other it has questionable content. Is this acceptable for our society?

Members of Knesset, the new and the old, are entrusted with a civic responsibility to seek the best for Israel’s citizens and residents.

The instrument is legislation, accompanied by public input. It is our expectation that they will not be cowed by media interests, political, personal or economic, and will deal with these issues.

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January 17, 2013

MEDIA COMMENT: Democracy in the hands of journalists

Posted in Media at 1:53 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Democracy in the hands of journalists

By YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 16/01/2013

The law, which still states that it is forbidden to use the airwaves for campaigning, is violated daily.

Channel 1 TV has been running a self-congratulatory promotional clip in its lead-up to election day which goes: “We don’t hug infants, we don’t kiss grandmothers nor do we press the flesh in the markets. Our journalists have chosen not to run for office, but have decided to be journalists.”

Based on that declaration, they expect and, to be fair, the other channels and radio programs expect as well, that we the voting public and media consumers trust that the various candidates and their lists running for a seat in the 19th Knesset are all getting relatively fair exposure in our media.

But are the reporters, editors, interviewers and program hosts acting not only professionally but, especially in this crucial period, with due consideration for the needs of the voter? Is Israel’s democracy being served? This election campaign is the sixth examined by Israel’s Media Watch (IMW).

In the distant past, Israel, at least judging from its laws, did not trust the media.

Politicians were barred from appearing or being heard for 60 days prior to election day. Such drastic measures assured the media would not be able to significantly affect the outcome. At the same time, it meant candidates did not have much of a chance to really present their agenda to the public.

As the years passed, the media increased the pressure on politicians to give them a free hand. The journalists claimed that especially with the increase of media outlets, everyone would get a fair shake. The fact that time and again we found that the media could not overcome its natural inclinations, which tended to the Left, did not really convince politicians, who preferred to have as much exposure as possible.

The upshot is that in this year’s election there are hardly any restrictions on the media. The law, which still states that it is forbidden to use the airwaves for campaigning, is violated daily. Politicians try in every interview to call upon the public to vote for them, the journalists tell them “no, no, no,” and the show goes on.

IN PRINCIPLE, in a society where fairness is considered of supreme importance, one would not need any restrictions. Indeed, one should allow politicians to advertise their wares and let the public decide.

Unfortunately, Israel’s democratic values fall far short of that high standard.

At IMW we have monitored the appearances of the various candidates on the central news programs of five media outlets – the evening news magazines of TV Channels 1, 2 and 10, and the early-morning radio news programs of Army Radio and the IBA’s Reshet Bet. The period covered is October 14 – January 1. The bar chart tells almost the whole story.

The media appearances of the Likud Beytenu joint party vastly outnumber all the rest. Perhaps understandably, as it is the largest party and the ruling one. Yet there are some additional nuances.

Of the various party leaders, Likud’s Binyamin Netanyahu had 195 appearances, Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman 101, Labor’s Shelly Yacimovich 115, Hatnua’s Tzipi Livni 77, Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid 52, Shas’s Arye Deri and Eli Yishai 44 and 22 respectively, and Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett 40.

The media consistently under-represents the religious-oriented parties. Polls indicate Bayit Yehudi will be the third-largest party in the next government, so why aren’t their representatives being interviewed? Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet and Arye Golan provide perhaps an extreme case. Meretz, which is much smaller than United Torah Judaism (UTJ), appears no less than 25 times, but UTJ only once.

Consider just the past week. The prime minister was interviewed on Reshet Bet for almost half an hour. He is followed by Yacimovich and Livni, with less than 20 minutes combined.

The next day, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz gets the royal treatment and Labor’s Avishai Braverman is asked to respond. The next day, Likud’s Silvan Shalom is the opener.

Shas and Bayit Yehudi presumably are not expected to know anything about economics, even though this subject is central to the election campaigns of both.

The excessive media focus in the prime minister is also interesting. For the past four years, the prime minister has consistently refused to be interviewed. He also refuses to participate in a debate with the other candidates. One might think the media would pressure on him to do so; isn’t this the essence of democracy? Instead, we find the media fawning upon him, seemingly in awe of the fact that finally they can interview the prime minister.

The media’s lack of interest in the Arab sector is also striking. Balad and Ta’al together had 29 appearances. Our media simply does not think the Israeli public needs to hear from the Arab representatives, or be able to ask them difficult questions.

Small parties have hardly any chance in the mainstream media. There were a few beacons of light, such as David Witzthum of Channel 1 TV who interviewed the outsiders of the smaller lists, but other than that the total number of appearances for parties with no MKs came to 15.

One may argue that Israel needs a twoparty system and that its current plethora of small parties is too much, but regardless, one should expect more openness to new ideas and new faces.

ARE THESE unprofessional standards merely a reflection of the liberal and political correctness bias of the media, or is there something more insidious at work? Let’s not forget the extent to which Israel’s media is at the mercy of the government.

We reported in a previous column how the Likud caved in to the outrageous demands of channels 10 and 2. Could it be that these channels are now returning the favor? The present government has spent hundreds of millions of shekels on the IBA.

Is the IBA just expressing its gratitude? Even Army Radio has received “goodies” in the form of added advertising time.

Does media bias seriously affect the outcomes of elections in Israel? The experts differ; there is no real “proof” that the media’s efforts really change things. Too much exposure can also be detrimental.

The real losers in this whole story are the journalists. It is precisely their lack of judgment, fairness and ability to think out of the box which creates the broad dissatisfaction of the public with the media.

The writers are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il). They thank IMW’s Nili Ben-Gigi, Chaya Grossman and Sarit Moskowitz for their extensive research.

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January 10, 2013

MEDIA COMMENT: ‘Next year in Palestine’

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:54 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: ‘Next year in Palestine’

By YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK 09/01/2013

 

Where is Israel in outrageous media attacks? Where is the Israeli ambassador to Switzerland who should publicly defend Israel?

 

“Next year in Palestine” was the largest headline on the first page of the Swiss Neue Zuericher Zeitung (NZZ), which appeared in the December 29/30 edition of the paper.

The article, written by Martin Woker, an editor of the paper, is not overly friendly to Israel, to say the least. Arguably, the headline itself is a masterpiece of yellow journalism with an anti-Semitic flavor, which has little respect for the feeling of Jews.

For two millennia, the Jewish people have fervently wished for themselves to be “next year in Jerusalem.” The saying expresses the deepest wishes of the Jewish people, who after having been thrown out of the Temple and Jerusalem, prayed and beseeched the Almighty to turn the wheel of history backwards and bring the Jewish people once again into the promised land. Generations of families have instilled in their children the hope that one day they all will be able to return to Jerusalem.

Woker had no regard for these deep feelings, for, after all who cares when a Jew is upset? They misused this saying to express their deep hope that next year there will be Palestinian state whose capital is in Jerusalem.

Woker begins his article with an “objective” description of Israel’s construction program, utilizing the birth of Jesus tale: “Maria and Joseph would not have had to find refuge in a greater Jerusalem pigsty nowadays. There are thousands of apartments under construction or in the planning stages, to the north and east of Bethlehem. The Israeli government is facing harsh criticism from all over the world since these are on occupied Palestinian territory and are limited to Jewish inhabitants only.”

The article goes on to describe the changes taking place in the Middle East and ends with: “Not every struggle for human rights must end in war, as one may learn from the South African example. Accordingly, no one can predict that all the new buildings in Greater Jerusalem will forever be available only to those who today take into consideration only themselves and their ethnically and divinely justified eternal right. It should be clear: God has also lit in the Holy land the spark of unrest of the Orient.”

ISRAEL’S SWISS friends were justifiably upset.

Walter Blum, a Catholic Swiss and the executive secretary of the Swiss Israel society, reacted in a long letter to the NZZ’s Chief Editor Markus Spillmann: “I was surprised by the title of the article, but even more so, in view of the introductory statement using Maria and Joseph. Independent of the fact that the ‘holy couple’ [being Jewish] would not have been able to find themselves in pre-1967 Jordanian Bethlehem, if this is the spirit emanating from an introductory remark to the readership, then I, a long time reader of the NZZ find my soul to be in pain.”

He then continues: “I am sorry that nowhere in your article do you find it necessary to note that apart from the settlement policy, there is also this issue [where he refers earlier to Hamas’s outspoken goal of eliminating the State of Israel] which makes the two-state solution such a long suffering story.”

Blum also relates to Woker’s South African innuendo, noting the deep differences between Israel’s right for existence as a Jewish state and the domination of the black population of South Africa by only a 10 percent minority white population.

But Woker’s article was well appreciated by some of the NZZ’s followers. The editors choose which letters to publicize. So, it was no surprise that one Bruno Lanfraconi, from Lucerne, wrote: “It is additional evidence that Israel purposely does everything possible to prevent a peaceful solution to the Near East conflict… It is already many years that the Israelis are burdened with a terrible guilt.”

Spillmann seemingly does not even realize how anti-Semitic such a letter is in its damnation of the people of Israel.

A few days later, Spillmann finally also published a letter by Liliane Bernet-Bachmann who criticized Woker, noting that “Even according to the Oslo accords, the Jewish- Israeli population has the right to live in the disputed territories. This, as long as there isn’t another agreement which would change the legal situation.”

BUT LET’S leave the Swiss alone. Where is Israel in this outrageous media attack? Where is the Israeli ambassador to Switzerland who should publicly defend Israel and the Jewish people against this onslaught? Could it be that his lack of knowledge of the German language prevents him from doing his job? And if so, why didn’t our former foreign minister, Avigdor Liberman, or his deputy, Danny Ayalon, make sure that our representative in Switzerland is capable of carrying out his job? This case is not unique.

A while ago we also reported on the Israeli consul in San Francisco, who was actively backing the controversial J Street organization.

Ayalon was many times petitioned to do something about this, but he didn’t even have the time needed to meet with Nathan Nestel, a worried Israeli, to review the situation.

Instead of complaining about the policies of the Israeli government, our ambassadors abroad should go out there and do something about defending our good name. It is their job to counter such media attacks and prevent them from happening again.

In fact, there are some good “ambassadors,” such as the German (non-Jewish) journalist Ulrich Sahm. In his most recent article, published on the Israelnetz website, Sahm takes on the economic situation in the Palestinian State. He notes that the Palestinian Authority, since its coming into existence in 1994, received more development aid from the world than any other country.

The Palestinians have only themselves to blame for their economic misery, rather than the Israeli occupation. But Sahm does not get his writing published in the NZZ, and certainly not with a headline on the first page entitled “The truth about Palestinian poverty.”

Nor does he get to write a weekly article for the German Spiegel online, which regularly publishes the anti-Israeli diatribes of one Jakob Augstein.

The problem is not Hasbara per se, the real problem is that for too many years our Foreign Ministry has been run by people who are not competent enough, or unwilling to call a spade a spade.

If we are to survive as a nation, then it is high time that our media scrutinizes the Foreign Ministry and forces it to do its job.

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January 4, 2013

MEDIA COMMENT: The poverty festival

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:39 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The poverty festival, by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK

02/01/2013

Unfortunately, our media seems to be rather lazy. Bad headlines always sell well.

This week some news outlets, such as Israel Radio, tried to create a public agenda based on the annual report of the Adva NGO. The report, authored by Dr. Shlomo Svirsky and Etti Connor-Atias, is sensational. For example, the headline at the NRG website was: “The Adva report reveals: An increase in the social gap in Israel. According to the report, the income of the top 1 percent increased by 27% as compared to 8% only for the sixth decile, between the years 2003 and 2010.”

The Walla and Srugim websites had similar headlines.

What is the real news in the report? The authors claim that in 2011, the income of the top 10% of households shrank by 7.4%. Most of the reduction was at the top 1% of income, where income shrank by 20%.

Good news? Not really. The authors claim that the central reason for the reduction was losses in the financial markets.

To prove their point that the gap is asocial they regurgitate the statistics for the years 2003-2007, which one might have thought is “old hat” and not really worth reporting.

Adva, though, has some additional important insights.

For example, It claims that Israel’s potential for stable growth over long periods of time is severely hampered due to the lack of a political agreement with the Palestinians.

Indeed this statement makes sense. Adva’s agenda is to further a “more decent division of the resources of Israeli society.”

It is funded in part through the New Israel Fund.

Dr. Shlomo Svirsky is described in Wikipedia as a “social activist,” as one of the “leaders of the class related Neo Marxist sociology” which has developed at Haifa University.

His main thesis is that the Ashkenazim control the financial resources, while the Sephardi community is held at arm’s length from the financial control centers.

Another leader of Adva is Prof. Yossi Yona, who is number 20 in the Labor party’s Knesset candidates list. Yona was also involved in the “social protest” of 2011.

Adva describes itself on its website as “a non-partisan policy analysis institute whose mandate is to examine Israeli society from the perspective of equality and social justice.”

This is probably as reliable as its report. Yet even the IBA’s Israel Radio relates to its data seriously. After reporting the “bad news” they interview MK Amir Peretz, who of course uses the data to lambast the Likud and the present government.

The fact that on the same day a November reduction of the unemployment rate to 6.7% was reported by a reliable source – Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics – did not really change the message.

PROFESSIONAL REPORTING is never easy, but special care is called for in an election period.

For example, the election law is very clear when it comes to publishing public opinion polls during the 60-day period preceding election day. Any media outlet publishing a poll must provide background data such as who ordered the poll, what the makeup of the population polled is, and the percentage of people polled who refused to answer. In this way, the public can decide for itself whether the pollsters are professional or biased.

The left-wing media review NGO Keshev has successfully petitioned the Central Elections Committee to take steps to upholding this part of the law, noting that Yediot Aharonot and Ma’ariv violated it.

The same principle should be equally applicable to any organization which publishes reports. It is quite clear that the Adva report was fodder for left-wing politicians. But had our media been professional, the report would have been a non-starter. In fact, even outside of the election period, the media should be more careful in its handling of “research” by NGOs.

Latet is a very different kind of NGO. Its goal is to fight poverty. Its work in the field is exemplary and has helped many, many people. But even in this case, the media should be much more circumspect.

As an opener to the annual Sderot social conference, Latet publicized its annual “Alternative Poverty Report.” Alternative, since it is meant to provide breadth and a complementary view as compared to the one published by the National Insurance Institute.

Its headline was “2012 is turning out to be the worst ever year for poor children in Israel,” a rather strong statement.

In its abstract they claim that 10% of the children of supported families had to go out and beg during the past year because of the financial crisis in their homes. This is a worrisome increase compared to only 3% in 2011. Twenty-seven percent of the children had days in which they had no food.

Such a report brings about headlines in the major new outlets and an onslaught of bitter criticism against the “cruel” government that allows such a situation not only to develop but also to sustain itself. Yet the data and the conclusions seem to be flawed.

As reported by Eran Bar-Tal from Makor Rishon, Latet’s report is quite problematic. It did not carry out a thorough survey of the population but rather it asked families who are supported through Latet to provide answers to a questionnaire.

It does not provide information as to the true makeup of the families. Do working families who are under the poverty line work full-time or part-time? There is no proof of Latet’s accusation that the poverty status in Israel is a direct result of neoliberal government policies.

AT THE end of the day, Latet is an organization with a mission, which is to combat poverty. Its mission does not mean that its “research” is gospel and that the data it presents is unimpeachable.

The media should certainly report Latet’s activities when they are newsworthy, but its research should not be treated as if it were truth that Moses brought forth on Mount Sinai. The same is true for any information provided by NGO’s, including Israel’s Media Watch.

Latet’s interest in putting poverty on the national agenda is not necessarily purely altruistic. Latet has employees, salaries have to be met and donors have to be kept satisfied. If poverty is reduced by the government, then NGOs targeting poverty have less justification for asking for contributions from the public.

This is the essence of the concept of conflict of interests, of which the media should always beware.

Unfortunately, our media seems to be rather lazy. Bad headlines always sell well.

Finding out that they don’t hold water makes the journalist’s life more difficult. But especially during an election period, when poverty becomes an issue in the election campaign, the media should be much more responsible. Sadly, too often they aren’t and in some cases one wonders whether the negligence is not politically motivated.