April 18, 2013

MEDIA COMMENT: The sleepy ombudsman

Posted in Media at 12:42 pm by yisraelmedad

MEDIA COMMENT: The sleepy ombudsman


More often than not, the ombudsman chooses the easy way out, giving broadcasters too much freedom.

Israel’s Knesset has at times shown forethought and wisdom in its lawmaking.

An example is the legislation which empowers an “ombudsman,” that is, a public complaints commissioner, to review and act upon abuses of power by our media.

When the Second Television and Radio Authority (SATR) was set up, the Knesset mandated the appointment of an ombudsman whose duties were defined as verifying and responding to public complaints concerning the various broadcasts.

The ombudsman is appointed and reports to the minister in charge of the SATR, giving the complaints commissioner power also over the governing body of the SATR and, seemingly, an independent status.

The mandate is rather broad. The ombudsman will deal with complaints relating to the SATR, to an employee of the SATR or one of the concessionaires – practically anyone related to the broadcasts. The topics are also essentially unlimited. They specifically include broadcasting content, violations of broadcasting codes and ethics. The ombudsman is a public servant and does not deal with complaints of concessionaires against each other or against the SATR.

The law is also rather generous in the powers it gives the complaints commissioner in dealing with complaints.

Any employee under the jurisdiction of the SATR or the concessionaires must respond to queries of the ombudsman. Any document requested must be provided.

Suppose a complaint is deemed to be justified, what happens then? The commissioner has significant power.

She or he may demand that the broadcaster involved broadcast at the time and place decided upon by the ombudsman a clarification and correction of the error as dictated by the ombudsman.

It is the duty of the ombudsman to point out necessary steps for correction of errors – if he deems that his recommendations are ignored, they are to be brought to the responsible minister. If there is a suspicion of criminal activity, the information should be submitted to the attorney-general’s office.

This is the theory. It should work. The ombudsman’s wideranging powers should lead to media organizations closely following relevant ethical codes, for if not, they would face retribution.

The difficulty is that a “good” ombudsman is probably someone who isn’t well liked; no one enjoys being criticized. More often than not, the ombudsman chooses the easy way out, giving broadcasters too much freedom.

Perhaps one of the most important principles of news broadcasting is that “news” and “views” should be separated. More so, the views of an anchor should have no more public weight than the views of any other citizen. The anchor’s expertise is usually not in the specific subject matter being covered. Yet our anchors here in Israel think they are different.

They believe the public simply must know what they think on various issues.

A classic example of this kind of unprofessional behavior is Yonit Levy, the anchor of Channel 2’s daily news program.

On January 9, for example, Levy referred to the “Otzma Leyisrael” political party as the “most extreme” right-wing party in Israel. A similar “extreme right-wing” reference was used to describe demonstrators back on August 14, 2012.

One Avi Komash complained, noting that left-wing parties are never referred to as “extreme.” The ombudsman, David Regev, did not accept the complaint, claiming that “Ms. Levy, by definition, is not a reader and presenter of news, but a journalist. Her journalistic work…

gives her the right to express her opinion.”

Regev’s response was similar when one Winnie Rotem complained about Levy’s remark of July 2, 2012, concerning a Filippino girl who the court decided should be returned to her country. Levy added to the item: “A bit of compassion would not harm Israel’s decision makers.”

Why Regev considers such remarks to be “journalistic” is unfathomable, but such seem to be his standards.

But let us leave political comments aside, for perhaps Regev is just another journalist-turned-ombdusman who finds it necessary to defend his journalist friends. Let us review his performance with regard to preventing advertising from becoming part and parcel of the news.

ON NOVEMBER 25, 2012, Channel 10 news had a long item on a very expensive car. Aviv Frankel, the reporter, and his crew were invited abroad by the manufacturer.

The resulting news item had only superlatives and expressions of wonderment for the car.

The fact that Frankel and his crew were the guests of the company was not mentioned. Nor was it obvious why the item was news.

Chaya Grossman complained, and David Regev defended. An hour before the news, Channel 10, in a promo, made it known that the company funded the trip abroad.

However, this clarification was not provided during the evening news at 8 p.m., so that the viewer at that time had no idea that these were the background facts. Regev also accepted Arnon Gal’s response in the name of Channel 10 that the item was of interest in view of the economic crisis in Europe today. One can only wonder whether Channel 10 would have covered the same item had the channel been made to foot the bill.

Even when Regev notes violations, he does little to prevent them from happening again. A classic example is those radio programs that ask listeners to call in to the station using a 1-900 number. Some of the stations do not make it clear that listeners will be billed heftily for such conversations. A year ago, on April 17, 2012, Regev made his uneasiness about such practices known, but they continue unabated to this very day.

Regev’s inaction creates an atmosphere in which the broadcasters know that they can literally get away with anything. As detailed by Ma’ariv journalist Kalman Libeskind, Channel 2 news broadcast, on March 29, a 14-minute item describing the travails of a Beduin family living in an unrecognized settlement. According to Libeskind, the item included nothing about the fact that the state had already constructed legal housing elsewhere for the family and that most of the family moved there, nor did it detail the suffering of the neighbors from criminal activities such as theft and drug trafficking. Regev has yet to respond to complaints on this issue.

To top all of this, News 1’s Yossef Idan reported on the travails of the Army Radio Station’s venerable Hebrew expert and journalist Dr.

Avshalom Kor. He was invited to an interview on a Channel 2 Reshet program, hosted by Sharon Kiddon.

Kor, an experienced journalist, agreed on condition that he would be interviewed alone. Reshet agreed.

Dr. Kor arrived at the studio on Friday only to find that Kiddon had not kept her word and had invited three other people to the same program.

Kor decided he would have nothing to do with this and left the studio. Kiddon not only did not apologize to Dr. Kor, but went live on the program and bashed him for his unwillingness to appear.

Space limitations prevent us from presenting additional examples.

The broadcasters’ disregard for ethics and professional journalism does not come as a surprise. When the ombudsman is asleep on the job, one cannot expect anything else from our self-appointed and opinionated media.

Perhaps the incoming communications minister, Gilad Erdan, should take note?



April 10, 2013

MEDIA COMMENT: Past and future in our media

Posted in Media at 11:08 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Past and future in our media


Our founding fathers arranged for the memorial days and Independence Day to be so close to each other.

Our media treats our memorial days as the holiest days of the year. There is a huge buildup and attempt to gain interest in the broadcasts way ahead of the actual dates. The serious atmosphere starts rather early.

The broadcasters on the days themselves outdo each other in dealing with various aspects of the memorial days, whether stories about the fallen, the survivors, the moral and ethical issues involved in relating to the Shoah and Israel’s wars and the attempt to put things into historical perspective, whether from a Jewish angle or a humanistic one. Even the music is geared to the atmosphere of the days, with concerts relating to their connection to the Holocaust and so on. Israel’s media is at its best to match the national mood.

There is one aspect which is quite outstanding during the memorial days: there are no advertisements.

The constant barrage of trivia, noise and attempts to brainwash us into purchasing things we don’t need stops. Our media and businesses understand not only that it is not good business to advertise nonsense on such heavy emotional and historic days, some of them probably even identify with the need to relent from daily materialistic pressure on Israel’s population.

It is not an accident that our memorial day for the soldiers and others who fell in Israel’s wars is adjacent to Israel’s Independence Day. This is in the best Jewish tradition whereby the fast of Esther is adjacent to the festival of Purim, Lag Ba’omer is in the midst of the Iyar days of mourning, Succot is adjacent to Yom Kippur. In our Jewish heritage, we relate to the past, respect it, study it and use it to appreciate the present and the future. One cannot appreciate Purim without considering the sacrifice of Esther the Queen in her successful attempt to save the Jewish people.

The same goes for our state. A deep appreciation of Independence Day is not possible without consideration of the events that led to the establishment of the state or the events that occurred after it. The connection between the Holocaust and the formation of the state is self-evident, as is the sacrifice of those people who created our state for us with their lives and who sustained it later on with the maximal sacrifice that a human being can give.

A TRUE appreciation of the miracle of the establishment and survival of the State of Israel is only possible with such perspective. Our founding fathers understood this and arranged for the memorial days and Independence Day to be so close to each other.

This attitude should be contrasted with the Independence Day celebrations in the US, where it is just another vacation day, and most definitely the day on which to do your shopping. The most outstanding characteristic of US Independence Day are the huge sales. Fireworks are funded by companies (Macy’s for one) and used as an important means of advertisement, and many of the parades are business-sponsored.

Independence Day in Israel is celebrated very differently, with arguably the most noticeable characteristic being the family mangal, that is, the gathering together of families and friends in Israel’s parks to have joint barbecues. These should not be trivialized for they bring families and friends together and they are the glue which keeps our society functioning. Independence Day is one day on which our people do not work, do not go shopping, are not immersed in the daily materialistic needs of life, but rather are celebrating with music, good food and camaraderie. This is the way it should be.

It would seem, though, that as in any Jewish society, there are those who are very unhappy with this situation.

These are the advertising companies and the media executives who cooperate with them.

Independence Day should be treated as being as holy as the memorial days. Just as there is no advertising during the latter, there should also be none on Independence Day.

Sadly, advertising in Israel in many ways is the antithesis of the Independence Day atmosphere.

One of the proud achievements of Zionism is the reestablishment of the Hebrew language. Israel’s advertising agencies and their copywriters are doing everything possible to destroy the Hebrew language and replace it with English. Stores use English names, ads are not “in” unless they include some English.

There is no genuine attempt to retain our Hebrew language within our business life.

One might have naively thought that at least on one day – Independence Day – our media would relate more seriously to the Hebrew language, without debasing it through the usual advertising jargon. One might have thought that our businesses would understand this too, but alas, no.

Perhaps though, the language question is the minor one. It is the atmosphere of the day which is the real issue. Advertisements turn the day back into its regular mode: business, materialism and such. The lack of advertising forces the media to use real content. It significantly changes the atmosphere of the day, at least as it appears and is heard on the airwaves.

By law, businesses must be closed on Independence Day. Why then is advertising permitted? One of the usual claims of our media is that forced regulation is counterproductive and that the media knows best how to regulate itself. The fact that advertising is tolerated on this day, not only on the commercial airwaves but also by the public broadcasters serves as evidence that self-regulation does not work.

Our advertisers and media managers, instead of providing their positive contribution to the atmosphere of Independence Day, do the opposite. They trivialize it. Our hope is that the public is so involved in the music and mangals that it does not use the media on this day as much as on other days so that the advertisers not only do not succeed in their commercial objectives, the public undermines it and keeps our Independence Day distinctly Israeli. We do not have to Americanize everything.


April 3, 2013

MEDIA COMMENT: Ambassadors of goodwill

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:39 pm by yisraelmedad

MEDIA COMMENT: Ambassadors of goodwill
A theme which has arisen time and again in our column is the harm caused abroad by Israel’s media.
A theme which has arisen time and again in our column is the harm caused abroad by Israel’s media. The Haaretz newspaper is a special case, but it is not alone. All too often the Israeli media provides one-sided, damaging reports about the country. Just two weeks ago we noted that local journalists use the term “apartheid” without justification, thus playing into the hands of the organizers of anti- Israel events such as Israel Apartheid Week. Too often anti-Israel bias in the foreign media is defended with the claim that it is not any worse than the Israeli media. The upshot of all of this is that, especially outside of the United States, Israel is perceived negatively.

The anti-Israel theme is something that we have to deal with, but not something that can be stopped. At times it is nothing more than a new facet of the anti- Semitism which has plagued us for millennia, and that is quite difficult to stop. However, Israel can and should find original ways to create a positive image for itself. Arguably, the best way to counter the negative portrayal of Israel is by creating positive public opinion about Israel.

We could claim that at least one out of every two people visiting Israel for the first time leaves with a very different image than expected. The authors of this article frequently come into contact with non-Jewish foreigners, and the results are invariably the same.

Our guests note that their media feeds them misinformation – and this is a generous description. When they return home they more often than not become ambassadors of goodwill, able to relate their generally positive experiences to friends (barring sad mishaps with the – at times – obnoxious questioning methods of the Border Police). Israel receives over three million tourists a year. With a bit of thought, forward planning, goodwill and willingness to innovate, we can turn most of them into ambassadors of goodwill for our country.

One way of realizing this is analyzing the things that bother us when we go abroad. Communication is a real thorn, with the need to pay outrageous sums to call home. Even worse are the fees extorted for surfing on our smartphones while abroad. These high fees prevent us from using them for GPS communications, additionally, we do not use the free Internet phones, since the fees for surfing are too high.

Let us then consider the average tourist who comes to Israel. Suppose our Tourism Ministry were to offer a tender to our communications companies, requesting the best possible deal for tourists. While still at the airport the tourist, for a modest fee, would be urged to purchase a sim card which would provide a week or two of surfing, free of extra charge, in one of the major languages. From our own smartphone bills we know that this should not come to more than $10 per week, and even this rate is high compared to that of a local smartphone user.

This small fee would provide the tourist with virtually free phone contact with friends and family abroad. Our tourist would use Twitter, Whatsapp or Facebook to describe her or his experience here in real time. One picture is worth a thousand words. Tourists who feel free to involve friends in their adventures here would send pictures and even videos, multiplying the goodwill created by their visit. Pictures of beautiful Israel might just convince our tourist’s circle of friends that a visit here is a good idea, and thus we could also increase the number of visitors from abroad without resorting to often debasing and humiliating advertisements based on half-nude women.

The goodwill does not end here. Let us consider the GPS system. First of all, the tourist who rents a car will not have to pay exorbitant rental fees for the GPS service. The more tourists use GPS the safer they are, and the safer we are. Admittedly, some rental car agencies might be upset by the loss of revenue, but others might be wise and realize that it is precisely such conditions that will help to turn Israel into a competitive tourist destination.

The GPS system has more uses than just navigation.

Suppose our tourists want to visit Acre, and are interested in advance information. Our Tourism Ministry, with not too much expense, could assure that the GPS system provided for tourists, would, when asked, provide a pop-up with a short historical synopsis and information on places our tourist wishes to visit.

Such historical blurbs might also include reminders of the Israeli presence in Hebron, or the suicide bombing which led to the creation of the separation fence, or just the history of Habima Theater. They would give information about the remnants of armored vehicles scattered along the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway.

If carried out wisely, the GPS system could also be used by advertisers, thereby covering costs, as our tourist would at times want to know where the closest restaurant is, or the gas station, or the cinema, concert hall, etc. She or he might want to order a taxi. The taxi driver, knowing that the passenger has use of a smartphone, would be very careful in demanding exorbitant fees.

We have a new government and a new tourism minister, Dr. Uzi Landau. He is also the founder of the highly successful Eretz Nehederet NGO whose goal is described on its website as: “Eretz Nehederet [A Wonderful Land] is a ‘birthright’ program for Israelis, combating the erosion of the Zionist idea by arranging for Israelis to encounter Israel through unique local trips aimed at renewing the feeling of a common destiny and mutual responsibility, and Zionism.”

The funds and resources of the Tourism Ministry are somewhat larger than those of an NGO. Landau has the opportunity to adapt some of these ideas on a large scale, one which could really create change in the perception of Israel abroad. Our tourist would feel wanted and go home with a warm feeling toward a society which welcomes tourists and makes a real effort to assure a pleasant and rewarding stay.

No one else has yet provided such communications services to their tourists, so again, we would prove that we are an innovative society. We would have created some sorely needed goodwill for ourselves at almost zero cost, and circumvented some of the negative effects created by media coverage.

One only wonders why this has not yet been implemented.