May 2, 2013

MEDIA COMMENT: The journalists’ ‘omerta’

Posted in Media at 7:56 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The journalists’ ‘omerta’

by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 01/05/2013

Media personnel, from producers to editors to reporters, view everything as fair game – except their own environment or professional activities.

Media personnel, from producers to editors to reporters, view everything as fair game – except their own environment or professional activities. Their inquiring minds and invasive interest seem to fog up or even choke up when it comes to themselves, and the cameras and microphones don’t seem to work.

Already in 1992, surveys in the United States, as noted by the American Journalism Review’s “A Secret No More,” indicated “that the media, which will report on sexual harassment in government, the military and private business, has more often denied its own problem than addressed it.”

An assistant managing editor of the St. Petersburg Times commented the previous year at a panel on sexual harassment at the American Society of Newspaper Editors convention that “we’re not spending enough money, we’re not spending enough time, we’re not serious about it.”

Do Israel’s newsroom and management offices, two decades later, have policies regarding office ethics, including explicit enforcement plans? If so, do their employees know? Do we, the public, know? Are there guidelines for filing complaints and punishment details? What do we know about sexual harassment within the media? The question has landed on the agenda this past week due to accusations leveled against Immanuel Rosen of Channel 10 News and Educational TV’s own media review program, Tik Tikshoret. It turns out that for many years there was a cloud hanging over Rosen.

After the recent brouhaha, it turns out Channel 2 fired Rosen for his alleged antics three years ago. At the time, Rosen was a reporter for Channel 2’s central news program, Ulpan Shishi.

The Walla Internet site reports Rosen was fired due to a complaint filed by a junior female employee. The director of the Channel 2 news corporation, Mr. Avi Weiss, reportedly appointed a committee to check the complaint and the conclusion was to send Rosen home.

The story has another twist: as reported by Walla, in 2008 journalist Avri Gilad refused to co-anchor Channel 2 Reshet’s program Black Box with Rosen due to the numerous allegations against him.

Thus far the story has its positive side. There was a complaint, a review of behavior, and practical conclusions were reached. But then, in 2010 Rosen was hired by Channel 10 news, no longer as a mere reporter but now as their political correspondent. He landed his job at Educational TV in December, 2008. He was also hired by the 103FM “Radio Without Interruption” station, broadcasting in Tel Aviv, to present their Five in the Evening news roundup together with journalist Ben Caspit.

One cannot help but wonder what his new bosses at Channel 10 knew about him when they hired him.

Or, for that matter, about Caspit. After all, he was employed by Channel 10 from 2002-2006. Did Weiss pass on his information to the Channel 10 managers? If so, what did they do with this information? If Weiss did not pass the information on, why not? Weiss and the management of Channel 10 owe the public some answers. Why didn’t the managers of Reshet respond to Gilad’s concerns with a serious investigation? Consider what would happen if, say, a university hired a professor who had been fired from a different institution under the same circumstances? Would the media have demanded an explanation? What about a politician or a senior government ministry employee? Or a former president? Of course it would have – so why not now? Rosen and his defenders all claim that a defamation campaign is being waged against Rosen. They cite the fact that not one of the women submitted a formal complaint to the police. But as rightly pointed out by Meirav Karako, a senior editor in the Globes newspaper who accused Rosen of obsessively “courting” her, the question is not only a legal one, but also an ethical one.

First of all, their jobs, income and professional advancement are on the line. But an atmosphere in which women are just objects of desire rather than equal human beings is unacceptable, criminal or not.

Media organizations willing to accept such norms should be repudiated by the public. Israel’s media needs a much higher level of ethics when it comes to professional relations between the sexes.

The Rosen affair is one thing, the lack of ethical norms another. For example, Dr. Yitzchak Laor is known as an extreme left-winger, one of the first who refused to perform military duty in “occupied territory.”

But somewhat less well known is the fact that in 2010 Laor was accused in the left-wing blog “Haoketz” of being a serial sexual harasser while serving as a senior editor in the Haaretz newspaper.

To this day, Laor continues working as a journalist for Haaretz. Did his editors set up an investigative commission? In Laor’s case, a woman did complain to the police, albeit too many years after the fact. But one wonders whether also in Haaretz the norms of working relations between the genders need some review.

The issue does not start or end with sexual harassment.

Eli Yatzpan is one of Israel’s famous comedians, certainly a role model to many aspiring young artists? Lior Averbach reported on February 28 that Yatzpan shouted and hurled demeaning, abusive epithets at stagehands for what he thought was wrong with their work.

As reported at the time, this was not a unique occurrence.

It seems that the Channel 10 manager responsible discussed the issue with Yatzpan, demanding he not repeat such behavior. However no real measures were implemented, not even an apology to the workers who were publicly humiliated.

Yatzpan is not the only short-tempered Channel 10 employee. Similar accusations were hurled five years ago against Channel 10’s 5 p.m. news program Five with Rafi Reshef. Many employees of the program complained of public denigration, especially by the program’s manager, Nehushtan Okun, who left the program in 2012, reportedly due to Channel 10’s financial difficulties. But the complaints were also against Reshef himself. Some of the employees described the experience as leaving them with “scars and trauma for the rest of their life.”

The list continues. Rafik Halabi was the editor of Channel 1’s central news program, Mabat. In 2007 he was censored for sexual harassment by the disciplinary court of Israel’s Civil Service Commission. He was forced to leave his senior post at Channel 1, but did this end his career? Not at all. He was promptly employed by Channel 2’s Keshet concessionaire, presenting the program Rafik Halabi in the Field. Only recently it was announced Halabi is running for the post of council head at the Daliat el-Carmel local council. Did anyone in the media raise objections? Media stars are proud that they are portrayed as being influential. They affect fashion styles, music tastes, cultural preferences and political opinions. It is a pity the public allows them also to be icons for a rather shady type of behavior pattern: discrimination against women and even the violation of their personal space, their professional standing and, perhaps, their bodies.

A proper system must be adopted to correct these errors of judgment. The journalists’ ‘omerta’ must be broken, the sooner, the better.

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