July 24, 2013

MEDIA COMMENT: Israel’s ‘liberal’ media

Posted in Media at 10:53 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Israel’s ‘liberal’ media


Our media, which is concerned about the human rights of the Palestinians, is not willing or not able to raise the issue of human rights of Jews.

Liberalism, as defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica, is a political doctrine that views protecting and enhancing the freedom of the individual to be the central problem of politics.

While government is necessary to protect individuals, it can pose a threat to liberty by abusing its power. And so, while democracy is based on popular election, liberalism is primarily concerned with the scope of government activity.

It can be said that while democracy looks after majorities, liberalism cares for minorities. It seeks to assure unrestricted development in all spheres of human endeavor, and governmental guarantees of individual rights and civil liberties. A media which prides itself as being “liberal” should then uphold the cause of assuring unrestricted development in all areas.

Last week the European Union provided us with a test, in real time, of the extent of our media’s liberalism. The EU’s decree to discriminate between two types of Israelis – those that live within the Israeli side of the 1949 armistice lines and those that live outside – is a clear case of a governmental system taking upon itself to restrict the development of a minority group. The EU decided that the individual rights of two types of Israelis differ; the “outsiders” would no longer be allowed to enjoy EU support for their endeavors.

The EU’s decision is not only discriminatory, it is racist. In areas outside the armistice lines, the EU will support Arabs, but not Jews. In the eastern parts of Jerusalem, it will support residents who are bearers of Israeli identity cards – provided that they are not Jews. For example, the non-Jewish hospitals in Jerusalem enjoy EU support (10 million euros in 2012 and 13m. euros in 2013) while Jewish institutions in the post- 1967 parts of the city are out of bounds.

Israel has participated in the past in the EU’s 7th Framework Program (FP7) to the tune of 440m. euros, spread over the seven years of the program. The FP7 program disburses the complete annual budget (50 billion euros) for scientific research purposes. There is no denying that Israel received from the FP7 program more money than it invested, due to the excellence of its science and technology.

Europe is now gearing up toward the continuation of this program, called Horizon 2020, and Israel is expected to contribute 600m. euros to it. According to the new directive, however, Ariel University cannot get any of these funds, and it is questionable whether Hebrew University researchers may participate, since the university has extensive dorms in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Givat Hamivtar, which is of course an area the EU terms post-67 occupied territory.

Those are some of the facts. The issue we want to delve into is how our media reacted to them.

A classic example is the Ilana Dayan’s interview of Haaretz’s Ari Shavit on her Thursday morning program on the Galatz army radio station. That same morning, Shavit had published an article entitled “Israel’s crash into the diplomatic iceberg.”

He wrote of the “arrogance, complacency and moral stupor” of Israelis as the ship of state “was cruising straight into an iceberg.”

He seemed gleeful about the EU decision, and is entitled to his opinions. Why, though, did Dayan see fit to interview him? What questions did she pose? She began with: “It would seem that there is something urgent and pressing for you more than the usual… I want to go even deeper… you talk about the illusion that the Right has sold us, that we can also be a hi-tech country and an occupier. This is a mirror image of the illusion that the Left has sold us… aren’t you also selling us an illusion?” She pressed him on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State John Kerry and on whether European pressure could cause Netanyahu to appease Kerry. There was not a single question asked concerning the human rights aspect of the EU’s decision.

By choosing to interview Shavit, Dayan actually made a value choice. It would seem that she, too, buys into Shavit’s thesis that this is just the tip of an iceberg which will sink us unless we end the “occupation.”

Dayan reflects the mainstream Israeli media. The questions asked by the media were: How and why did we get this far? What can Israel do now? Will this pressure continue and what will it do to Israel in the future? All are of course legitimate questions, and of great concern to all of us. But there was nary a word about human rights.

Our media, which is concerned about the human rights of the Palestinians and the fact that we control their lives, is not willing or not able or too narrow-minded to raise the issue of the human rights of Jews.

This is not because they don’t know. At Israel’s Media Watch we sent a letter to the news editors of various news channels pointing out the human rights violations and calling upon them to discuss these.

We even specified some pertinent questions, such as: What are the steps the Israeli government intends to implement to safeguards the human rights of its citizens? Will the government stop transferring money to EU funds which discriminate against Israelis? Would it be imaginable that the Israeli government transfers money to a fund which supports only Ashkenazim? How can the government under these circumstances continue to support the EU framework programs? What is the opinion of the attorney-general with regard to the violations of Israeli human rights? But to no avail. Human rights are only “interesting” when a candidate for the chief rabbinate supposedly calls upon his constituents not to sell homes to Arabs.

The answer to the question we posed is simple – no, our media are not liberal.

They are biased and do not even make an effort to try and deal with issues from all sides. The Europeans know this and they assume they can get away with their antics because our media will go out of its way to make it easy for them.


July 18, 2013

MEDIA COMMENT: Israel’s hidden excellence

Posted in Media at 8:01 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Israel’s hidden excellence


We would suggest that an area in which Israel could prove its excellence, in addition to the spheres ignored by our media, is in journalism itself.

Agenda setting is not achieved by a single article, not even by five articles on a given topic. An agenda is set only dozens of repetitions. Our media know this very well. Any advertiser knows that it is wasteful to pay for a one-time ad. The ad has to be repeated multiple times, not only to assure that the vast majority of the public knows about it, but also so it remains in the public memory at least for a few days.

Agenda setting is a function of journalism that not only highlights issues that are important while relegating the less-important to an occasional mention, it can also downplay important issues, driving the subject or the persons involved into near-oblivion. The power of a news editor can be critical.

There are too many people in Israel whose identity is known to but a few, who have not only excelled in their profession and brought honor and dignity to the State of Israel, yet remain obscure. That obscurity is a matter of media concern.

Jewish excellence in music is known worldwide.

The former Israeli-turned-Israel basher pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim is a household name. How many of us, though, are familiar with 28-year-old pianist Boris Giltburg? He is a Russian-born immigrant to Israel who most recently placed first in the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition for piano, held in Brussels every three years and named after Queen Elisabeth of Belgium.

Giltburg is the first-ever Israeli to win this prestigious international competition, described by Wikipedia as being “considered over the world to be one of the most prestigious and most difficult.” In all the years of the competition, which started regularly in 1952, only one Israeli pianist, Shai Wosner, achieved respectable 4th place, in 1999. Ynet and Haaretz reported Giltburg’s success, but that’s about it. This achievement of Giltburg’s, by the way, not a one-time affair. Two years ago, Giltburg came in second in the prestigious Arthur Rubinstein competition.

Hi-tech is something Israel is not only proud of, for arguably it is one of the lifelines that keep our state functioning, and is doing that task well. Hi-tech without excellence in physics is virtually impossible and indeed, Israel has its share of excellent physicists.

One of these is Dr. Zohar Komargodski, a young scientist at the Weizmann Institute. The New Horizons in Physics Prize, awarded by the Fundamental Physics Prize Foundation, is given to three promising young researchers.

Each of the laureates receives $100,000. This year, one of the three was Dr. Komargodski.

The Russell Varian prize is named in the memory of the pioneer behind the first commercial Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectrometers and co-founder of Varian Associates.

NMR machines have evolved into magnetic resonance imaging machines, which most know is a life-saving technology which has aided many patients.

It so happens that some Israelis excel in the field of MRI. One of them, Professor Lucio Frydman, also from the Weizmann Institute, a member of one of our departments (EP), was awarded the 2013 Russell Varian Prize. The prize is arguably the most prestigious one in this field; its former recipients include Nobel Prize laureates and scientists who have made the MRI dream come true.

Jiu-jitsu, a well-known martial art taught, for example, to police officers, is not an Olympic sport, yet international competitions take place, both on national, international and global levels. Dudi Ben – Zaken, an Israeli, recently won the gold medal in the Jiu-jitsu European championship which took place in early June in Germany.

These are but a few examples, from various fields, which exemplify Israel’s excellence.

Besides ignoring such items, our media for some reason this past week or so decided, in an agenda-setting act, that it was important to revive the politically-motivated social demonstrations of two years ago.

It has attempted to do this several times recently. Last Saturday night, our TV stations had numerous live reports from Tel Aviv, with some reporters virtually pleading with people to come out to increase the numbers. This amounted to nothing of any importance and so we witness how prejudice can dominate out screens, all for a pitifully small number of persons. This is a case when some of our media, in an undemocratic campaign, decide for themselves what is important for us to know. But reporting Israeli excellence is viewed negatively.

OUR MEDIA’S failings go much beyond the simple exclusion of anything good about Israel. Headlines are made when Israel does not fare well in international tests. The education minister and other politicians and bureaucrats are put on the firing line, blamed for the results. But the media, which could contribute so much more to making our state even stronger in its innovativeness, are delinquent.

Consider Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI. How many of our readers know what really happens in such a machine? Are they aware that there is an even more brilliant future in store for it? Professor Frydman received his prize for his contributions to this important task. Providing deep coverage of an event related to MRI might just raise interest in the field and who knows, some of our brilliant youngsters might prefer to enter it, instead of perhaps journalism.

In fact, science programming is virtually nonexistent in our media. Even the Israel Broadcasting Authority does not have a weekly science program (it did, however), neither on TV nor radio. Have our media geniuses ever surveyed the public to find out whether perhaps it just might be interested in receiving more science-related programming, instead of the low-level reality shows which are fed to us? In fact, during 2010 and 2011 the Calcalist website had a series of science articles, some of which received extensive popular responses.

An example is their article entitled “What do mushrooms think about?” which had two million views, and close to 10,000 “likes.”

The PEW Forum, an American research center on issues of public life, published last week survey results which indicate that public appreciation for journalists in the US has dropped the most. Moreover, the decline is more pronounced among women than men and also cuts across partisan leanings, age and education level. The problem, then, is not only a local one.

We would suggest that an area in which Israel could prove its excellence, in addition to the spheres ignored by our media, is in journalism itself. That would be something to look forward to.


July 11, 2013

MEDIA COMMENT: The poor Right

Posted in Media at 10:09 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The poor Right


Zionism’s most central figures were journalists, many of them right-of-center. They go from Herzl to Nordau to Jabotinsky as well as firm nationalists on the left such as Berl Katznelson.

Israel’s contemporary media image is markedly left-of-center.

Someone once quipped that if a vote were held solely amongst journalists, Meretz would be the overwhelming victor with the Communists a close second.

And that is no exaggeration. The ideological bias that used to be ignored or excused as the natural curiosity that liberals possess but not right-wingers, as then-IBA head Motti Kirschenbaum once explained to the writers, is now quite evident.

MK Shelly Yacimovich, currently Labor Party head and former Kol Yisrael radio and TV host, admitted that she voted for Hadash in the 1999 elections. The post-Zionism that developed in Uri Avnery’s Haolam Hazeh weekly has now settled quite firmly in Haaretz, with Gideon Levy writing on July 4: “One day the Palestinian people will rise up against their occupiers.

I hope this day comes soon… As with other unjust and evil regimes… this regime also will fall… as in Syria… in the Soviet Union, South Africa and Eastern Europe… there is no other way. It would be best that this day come soon; too bad it hasn’t come yet.”

Yediot Aharonot’s antipathy for Binyamin Netanyahu is so irrational that they published a totally fictitious story about a female Beduin comedienne, perhaps lured by the anti-Bibi portions of her stand-up repertoire.

It wasn’t always this way. The Left did not always dominate the media discourse or have the power to set agendas or, like Amos Schocken and Nonni Mozes, own the press outright. Zionism’s most central figures were journalists, many of them right-of-center.

They go from Herzl to Nordau to Jabotinsky as well as firm nationalists on the Left such as Berl Katznelson. Ma’ariv until the 1970s was a home for veterans of the Revisionist movement. Herzl Rosenblum, the three-decades long editor of Yediot Aharonot until the 1980s, was a colleague of Jabotinsky and signed Israel’s Declaration of Independence as the representative of the Revisionists.

A watershed incident, indicating the left-wing domination of the media that occurred since then, was when senior Ma’ariv columnist and editor Shmuel Schnitzer was selected to receive the Israel Prize for Journalism in 1997 for decades of professional engagement and many thousands of articles. He was denied this honor because of one piece on Ethiopian Jews. This was a final generational break.

Why is it that the nationalist camp, religious and secular, despite the talent and the growing numbers, are still proving, it would seem, unable to challenge the left wing post-Zionists when it comes to journalism and media culture? This crisis has become even more evident during this past week. A right-winger and ardent Zionist, Shlomo Ben-Zvi, bought the rights on the Ma’ariv newspaper a year ago. But it would seem that he does not have sufficient funding, or did not foresee well enough the true expense of keeping the paper alive. As of the writing of this article, it is not at all clear whether Ma’ariv will survive the present crisis. Even worse, another Zionist daily, Makor Rishon, also owned by Ben-Zvi, is in deep trouble, as reported in The Jerusalem Post and elsewhere.

Many of its reporters have not been receiving their salaries already for months.

The Latma satirical website (Latma in Arabic is “slap in the face”), founded by Jerusalem Post Senior Contributing editor Caroline Glick, adored by many all over the world for its comical sense, is in deep financial trouble. As reported on Israel National News, Latma is running out of funds and will most likely go offline by the end of this month unless new funding for the site will be found.

It has been negotiating these past two years with the Israel Broadcasting Authority to go on air, but the IBA, even after two years, cannot make up its mind whether to provide Israeli with a satirical program that would successfully compete with Channel 2 TV’s left-wing post-Zionist dominated satirical Eretz Nehederet (“A Wonderful Country”) show.

The Culture Ministry has been overseen by Likud MK Ms. Limor Livnat for the past four years and she continues in that role in the present government. In 2012, her ministry distributed some NIS 100 million to support dozens of theaters and other cultural institutions, most mired in left-wing agendas. As may be found on the ministry’s website, the big recipients are the Habimah theater (NIS 21m.), the Tel Aviv Cameri theater (NIS 12m.) and Beit Lessin theater (NIS 11m.). The Israel Film service is funded by the Culture Ministry. Is it too much to ask that Ms. Livnat find a way to support Latma and keep it alive? Is it not an important cultural icon for Israel? Only last December, the government, dominated by the rightwing Likud and Yisrael Beytenu parties, generously distributed goodies that amounted to hundreds of millions of shekels to the left-wing, junk programmingdominated TV concessionaires, Channels 2 and 10. Channel 10 was threatening closure, Prime Minister Netanyahu panicked and gave in to media pressure. But there is no real media pressure to save either Ma’ariv or Latma. After all, they do not belong to the “right” side of the cultural scene.

The far left anti-Zionist camp knows how to fight. The Galei Yisrael radio station, which broadcasts mainly to Judea and Samaria, has been on the receiving end of three petitions by Gush Shalom to the Supreme Court demanding its closure. All petitions have been turned down, but the expenses needed to rebut such petitions burden the station financially.

Gush Shalom can write down another success to its ongoing cultural war against anything which smells of Zionism.

The post-Zionist domination of our culture is not only a result of governmental ineptness: It also lies deep in the roots of the rightwing camp both in Israel and abroad. There is no meaningful institutional Jewish support for Zionist culture. The fact that only one person could be found – Shlomo Ben-Zvi – who was willing to try and save various publications, starting from the now defunct Nekuda, continuing to the Hazofe newspaper, which was merged with Makor Rishon, and now Ma’ariv is a badge of shame for right-wing philanthropy.

Sheldon and Dr. Miriam Adelson stand behind the successful Zionist Israel Hayom daily. The post- Zionists have been very imaginative in their response. The paper has been criticized almost on a daily basis for being a “bibiton,” that is a mouthpiece of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Legislation has been tabled in the Knesset to attempt to shut down the paper since it is owned by someone who is not a permanent resident of the State of Israel. None of this is considered by them as an attack on freedom of expression, the charge they level at anyone criticizing the Left.

The sad truth is that massive support of Zionist media-related organizations ends there. When it comes to the media, the right wing is poor, its cultural face is pale and its donors almost nonexistent.


July 4, 2013

MEDIA COMMENT: Fair competition?

Posted in Media tagged , at 9:08 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Fair competition?


The army radio station Galei Tzahal (Galatz) was inaugurated on September 24, 1950. The station, in addition to being part of the Israel Defense Forces’ effort was to be an educational tool, helping to absorb new immigrants, strengthen ties with the Hebrew language and increase knowledge about the land of Israel.

From these laudable goals, Galatz has turned these past few decades into an almost post-Zionist media organ. All too often it has preferred to provide a platform to Israel’s enemies and to stifle the dissent of those who attempted to defend the Zionist heritage and culture. Even today, the post-Zionist attitude is still present at the station.

For example, the 7 a.m. presenter, Micha Friedman, expressed only yesterday his personal misgivings about the recapture of Mount Hermon during the Yom Kippur War. However, for the first time in 15 years, the Galatz commander is again a personality who clearly identifies with Zionism, and the results are evident.

Galatz head Yaron Dekel appeared on Monday before the Knesset Economics Committee and among the various topics he discussed was that of 35 new cadets, a third come from the periphery and nine are religious. Even more, for the first time ever, Hesder Yeshiva students will be allowed to serve in Galatz in fulfillment of their active army duties.

This comes in stark contrast to the norm of the past whereby too often, people from the Tel Aviv area were accepted and the sons and daughters of journalists and other VIPs found a soft spot in the admission process, a phenomenon that earned the sobriquet “dynasties.”

The change is also evident in content.

Galatz today is much more attentive to Jewish culture and heritage. Its programming for Jewish and Israeli holidays is substantially improved. Even its relations with the public are progressing. Dekel has appointed a new ombudsman, Eran Elyakim, who, among his other efforts, has established a special web page providing his email address and thus facilitating contact with the public.

But no, the days of the messiah are still to come, for not all at Galatz is as it should be. Perhaps foremost is the legal status of the station. Already in 1969, the Knesset placed the responsibility for oversight of Galatz on the Israel Broadcasting Authority, but the IBA has not done its job. There is no public oversight while the station, which is funded by the public from the budget of the Defense Ministry, is allowed to broadcast commercial advertisements and gain external income.

Ten years ago, four regional radio stations petitioned the Supreme Court, noting the unfair advantage of the army radio station in procuring profit-generating advertisements.

Given the publicly supported budget, Galatz can offer airtime under conditions such as national coverage, something the regional radio stations cannot do as they are limited geographically.

The Supreme Court denied the petition, but only after the state noted that a law had been passed allowing the stations to advertise. The law itself was valid only for a limited period of time, until a formal Galatz law could be enacted, which would permanently establish the mode of operation of Galatz. Like many other temporary issues this law has de facto become rather permanent.

The Knesset ratifies it anew as a temporary law every year or so. Indeed, the last “temporary law” expired on May 31 and one may argue as a result that the present advertising on Galatz is illegal.

Indeed it is precisely for this reason that the Knesset economics committee convened this past Monday. On the table was a proposal for a detailed set of regulations governing the broadcasting of advertisement on the station.

These included some obvious restrictions such as disallowing ads that insult or hurt the feelings or religious beliefs of parts of the population, calls for disruption of the law or public order, etc. There were, however, some additional, questionable clauses.

The suggested restrictions included political advertisement or the advertisement of publicly or ideologically disputed issues or even calls for changes of legislation.

In fact, the same restrictions exist today for all radio and TV advertisements. Citing these restrictions enabled supervising authorities at times to prevent ads, for example, for Efrat, an organization which seeks to prevent abortions, as well as ads for homosexual advocacy groups, Jews residing across the Green Line and others.

In a democracy which respects freedom of expression, such restrictions are unacceptable.

As long as an advertisement does not violate the law, does not incite, purposely hurt people’s feelings and other such obvious measures, and the advertiser pays the necessary funds, there should be no restrictions on the content. Why are journalists allowed to use the airwaves through their personal columns or editorial privileges for the same purposes, while others are restricted? It is high time that our society becomes more open to public discourse not managed and governed by journalists, presenters and editors.

Interestingly, all these issues could not be dealt with in the Knesset committee, for a simple reason. As the legal counsel of the economics committee, Etti Bendler, explained, since there is no law defining the army radio station and its operation, and the temporary law had expired, one cannot bring to the committee for discussion and ratification any principles of operation. The upshot of all of this is that as of now, if you hear any kind of advertising on Galatz, you should know that it is not legal.

The committee discussion, however, did include some interesting revelations. For example, Galatz’s income from advertising is NIS 20 million, almost half its annual budget. Dekel claimed that the station’s portion of Israel’s radio advertising is only 10 percent, implying that it really does not threaten the others. However, combined with the IBA, we find that advertisement on the public media is around 60 percent of market share of radio advertisement.

This is not fair by any means, not to mention that the public which pays for the public radio deserves an ad-free broadcast.

As noted by MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud) in the discussion, the very existence of the Galatz radio station is questionable. There is an inherent contradiction between the needs of the army and the the need for a free media station in a modern democracy.

The continued service of soldiers in a station which makes its living commercially is also problematic. It is high time that Galatz’s future be discussed seriously and difficult decisions made, but at the very least, advertisements should no longer be allowed.