August 28, 2013

MEDIA COMMENT: Media accounting

Posted in Media at 11:12 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Media accounting


With the end of the Hebrew year and the approach of Rosh Hashana, it is appropriate to take account of the media, and even to hope that the media reviews its own performance.

With the end of the Hebrew year and the approach of Rosh Hashana, it is appropriate to take account of the media, and even to hope that the media reviews its own performance. After all, this is the Jewish state, culturally and religiously. This can only be done from a caring perspective, for critiquing the media is not an easy matter.

Complications arise because the media scrutinizes political figures, security concerns, economic matters and much more, and these issues are quite difficult to cover. But even more so, since the news is produced by reporters and their editors, humans who err but more often than not are too sensitive to criticism. They refuse, for the most part, to admit their own frailties and personal prejudices. It is even difficult for them to accept the fact that in any such similar large enterprise, mistakes creep in, even if only statistically.

As we have noted in our columns, the necessity to hold the media to certain standards of professionalism and ethics can be a daunting test of wills between the media and various bodies: the external regulator appointed by law, the consumer bothered by the product she or he is paying for, voluntary media review organizations as well as the media’s internal supervisors.

It is instructive to consider an example of the complexity of media professionalism from the other side of the world. Margaret Sullivan, The New York Times public editor, discussed last month the appointing by the Times of a full-beat correspondent to cover Hillary Clinton, the non-candidate for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in three years’ time.

Carl Bernstein, in the last chapter of his biography of Mrs. Clinton, A Woman in Charge, noted that she “has a difficult relationship with the truth.” He also related to Seth Mandell of Commentary who wrote that she is “someone who tries to write her own narrative.”

Sullivan’s estimation that “with the Clintons, there is a certain opacity and stagecraft and silly coverage,” reveals that actually journalists know that they are being fooled. If that happens in the US then we can be sure that it also occurs here in Israel.

Under the circumstances described by Sullivan, the question arises: how is the Clinton reporter, Amy Chozick, or any reporter in a similar position, to serve the news consumers, rather than the paper or TV or radio channel? Perhaps more seriously one may ask whether any reporter can produce reliable news without any external checks and balances.

Hillary Clinton is not the only politician to fudge the truth or spin deeds and intentions. But it is the media’s obligation not to forgive these faults or accept that they are actually necessary for the success of the policies politicians pursue.

Too often, the politicians themselves promote the political, social, cultural and economic agendas of the media personalities covering them. Haim Yavin, for many years the anchor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s TV news magazine, once wrote that there is no longer any objectivity in the media but that the best that can be hoped for (by the media consumers, that is) is fairness.

In June, London was the venue of “The Future of Journalism” conference which brought together high school pupils, teachers and major players from the media. The purpose was to familiarize the younger generation with the skills required for pursuing a career in journalism. The conference provided an unusual opportunity to discuss the profession, its challenges and problems.

The introduction was remarkable in its candor and openness. We quote: “Journalism is among the least trusted of professions…. In this session, some major players will put the case for why journalists are important, and why being a journalist can be a good and worthwhile…. Is the role of the press to inform rather than entertain? And who is to decide what is in the ‘public interest’ anyway?” Could we witness such a reckoning in Israel? Or is media review, at best, reserved for insiders only? As long as we are in England, we can learn yet more about media review.

The Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) is described by Wikipedia as “a right-wing British policy think tank whose goal is to promote coherent and practical public policy, to roll back the state, reform public services, support communities, and challenge threats to Britain’s independence.”

In an August 13 report it declared that “the BBC are more likely to cover left-wing think tank reports and to hail them as ‘independent’ while giving right-wing research a ‘health warning’ by pointing out its ideological position.”

That result parallels the situation here in Israel.

The Israel Democracy Institute, for example, is never labeled by its leftwing ideology. Its positions are invariably identified as “democratic.”

Extreme left-wing NGOs are labeled human rights organizations.

Their reports are treated as the truth from Mount Sinai. But other NGOs, such as NGO monitor or UN Watch, have a difficult time penetrating the editorial process and bringing their news to the public through the mainstream media. And if they succeed, they are labeled “right-wing.”

The CPS report went further: “The results are consistent with both subconscious ‘group think’ among BBC journalists or a more deliberate left-of-centre bias.”

Media review groups or columnists can only do so much. External critique is limited. A self-accounting – cheshbon nefesh – the first step prior to teshuva, repentance. As is well known, the process of teshuva as described by Maimonides has three steps: recognition of error, removal of the intention leading to the error and commitment not to repeat it in the future. We can only hope that many more of our journalists would take the “teshuva” process seriously.

However, it is always easy to beat on the other’s breast. The media consumer, too, should consider these days of reckoning. Do we allow ourselves to be carried away by the media? Do we continue to purchase news from purveyors who do not deserve our support, even if they are “interesting”? Do we encourage those journalists who often at high personal cost put ethics first and the “scoop” second? To a large extent, Israel’s media is a reflection of Israel’s society. If it is not something that we are proud of, then it is we who should come to the day of reckoning and ask where have we gone wrong. A society that demands and practices ethics will by necessity also lead to an ethical media.

August 27, 2013

MEDIA COMMENT: The unreformable IBA

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:55 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The unreformable IBA


Dr. Amir Gilat was appointed chairman of the Israel Broadcasting Authority by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his government in July 2010.

Dr. Amir Gilat was appointed chairman of the Israel Broadcasting Authority by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his government in July 2010. He has had over three years to reform the IBA, and from the outset Gilat made it clear that his foremost challenge was to do just that.

Many hoped that the reform would transform the IBA, known for its bloated budget, its huge workforce with a minimal output, its inefficiency, the refusal of the unions to allow any streamlining and, finally for its deep-seated political and cultural biases, especially in its news programs, into a real leader of Israel’s media.

But after many years of haggling, Dr. Gilat had to show for his efforts an agreement between the IBA and its many unions which would cost the government over NIS 700 million and which would mainly serve to reduce the workforce by perhaps 500 people, or about 25 percent.

No wonder the unions were willing to sign on to Gilat’s offer: Those workers leaving the IBA would mainly be approaching retirement age and their pension conditions would be vastly improved under the agreement.

The deal did little to facilitate streamlining the IBA, and thus how the IBA would balance its budget in the future remained an open question.

But perhaps the most distressing aspect of this story is how normal Dr. Gilat’s performance over the past three years has been. He followed the footsteps of his predecessors in fighting with his director- general, Yoni Ben-Menachem, rather than working with him. As a result, under his leadership, the IBA is not able to take significant action in any direction.

Consider the Latma tragicomedy of errors. For two years, the IBA “negotiated” with Caroline Glick (senior contributing editor of The Jerusalem Post) to air The Tribal Update, the satirical news program she launched four years ago on the Internet through her Hebrew-language, satirical media criticism website Latma.

What distinguishes Latma from “regular” Israeli satire in that it is pro-Israel and unabashedly Zionist. The show regularly mocks leftist icons from the PLO to Peace Now while skewering the Israeli media for its radical left-wing biases. Latma’s flagship television-on-Internet program is the antithesis of Channel 2’s flagship satire program Eretz Nehederet, which is openly and unabashedly post-Zionist.

Mordechai Shaklar, the previous director-general of the IBA, was the first to push for Latma’s show to be broadcast on Channel 1. He argued that it would balance Channel 2’s program, and judging by its star status on the net, (many of its programs were seen by millions of people worldwide), Latma’s show would likely enjoy high ratings, something sorely needed by the IBA.

Dr. Gilat on many occasions expressed his support for the idea. However, contrary to Channel 2’s airing of Eretz Nehederet, Gilat fretted that it would be wrong to allow a patriotic show like Latma to go on air with no post-Zionist show to balance it. So he decided that the IBA would support two satirical programs.

Then, more than three years after Shaklar asked Latma to produce a pilot half-hour show, and more than two years after the pilot passed the test, the IBA decided that actually, it had no intention of airing Latma’s show.

The official reason was the financial straits the IBA was in.

It wasn’t a question of quality, as Latma’s show was approved by IBA committees four separate times. Latma was presented with a contract a year ago, and then the IBA broke off talks with no explanation.

Over the entire period, IBA personnel told Glick that she would be sent a broadcasting contract within days, but this never materialized.

Then, last week, Latma received a laconic, one-sentence letter informing them the IBA had decided not to air their show.

Why? The IBA, notorious for burning public money, was suddenly concerned that Latma’s budget – funded entirely by private donors – would not be sufficient to produce the program. Unlike the IBA, Latma is in the black and never spent a shekel it did not have, but the IBA’s legal department – the same department responsible for hundreds of millions of shekels of public money lost in litigation – was concerned that Latma was not in good financial health.

For those of us with short memories, we note that in June 2013, after years of negotiation and frustration, Glick was in fact running out of funds. Glick had told Channel 1 executives for more than a year that it was likely she would suspend the show and restart it after a contract was signed, for just this reason.

But nevertheless, the financial issue was all a pose.

When a groundbreaking Zionist initiative was poised to go mainstream, all the creative ingenuity that somehow never makes its way onto the television screen is brought to bear to torpedo it. The final decision was actually made by the content committee of the IBA, chaired by Gilat.

Latma was not invited to present its case.

This is not reform, but cultural repression. And this was not the only fiasco during Gilat’s reign.

Consider the programming content. Nothing has changed during these past three years of negotiations with Latma.

The post-Zionist biases remain as they always were. Moshe Negbi remains the IBA’s sole legal commentator. Arie Golan continues with his left-wing morning news program on the IBA’s Reshet Bet radio station.

Shlomo Nitzan retains his spot on Reshet Bet where he has been propagating his views for two decades. Keren Neubach has her progressive socialist radio program 8 a.m.

Gilat is directly responsible for formulating programming policy. Is this all that he managed to accomplish? Actually, no – there’s worse.

Under his auspices, the Hebrew language suffers daily. The IBA’s reporters do not know how to speak Hebrew correctly, the advertisers use English and the commentators consider it beneath them to use Hebrew words, preferring English slang. Did we mention post- Zionism? Our conclusion is that at the IBA, “reform” means finding better ways to waste public money. No wonder, then, that Communications Minister Gilad Erdan, who is responsible for the IBA, along with Finance Minister Yair Lapid, has decided to freeze the reform. Erdan intends to close the IBA and start it again from scratch, because he sees no other way to reform it in a meaningful way.

Gilat could well do to learn from our sage Hillel who, upon seeing a head floating by on a river exclaimed, “that because you killed, you were also killed, but your murderers will also come to justice.”

For someone who had the gall to string Latma along all these years, it is perhaps only fitting that his baby, the “reform” of the IBA, is also being put on hold.

We will only hope fervently that Erdan will not bow to pressure. Sadly, after all these years we have also become convinced that only major surgery will reform the IBA.


MEDIA COMMENT: Who needs TV local news?

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:53 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Who needs TV local news?


The local news networks have not created an important alternative, nor have they come up with terribly important scoops which then reached the national networks.

In the beginning, there was only one government radio station operating in Israel. The government decided that this was “good” and so it created in 1965 a national TV station, operating under the auspices of the Israel Broadcasting Authority. Israel prides itself in its modernity and progress-oriented policies and indeed, it took a mere 17 years for the cable TV era to reach us.

In 1986, the government passed the “Bezeq Law” which is the basis for the regulation of cable and satellite TV broadcasting. Having had 20 years’ experience, the legislators realized that the IBA national TV station was not that interested in local news. In their wisdom, they decided that any broadcasting company wanting to supply the public with cable TV services must also commit itself to creating and broadcasting local programming at its own expense. The local news network was born.

The law was further refined in 1996 and the cable television suppliers were now told to “broadcast news and programs dealing with present-day issues in their local region only.” The law was enacted for a fixed period of time – 10 years.

The 10 years passed quickly, and naturally, cable TV suppliers did not intend to continue to foot the bill. They threatened closure. Our sensitive legislators, whose livelihood depends on their media image and thus almost always cave in to financial demands coming from media organs, decided to change the rules of the game. From now on, as an emergency measure, they decided that the licensee is permitted to deduct up to NIS 25.5 million annually in lieu of their expenses. The local news broadcasts were saved.

Is this important? The Knesset certainly thought so. The official justification for passing the law as it appears in the Knesset annals was, among other things: “Local news broadcasting is an important facility for bringing to the public local events and news items from the different regional areas of the country, including the peripheral regions. Such events do not receive coverage in the national news and so reach the public only through the local programming.

The law gives an answer to a pressing social need.”

A year passed, and again and yet again, the Knesset repeatedly re-legislated this emergency measure for terms of a year or even longer. The next-to-last temporary measure took place in 2011, allowing the law to be in force until December 31, 2012.

As it so happens, Israel prides itself in being an advanced democracy which safeguards equal rights for all, especially when it comes to public funding, and one could expect that the company given the right to produce the local broadcast would get it through an open public tender. This way, any company could compete. The competition presumably would lower the cost to the taxpayer and increase the quality and everyone would be happy.

But things don’t work this way. On April 4, 2010, the Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting (CCTSB) agreed that the local news would be created by the privately owned “Koda Communication” company.

The mandate of the CCTSB, as described on its website, is “to represent, protect and promote the public interests in the field of cable and satellite multi-channel subscriber television.”

Is this the way the public interest was protected? By giving away the local broadcasting rights, without any tender? Does this remind us of the accusations against the robber barons in Israel? You bet it does.

Could the CCTSB defend itself by claiming that no one else was interested in taking on this job? On July 18, 2012, the company running the “Radio Kol Rega” northern regional radio station that was interested in competing for the right to broadcast the local news received a letter from Mr.

Avi Licht, the deputy attorney-general, notifying the company that indeed, the issue should be resolved via a public tender. The company, on July 22, promptly petitioned the communications minister to hold a public tender for the local news programming.

Another letter on July 31 and a further request on September 27 led nowhere. The minister’s phone was perhaps out of order.

The temporary local broadcasting law was about to end on December 31, 2012, just before national elections; not a time to quibble with trifling matters such as tenders. With the employees of Koda Communication threatened with layoffs, our heroic Knesset Members decided to save them and provide Koda Communication with an additional lifeline, lasting until July 31, 2013.

But time inexorably moves only forward, and July 31 is already behind us. Radio Kol Rega as well as Israel’s Media Watch petitioned the communications minister on July 15, demanding a public tender and cessation of the continuous “temporary” measure unfairly maintaining Koda Communication at taxpayers’ expense. Finally, the minister’s legal adviser answered: “Since the law was to end on July 31 there wasn’t sufficient time to hold a public tender. However, the ministry does believe that it would be right that any further continuation of the present situation would be followed with a public tender.”

The bottom line is that the Knesset again passed a temporary law, forcing the public to pay for the local TV news, this time for only five months, until December 31, 2013. Radio Kol Rega and Israel’s Media Watch have petitioned the High Court of Justice, which in its wisdom, permitted Radio Kol Rega, the Knesset and the Communications Ministry an extension until October 3 to present their answer.

Does all of this sound like a soap opera? Yes.

Indeed, in this day and age, is there any need for local news broadcasting funded from our own pocketbooks? Ynet, for example, has a Mynet website which deals with local news.

Is the public really interested in the local news broadcasting? The ratings are a jealously kept professional secret, but judging from what we know and hear, they are negligible. The local news networks have not created an important alternative, nor have they come up with terribly important scoops which then reached the national networks.

Their scope is also rather limited. There are only three editions, dealing with the Kiryat Shmona, Beersheba and Tel Aviv local regions (Tel Aviv is apparently considered the periphery). No one knows how much Koda Communication profits from the public coffers. Indeed, in a country which proudly possesses a plethora of public broadcasters – the Israel Broadcasting Authority, Educational TV, the army radio station Galatz, the second authority news programming – one can only wonder why additional funding should go for something that no one really needs. Wouldn’t it be better to give the same funds to Galatz so that it could eliminate all advertising and provide the public with some quality local news instead? Will media justice be done?

August 1, 2013

MEDIA COMMENT: You can never be right

Posted in Media tagged at 6:48 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: You can never be right


The sad conclusion is that we the public cannot trust its journalists to provide us with facts or even well thought-out commentary.

From the outset, and on the basis of proper disclosure, we wish to make it clear that we believe that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s proposal, and the subsequent government decision, to release murderers is misguided, both morally and politically.

It was a wrong move in the 1985 Jibril exchange, in 2003 when Elhanan Tennenbaum was released and in 2011 when, in exchange for Gilad Schalit, 1027 terrorists, responsible for the deaths of 569 Israeli civilians, were set free. Not only do these actions undermine the trust of Israel’s citizens in those responsible for its security, it is very difficult to stop the descent on the slippery slope created by these releases.

Our main concern is media review, in this case the way Yediot Aharonot treated this issue caught our attention.

The paper had the story rather differently.

For years Yediot was one of leaders of the media calls for the release of Schalit, whatever the price. It is also home to a radical left-wing viewpoint.

It is a newspaper that has severely criticized Prime Minister Netanyahu for not going down another treacherous path, namely negotiating an agreement with the Palestinian Authority, something that Yediot, along with almost all media, refers to as a “peace agreement.”

Thus one might have thought that in the name of intellectual honesty the paper’s columnists would have supported the prime minister’s recent move, for after all, he is entering into negotiations with our Palestinian enemies. But no, that is more than Yediot could swallow. Whatever Prime Minister Netanyahu does is wrong.

Amnon Abramowitz, the left-wing commentator for Channel 2 news, also writes regularly for Yediot. His is held by the media clique to represent the moral high road. In a column headlined “Satan’s Test,” he argues that releasing Israeli Arabs as part of the agreement sets “a new category in the history of the laws of nations – an insane one. Inclusion of Israeli Arabs in the batch of those released makes a joke of Israeli citizenship.”

Abramowitz, who in the past defended prime ministers for freeing terrorists and who was an important supporter of the Oslo accords, which involved numerous releases of terrorists, has all at once become holier-thanthou.

His argument is quite interesting.

The 1985 Ahmed Jibril release of over 1,000 terrorists for three Israeli soldiers led within a few years to the release of members of the “Jewish Underground” group convicted for terrorist acts against Arabs. Is Mr.

Abramowitz’s memory so short? Or could it just be that he is a racist, who sees a fundamental difference between releasing Arab Israeli or Jewish Israeli terrorists? But he is not alone. Another icon, who even received the Israel Prize for his brand of journalism, is Nachum Barnea. His headline was: “If they don’t give, they will get,” a play on a previous position Netanyahu had promoted in the 1999 election campaign.

Netanyahu announced at the time that he demanded reciprocity and only if the Arabs “gave” would they “receive.” Barnea responds in his column to Netanyahu’s apologetic letter to the citizens of Israel, released last Saturday, for his decision to free murderers.

In Barnea’s words: “The letter expresses no remorse for his past fiery speeches against such deals. It has no explanation about what Israel receives in exchange.

The Palestinians, this time, didn’t give a thing [and we ask: did they ever give anything in the past, Mr.

Barnea?]. Netanyahu is entering negotiations, not for the purpose of reaching an agreement, but to legitimize his government in the eyes of the West. This is a legitimate consideration; it is, though, a shame that Israel’s citizens know nothing about it.”

Netanyahu is carrying out precisely the instructions given to him by Yediot Aharonot in the past. He is undertaking extremely dangerous negotiations, which Israel’s Left has been vociferously advocating for years.

Even opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich has praise for Netanyahu’s “courage,” but not so Barnea.

To complete the picture, Yediot, on the same day (Monday) also ran an opinion article by Shimon Schiffer.

This one was titled “They bluffed us.” Schiffer, too, parrots the racist claim that “the worst principle to be violated is Netanyahu’s willingness to include prisoners who are citizens of Israel.

This is a fundamental violation of Israel’s sovereignty…

an announcement that the 1948 Arabs are part of the Palestinian people and that Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] is their leader.”

During the past few weeks, the Israel Hayom newspaper, which strongly supports Prime Minister Netanyahu, has been running daily articles delineating what that paper believe are the lies, betrayals and just generally poor reporting in Yediot. The two papers are bitter rivals, with Israel Hayom at present having the upper hand when it comes to circulation figures.

It would seem that Yediot’s treatment of Netanyahu justifies the severe criticism.

At the end of the day, though, the real loser from all of this is the Israeli public.

Yediot has again amply showed that it cannot be be fair, or intellectually honest.

The sad conclusion is that we the public cannot trust its journalists to provide us with facts or even well thought-out commentary.

Yediot’s reporters and columnists are no better than Netanyahu: all of them have caved in to outside pressure – the prime minister to American pressure and Yediot’s trio to the paper’s pressure to ridicule Netanyahu. One would hope that the Israeli public realizes this and treats Yediot just as it treated Haaretz – with disdain and reduced readership.

But the loss is ours; Israel desperately needs good leftwing newspapers.