November 28, 2013

MEDIA COMMENT: Leader, caretaker or failure?

Posted in Media at 10:18 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Leader, caretaker or failure?

There are leaders and caretakers. A leader identifies needs and moves ahead to provide, while the caretaker takes good care of his responsibilities.

Real leaders are few and far between.

There are leaders and caretakers. A leader identifies needs in advance and moves ahead to provide them, irrespective of the volume of the background noise of pundits, self-designated experts and know-it-alls. The caretaker seeks to make sure that he takes good care of his responsibilities. They kowtow to their superiors, pay attention to their underlings and bend with any breeze that blows in their direction. Their main goal is to be perceived as doing their job well. The failure may be a leader who did not know how to implement grand ideas but all too often can also be the miserable caretaker, who has little idea about management, who is happy to make do with a hefty salary and a prestigious job but fails even the challenge of being a successful caretaker.

Associate Professor Dr. Ilan Avisar was the chair of the Department of Film and Television at the Faculty of the Arts at Tel Aviv University from 2002-2005. For eight years (1996- 2004) he was a member of the Israeli Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting. For the past nine years he has also been a member of the Israel Film Council. His credentials are impeccable and, in contrast to many others on the humanities faculty of Tel Aviv University, he identifies publicly as a Zionist. It is not surprising that Moshe Kahlon, as then minister responsible for the Second Authority of TV and Radio (SATR ), appointed him as chair of the SATR almost four years ago. Avisar’s term will end this January, and Communications Minister Gilad Erdan is already in the process of appointing a new council, and so it is only appropriate to try to provide an assessment of Avisar’s performance during these past four years.

The Walla website reported a week ago that Culture Minister Limor Livnat expressed scathing criticism of the SATR : “The second authority mandated to be the gatekeeper for our children and Israel’s culture is derelict in its duty. I sometimes pinch myself, saying that this cannot be. It is impossible to open the TV ; everything has turned into ‘reality.’” Livnat, who 15 years ago was Israel’s communications minister responsible among others for the SATR and whose efforts led to the opening of Channel 10 TV , is not a voice in the wilderness. At the end of 2012, in the aftermath of the Knesset’s election gifts of hundreds of millions of shekels to channels 10 and 2, Avisar appointed the Shaham Committee, named after its chairman Ya’akov Shaham, head of the SATR TV oversight committee.

The official reason for this committee’s appointment was “a thorough review of the media, especially in view of the latest legislation of the Knesset.”

Presumably this committee, whose recommendations were, as announced by the SATR , to be binding and given within 120 days, was supposed to provide recommendations that would lead to change in the low level of programming while, at the same time, safeguarding the economic needs of the TV concessionaires.

The latest twist is that the SATR has extended the mandate of the committee until the end of January, by which time the mandate of the present SATR board will have expired! Israel’s film producers have cried foul against the Shaham Committee, claiming that it would release channels 2 and 10 from the need to outsource their products. At the same time, the channels are fearful that the committee will restrict their ability to provide covert advertising. We would add that the Shaham Committee was not needed. Many members of the SATR council do not identify with it either and would prefer it to cease existing.

Its function was to allow Avisar to claim that he is acting, when in reality he was procrastinating.

The SATR ’s rules prohibit covert advertising. A committee chaired by Prof. Asa Kasher presented its recommendations on this issue already in 2006, but they were ignored.

SATR rules also do not allow the concessionaires to use news air time to present trailers of their upcoming programming. At IMW we have repeatedly noted this theft of air time, but it has taken Avisar and the SATR three years before they even invited the concessionaires for a “chat” about their illegal practices.

In fact, until now nothing has been done. In Hebrew slang, there is an expression for this kind of management. It is called “as if” – as if something were actually being done.

The TV show Ossim Shinui (Creating a Change) is another example of mismanagement.

Four months ago, we informed Avisar that the producers of this program are illegally offering NGOs to appear on the program, provided that they pay a sum of NIS 50,000. Avisar did nothing until this past week when the DeMarker website had a professional testify that he had to pay for appearing on the program.

The show has now been canceled. No, Avisar did not call the police in for an investigation.

Fear of the press seems to be the driving force in Avisar’s SATR administration, not the real question of whether the law has to be upheld.

Up until this day, the SATR has not kept its commitment to enforce gender equality at the Kol Barama radio station. Women are not allowed to present programs, and their part in the broadcasts is minor at best. From day one, Avisar tried to defend the station instead of carrying out his mandate, which is to enforce the law.

The foul language of some of the hosts, especially on FM 103, is roundly criticized by all. A year ago, Avisar promised that he would work to issue codes of conduct that would define this unethical conduct and eliminate it. As usual, nothing has yet been done, and people like Natan Zehavi continue to defile our airwaves.

In retrospect, we can certainly say that the present SATR council and its chair, Avisar, did not play a leadership role. The frequency of reality shows increased, the use of news programming to advertise shows reached unprecedented heights, and covert advertising became the norm. Some council members, such as Dr. Dalia Zelikovitch, tried from within to create change, but Avisar would not allow it. Others, such as Dr. Aliza Lavie, escaped to become Knesset members. The bottom line is that not a single new radio station has been added to Israel’s spectrum (Galei Yisrael was approved in principle before Avisar’s chairmanship).

Digital radio broadcasting is still far away in the future, awaiting real leadership. The poor quality of the content on channels 2 and 10 is acknowledged by all. Here too, if anything, the quality has worsened and the number of broadcasters has not changed. Avisar’s council can, in the best of cases, be considered a caretaker, as it has for four years supplied us with more of the same. The council failed miserably in providing the Israeli public what it deserves – pluralistic quality broadcasting on TV and over the radio. One can only hope that Erdan will have the wisdom and foresight to appoint a real leader.



November 21, 2013

MEDIA COMMENT: The media’s double double standard

Posted in Media at 1:18 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The media’s double double standard


It’s never too late to apologize and to make amends. That is true even when a media outlet makes a mistake. Or rather, it should be.

This past week, The Harrisburg Patriot News, 150 years after the fact, published an apology for an article that appeared in its pages on November 24, 1863. It apologized for what it acknowledges now was “a judgment so flawed, so tainted by hubris, so lacking in the perspective history would bring, that it cannot remain unaddressed in our archives.”

The newspaper was referring to its reaction five days after president Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

The apology read in part: “Our predecessors…called President Lincoln’s words ‘silly remarks,’ deserving ‘a veil of oblivion,’ apparently believing it an indifferent and altogether ordinary message, unremarkable in eloquence and uninspiring in its brevity.”

Yes, media people do make errors. There are factual errors, poor judgment and personal prejudice. There are errors of omission and commission. If journalists want us to relate to them as professionals, they should act like professionals.

Carl S. Stepp became a journalist in 1963 and went on to be a national and then senior editor for various newspapers and news organizations in more than 30 US states. He decided to share some insights he gleaned from 50 years in the media business.

A sample is repeated here for the benefit of our readers, and might just be also transmitted to your favorite unreliable and unethical journalists.

Consider the following:

1. Reliable information is a primal human need, and providing it is a noble service.

2. Do not shortchange organizing and revising.

3. Nothing is more important than accuracy.

4. There is always something you don’t know.

And our favorite: 5. Journalists who dish it out should do a better job of taking it.

We can only presume that even Israeli journalists are aware of these truths. But if so, this implies that infractions and violations of media ethics are more serious than it might appear.

Media consumers are being cheated and even betrayed. The product they are being provided with is faulty and unreliable.

Bob Dylan, in his “I’m troubled and I don’t know why” song, gave voice to the confusion caused by unethical media: “What did the television squall? / Well, it roared an’ it boomed / An’ it bounced around the room, / An’ it never said nothin’ at all.”

Here are some examples of our media’s problematic behavior: On TV Channel 2’s program on consumer affairs on October 23, Liad Modrik finished off a segment devoted to an Israeli-made safety table for schools intended to provide protection during earthquakes by noting, “but they’re so expensive.”

One of us complained that without factoring in elements such as insurance payments, physical and psychological treatment expenses, loss of work days, etc., her personal opinion was uncalled for, prejudiced and not permitted on air. The ombudsman, David Regev, as is his habit, passed the buck and transmitted the complaint to Modrik and her superiors without taking a position himself.

On November 5, Channel 10’s Rafi Reshef aired a news item on the entrapment of Internet pedophiles. The language, while not adult, was quite descriptive. The use of explicit photographs, although fuzzed out, was enough, in our judgment, to cause a child to become inquisitive and get interested. The show was aired just before 5:30 p.m., much earlier than permitted by law. In this instance, even Ombudsman Regev found the complaint justified and admitted to an “uneasy feeling” as he watched the photographs being played over and over.

On the bright side, Haaretz’s Chaim Levinson informed the public that the basketball which appeared in a photograph snapped in the house near Sinjil that was torched last week, allegedly a “price-tag” action, was a prop used for effect, to gain sympathy. He testified that an Arab TV crew took the ball from outside and placed it strategically in the room offering the best photographic angle.

Unfortunately, his revelation was solely to his Facebook friends.

Asked about the non-publication in his paper, Levinson replied, “you are obsessively involved in esoteric media issues which lack all substance, unlike me.”

His “real” media consumers were thus kept in the dark.

This past week has seen an ever-increasing level of confrontation with the United States (and The New York Times editorial board along with Thomas Friedman) revolving around the weighty issue of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. But as if following the script of an inane, lowbrow reality show, the Israeli media are in a frenzy over a “very famous singer,” and his social media-reported dalliances with underage teenage girls.

This dumbing down of the news is dangerous.

The justice department decided this week not to prosecute Emmanuel Rosen and Guy Sharon, media stars pilloried in the press for suspicion of sexual misconduct. The initial brouhaha over these allegations was all but a military field court, all of course in the name of the media’s responsibility to the public. In fact, the media was a partner to the near lynching of these men.

On November 14, Alastair Campbell presented a public lecture on “How journalism can rebuild its reputation” and the nexus of journalism and democracy at Cambridge University. He expressed his frustration over the fact that “great [investigative] journalism requires time… today’s newspapers lack patience and investment.” He further asserted that the way “the press were defending their freedoms from the modest changes proposed by [the] Leveson [Report]… after revelations which disgusted the public… [was] absurd self-serving bilge that would not have survived a moment’s analysis had any other industry put something like it forward.”

He noted, as we have done, that while the press campaigns for regulation of all sorts of institutions, “only newspapers, it seems, despite trust ratings lower than [all other institutions]… consider [themselves] exempt, and allowed to design their own regulation, despite so much evidence of their failure and untrustworthiness to do so.”

What can be particularly infuriating in trying to apply rules and regulations to the media is the escape method the media applies to itself.

As Campbell pointed out above, the media excels at applying a double double standard.

For example, the political and economic connections of media owners, senior editors and columnists are not for public consumption, nor are the deviant shenanigans in their personal lives. At the same time there has been a push for political correctness as a replacement for traditional media values.

The new buzzwords are inclusiveness of race, gender, ethnicity and cultural “outsiders.”

Groups very much on the “inside” find themselves marginalized by this new corrective prejudice. In Israel, haredim, Russian and Ethiopian immigrants, as well as the national- religious camp, all of whom are very much central to coalition politics, are far from being “accepted,” while feminist, homosexual/lesbian, pro-Palestinian and anti-rabbinic groups are over-exposed. Fringe minorities supersede Israel’s mainstream, demoting and coloring the public discourse. Media ethics are not to be ignored and the media should be held responsible for their less-than-adequate standards.


November 6, 2013

MEDIA COMMENT: Media self-protection

Posted in Media at 11:46 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Media self-protection


The media demands that there be no interference in its professional work.

Self-protection and survival are natural instincts. Faced with danger, the red panda usually flees and a rhinoceros will charge. Bureaucracies obfuscate.

A 1944 US Office of Strategic Services manual on sabotage suggested the following gems on how to interfere with organizational operations: never permit shortcuts, refer all matters to committees and bring up irrelevant issues.

All of these strategies and more are staples of the media business.

One outstanding strategy used to deflect criticism of the media coming from NGOs such as Israel’s Media Watch who monitor it daily, keep audio and visual records and produce research reports, is that this activity is done by “outsiders.”

This allows the media to portray media critics as ignorant or worse, antagonists whose sole purpose is to oppose democracy and undermine the democratic task and role the media plays in our society.

The media demands that there be no interference in its professional work. They are the Fourth Estate, separate and above the political fray and no one has the right to check and balance their activities.

Branding opponents is one of the more benign methods. The media does not hesitate to use the democratic process for its own goals.

It demands protection from politicians in the form of specialized laws such as protecting journalists from having to reveal their sources.

At the same time, though, the media seeks to control those who could potentially cause it damage.

One well-known ploy is the threat to withhold air/screen time. A politician or any other public figure will early on in their career realize that exerting pressure on the media will lead to the stifling of their connection with the electorate.

The media uses its power to distort and even mute the figure’s public agenda. The public will not be allowed to become intimate with her or his positions and activities.

If this does not work, the next step is to turn the media critic into an object of ridicule. The media will depict itself as a heroic crusader and those with criticism as villains.

Dr Jacinta Maweu from the University of Nairobi, Kenya, is a lecturer in media studies.

In an August 2013 article, he dealt with the effect of increasing commercialism on what he defines as media benchmarks: professionalism, truth, accuracy, reliability, impartiality, respect for humanity and the promotion of public interest.

He pointed out that “the success of any democracy depends upon the combined efforts of professional journalists, concerned citizens and responsible media institutions that can balance between public and commercial interest. And without such, citizens only fool themselves when they claim they are informed and self-governing.”

Sadly, too often, academia in Israel, instead of being the leaders they should be in pointing out the emperor has no clothes, do the exact opposite. More often than not, Israeli academics prefer to remain naked, becoming over-friendly with the media.

This week, the University of Haifa’s Department of Communication, together with Sonara and the Nazereth Academic Institute, are holding a conference entitled “Religion, Peace and Media Coverage.”

Sonara is an Arab news website. Reviewing it, we note that it broadcasts Valley of the Wolves, an anti-Israel, and indeed, an anti-Semitic Turkish television production.

Perhaps the need for funding caused the organizers at Haifa U. to overlook this inconvenient element.

The schedule provides insight into how the media will violate the fundamental professional demands of balance and pluralism.

Tomorrow, Friday, Dr. Hannah Kehat of Kolech will be the sole presenter at the session devoted to “The New Field of Power in the Struggle of Religious Feminists.”

We know of exciting developments in feminism within the national religious camp which deviate from the radical concepts of Dr. Kehath. Why are they not part of this conference? Are the organizers seeking to marginalize elements in Israel’s society who do not toe the reformist liberal media line? Later that morning, the participants in a discussion of “Peace in the Media” are Prof. Akiba Cohen, Ilil Shahar of Galatz, Hussein Sweti, a Sonara journalist, Peace Now’s Yariv Oppenheimer and Dr. Ghazi Abu-Raya, spokesperson for Sakhnin and the director of the far-left Givat Haviva Center branch there.

Cohen is arguably the force behind the latest ethics changes in the IBA which allow journalists to use the public airwaves to promote their own agendas.

Shahar was exposed by IMW as accepting a paid invitation from the Geneva Initiative groups to fly to Europe and cover their activities. The lack of balance in the panel is all too evident.

The other panels are not much better. Today, Thursday, the main panel will have Dr.

Michele Rosenfeld of Haifa U., Yair Sheleg of Makor Rishon and the Israel Democracy Institute, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elias Chacour, the Reform Movement’s Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Sharia Judge Iyad Zahalka and Sheikh Nemer Nemer.

Chacour, a Melkite from Biram, is engaged in “reconciliation work.” In his book We Belong to the Land he writes: “We as Palestinians had not been responsible for the suffering of the Jews in Europe, yet we were the ones who were chased out of our land and made to suffer so the world could soothe its conscience and pretend to repair the evil done against the Jews.”

Kippa-wearing Sheleg is ideologically left-of-center in his political outlook and close to Kehat in his religious views. Kariv defines himself as a progressive.

Was the editor of Besheva, Emmanuel Shiloh, also a kippa-wearing Jew, asked to participate? The answer is no, for we asked him.

There are several haredi newspapers, radio stations and news websites. Do they have nothing to contribute to the topic? There are National Religious rabbis who appear regularly in the mainstream media interview shows. Not one of them could be persuaded to attend? Was Dr. Yoel Cohen of Ariel University, an expert and author of books and articles on the subject, invited? In answer to our questioning, he confirmed that he was not.

This “academic” conference is a classic example of the friends of the media restricting the “public space” of possible critics while rewarding those who do attend with recognition and perhaps a report in the media on their participation.

It highlights the media’s success in protecting itself from criticism and opposing points of view. It also reveals the unethical actions certain elements in society are willing to engage in to assure that their political and cultural bias is entrenched.

The German-Jewish satirist Karl Kraus famously quipped, “No ideas and the ability to express them – that’s a journalist.”

Let us not be misunderstood: a free media is a sine qua non for a free, democratic and informed society. But if the media and its academic supporters insist on managing the news, distancing outsiders while enlisting insiders as allies, they only invite increased mistrust from the public.

There are many reasons why the media must be monitored and studied. One good explanation is this excerpt from Franz Kafka’s short story, “At Night”: “Why are you watching? Someone must watch, it is said. Someone must be there.”