February 20, 2014

MEDIA COMMENT: The ‘intelligent’ media

Posted in Media at 2:34 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The ‘intelligent’ media


It is considered legitimate to criticize not only public behavior but, in Israel, also the private lives of those concerned.

Criticism is one of the most basic and prevalent themes in so many of society’s activities. Literary critics are hailed for their incisive comments, even though they can destroy careers. Art critics can increase multifold the prices of paintings.

Movie and theater critics can assist actors to achieve fame with Oscars and Emmys. In the academic world, publishing a research article requires peer review, which is ideally “based on objectivity, balance and fairness, leading to measured, constructive, critical discourse” as Jo Brewis, a professor at the University of Leicester, wrote last July in the prestigious Times Higher Education magazine.

Criticism is an essential part of the media. This includes criticizing politics and politicians, government bureaucracy, industrial tycoons, sports players and their managers and many other areas of life and accomplishment.

It is considered legitimate to criticize not only public behavior but, in Israel, also the private lives of those concerned, including their spouses, children and relatives, even if not directly involved. Their dress, their relatives and friends are often included, if only to make the story more sensational and dramatic.

Nevertheless, the act of criticizing the media itself draws not only personal ire from the reporters or columnists directly involved, but a virtual closing-up of the ranks of colleagues.

Together, they proclaim that such criticism is not legitimate, since they perceive that it strikes at the very core of the democratic state and its institutions.

A very perverse reaction to media criticism was given on January 29 by Ilan Lukatz, culture correspondent for Channel 2 television.

As part of a discussion on the case of teacher Adam Verte (the extreme left-wing teacher) and his pupil Sapir Sabah (who rebelled against his brainwashing), he was asked on his Facebook page “how many right-wingers are there at your station?” His answer was “I won’t provide you with a list of names, obviously, but there are rightists.

There are, for sure, more leftists, but that’s because there’s a correlation between IQ and leftism and senior media people usually [possess] above-average [intelligence].”

After being roundly criticized by many, he attempted to backtrack, noting that there are right-wing geniuses such as the late Professor Yuval Neeman, but he remained true to his thesis claiming that the statistical evidence is that smart people tend to belong to the political Left. He was reprimanded by TV Channel 2’s management, but the evidence of his imperious, self-proclaimed superiority, and its reflection on his colleagues, cannot be ignored. This is elitism at work. Oded Ben- Ami, the former army spokesman turned TV moderator, concurred with Lukatz. Referring to the media he said: “We are three percent [of the people] but we are the high quality.”

The Haaretz caricaturist Amos Biderman displayed his own form of “intelligence.” He sketched the aforementioned high schooler Sapir Sabah for his paper on Tuesday. Sabah had entered her school’s teachers’ room to take a picture of those gathered to express support for her teacher Verte. Pushed out, she made headlines, again.

Biderman portrayed her with a sub-machine gun, spraying the building and humans with bullets. Intelligent? imaginative? creative? Is not media criticism necessary? Last Sunday evening, at Beit Sokolov, the headquarters of the Israeli Journalists Association, three media criticism prizes were awarded.

They were sponsored by Kenneth and Nira Abramowitz and organized by Israel’s Media Watch. On the podium were Dr. Meir Rosenne, Dr. Dalia Zelikovich, General (Res.) Oren Shachor, poet Erez Biton and Ambassador Zalman Shoval. The ceremony was moderated by one of us (Professor Eli Pollak).

Two of the awardees, Guy Bechor and Dror Eydar, possess doctorates. The intelligence quotient represented was, in our humble estimation, no less than that of the friends of Ilan Lukatz. In contrast though, the cultural breadth and pluralism to be found at this ceremony was much more than the standard fare provided by our media.

The keynote address was given by Communication Minister Gilad Erdan. He bemoaned the inability of the public to receive comprehensive, multi-faceted information. In his words: “in Israel, this reality does not come about.”

“We know well,” he continued, “that many sections of Israel’s society suffer exclusion within the media as well as insufficient coverage, stereotyping, biased reporting, and I intend to provide a response to the lack of media balance.” He also proclaimed: “We will go for a more relevant broadcasting… that will reflect all parts of Israel’s society.”

The winner of the prize for Quality Economic Journalism, Elia Tsipori, was introduced by a previous director-general of the Treasury, Shmuel Slavin, as a critical writer with no favoritism or fear of pressure.

Tsipori himself did the unthinkable, declaring that “I have learned that journalists are not holy nor messiahs and we even, at times, exaggerate and err.” Lukatz could learn something here. In his words of thanks, Guy Bechor, who shared this year’s Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism, described our reality as being “imagined,” continuing, “and the imagined becomes the reality and all this through the pretext of it being media. In Israel’s mainstream media the bad is over-emphasized whereas the good is underplayed.”

Bechor accused large sections of our media of engaging in spreading fear and manipulating the mindset of the public. The object of this campaign, he noted, is not to inform people but rather to control them. His examples included the link between Iran’s nuclear development and the need for a diplomatic arrangement; the supposed demographic threat from Arabs; that the boycott campaign is increasing; and that Israel is the main problem in the region.

He further charged that Israel’s media, in part, is creating and cooking up many of these supposed threats. They do this not only in what they report but in what they do not include in the news.

“In the Israeli media,” he exclaimed, “the bad is good, and the good is bad. The bad is always emphasized while the good is hidden or suppressed.” And he concluded with his vision of “the best pluralism than can possibly be… a deep media that inspires the media consumer, and develops his knowledge.”

Dror Eydar, who shared the prize with Bechor, revealed that he never had intended to become a media figure, preferring music composition and writing books. But, as he explained, “ever since I adopted a political stance, I have suffered from being silenced…and despite the fact that the parties I voted for received a majority of the votes of the public, there was no commensurate expression for this in the media. We are not concerned with the press but are in the midst of a cultural war.”

Perhaps in sharp contrast to the cheap and self-denigrating Biderman of Haaretz, the ceremony was accompanied by cartoonist Shai Charka, of the Makor Rishon newspaper. His theme was dogs. After all, the media considers itself the watchdog of democracy. His cartoons of dogs were varied. There was the poodle, there was the dog leading the human and the human being led by the dog. The satire was sharp but in good taste.

Indeed, the ceremony exemplified the high quality and depth of some of the outstanding personalities within our media.


February 13, 2014

MEDIA COMMENT: We still need awards

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 11:34 am by yisraelmedad

Media comment: We still need awards

The Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism, graciously sponsored by Kenneth and Nira Abramowitz and initiated by Israel’s Media Watch, will be awarded this coming Sunday.

The Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism, graciously sponsored by Kenneth and Nira Abramowitz and initiated by Israel’s Media Watch, will be awarded this coming Sunday (February 16) to Dr. Dror Eydar and Dr. Guy Bechor, with the Israeli Prize for Quality Economic Journalism going to Elia Tsipori, deputy chief editor since 2006 of the Globes daily newspaper.

By chance, the same week as these prizes are awarded, two members of the Ethics Committee of the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s Public Council will resign. Dr. Motti Neiger and Prof. Akiba Cohen exited the committee in protest against the appointment of Prof. Asa Kasher as its new chairman.

Neiger is head of the Netanya College Communications School and Cohen, a professor emeritus, taught at Tel Aviv University and is currently on the staff of the Emek Yizrael Academic College. They were upset that former judge Bilha Cahana is no longer the committee’s chairman.

We already related to a major alteration in the IBA’s ethics code in our October 23, 2013 column; Cahana sought to revamp the old guidelines, known as the Nakdi document, which declared that the IBA does not have “a voice of its own.”

Instead, she decreed, together with Neiger and Cohen, that journalists are permitted to make personal comments on news programs and provide the public with their sagacious insight. They considered the adage that views and news don’t mix to be outdated.

Cahane’s committee noted that it “was impressed by the IBA’s journalists’ understanding of their job as the watchdog of democracy, therefore it is obligatory to give them the necessary tools to be critical and express their opinions under certain conditions.”

The IBA plenum ratified this fundamental change in a vote of eight to two; less than a third of the members actually voted. However, there were misgivings among the professional management of the IBA, as the new guidelines would replace the IBA’s doctrine of objectivity with “the rhetoric of objectivity.”

Ethicist Professor Asa Kasher shares these concerns. Kasher holds the Laura Schwarz-Kipp Chair in Professional Ethics and Philosophy of Practice at Tel Aviv University, received the 2000 Israel Prize for Philosophy and, among his many positions, is the vice chairman of the steering committee of the Ethics Center of Jerusalem. He wrote, “I never accepted the cliché that the press is ‘democracy’s watchdog’ and I have no basis to assume that the media is managed by persons who know best what is democracy, what should happen in a democracy and how to guard it…. Many journalists today are known for their shallowness, their lack of grasp of the matters on which they report and among other things, their kowtowing to their sources.”

His view, according to Cohen and Neiger, is a “targeted elimination” of the committee’s work.

We made no secret that in our view, it was the committee’s decision to alter the code that actually was an elimination of one of the basic assurances of objectivity and professional reporting. If anything, Cahana’s committee was instituting a very undemocratic procedure, elevating journalists to a position of undeserved supremacy in managing the public discourse.

Just like any other public sector, the media needs criticism, and more so when state-sponsored broadcasting in involved. This is the fundamental reasoning underlying the Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism. It is in the public interest to support and encourage those in the media who uphold ethical and professional standards and do not serve narrow interests – political, economic and personal – but rather the public and the media itself.

Media ethics have improved considerably this past year at the army radio station. It is the only major media purveyor that does not hesitate to admit mistakes. But its attitude just accentuates the lack of improvement in media ethics elsewhere.

Major issues are not afforded the correct balance and unfair and biased interventions are too often the norm, as repeatedly discussed in this column.

While today’s media is not as one-sided as it once was – the print media having changed radically – nevertheless, the electronic and broadcasting media cannot be relied upon. The public microphone is usurped to become a personal one in too many instances.

Employing undemocratic means through media dominance will only deepen the rifts among us.

We all should raise our voices to prevent this.

THE PRIZE winners this year exemplify that it is possible to be professional, ethical and considerate of media consumers.

Dror Eydar’s writing reflects a “thinking outside the box” style.

His columns are uncompromising in their treatment of government, economics, politics and the media as well. As an independent actor, he is outside the branja, the clique of Israel’s Left-liberal media celebrities.

He has attacked influential elements in Israel for their post-Zionist positions.

Eydar is not the cultural icon of the mainstream media he deserves to be. He began to publish in the mid-nineties. He edited Nativ, the now defunct bi-monthly and published columns in the Makor Rishon and Haaretz newspapers. He finally found his journalistic home at the Israel Hayom newspaper, for which has been writing from its very inception.

Bechor has frequently noted the impact of negative journalism on Israel. With careful, well thoughtout and courageous writing, Bechor has strongly criticized media manipulation, the uniform, unimaginative thinking which dominates it, and its excessive power. He has consistently insisted that the public has a right to receive objective, democratic and unbiased reporting and analysis.

An orientalist, jurist and historian in academic life, he was the first Arab affairs reporter at the IDF Army Radio station (from 1980 to 1984). He was one of the founders of the (now defunct) daily newspaper Hadashot, heading its Middle East desk between the years 1984 and 1991. He then held the same position at the Ha’aretz newspaper, until 1998. He is a lecturer and commentator on Middle East affairs in the media worldwide and has published seven books in Hebrew, English and Arabic.

This is also the eighth year that an additional award is given for economic journalism. The Israeli Prize for Quality Economic Journalism will be presented to Elia Tsipori, deputy chief editor since 2006 of the Globes daily newspaper. Tsipori joined Globes when he was 21 and from 1994 until 2006 was the editor of the paper’s finance section.

Tsipori’s writing is critical, impartial and free of political and business pressures. He separates his private opinion and his professional interpretation. He knows how to admit when his criticism was mistaken – a rare trait on the Israeli media scene. His substantive writing has significantly impacted the economy of Israel.

Arguably the most notable of his accomplishments is the insistent reporting with which he forced the various Israeli pension funds to reduce their management fees from over two percent to less than 1%; a saving of at least NIS 1 billion per year for Israeli citizens. Rewarding him with the prize is one way of publicly thanking a person whose efforts have rewarded practically all working Israelis.

We are proud that there are journalists such as these among us and that we can honor them.

February 7, 2014

דיוקן של אומץ

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:52 pm by yisraelmedad

דיוקן של אומץ.

February 6, 2014

MEDIA COMMENT: Profiles in courage

Posted in Media at 2:24 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Profiles in courage


Our media has made its choice, and not only when it comes to the negotiations between Israel and the United States.

US President John F. Kennedy’s 1957 book Profiles in Courage enumerated three “terrible pressures which discourage acts of political courage,” and that “drive a [politician] to abandon or subdue his conscience.” The first is criticism for lack of forthright principles. A second stems from the desire to be reelected, which “exercises a strong brake on independent courage.”

The third “is the pressure of his constituency, the interest groups, the organized letter writers, the economic blocs and even the average voter.” In the book, Kennedy dealt with eight politicians who felt that what they were doing was right and paid a steep political price for their actions.

There are pundits in Israel’s media who studied Kennedy’s book and are calling upon Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to be “courageous.” They ask him to disassociate from his ideological roots, from his promises to his constituency, and do what is “right”: accept the dictates of the US government. This “courage” means dividing Jerusalem and uprooting hundreds of thousands of citizens from their homes. The pinnacle of courage is to take a huge risk for the sake of “peace.”

There are other definitions of courage, however, which are somehow missing in our media’s discourse. Courage also means to be fearless. For example, courage might mean not fearing the boycott threats of Secretary of State John Kerry and other European countries. It might mean not fearing international pressure aimed at preventing imposition of Israeli law in the disputed territories.

Courage could also mean the willingness to face the challenge of a large Arab minority within the State of Israel.

Our media has made its choice, and not only when it comes to the negotiations between Israel and the United States. Its misunderstanding of the word can be measured by its attitude to people who actually are fearless, and willing to face the consequences of adhering to their beliefs even in the face of media pressure.

A fitting example is that of Sapir Sabah, a 17-year old student in the ORT high school in Tivon. Sabah complained in a letter to Education Minister Rabbi Shai Piron about her teacher, Adam Werte. In her words: “During most of the lessons I face difficulties. Adam makes sure to emphasize his political opinions.

He explains that he is an extreme left-winger, that from his point of view our state is not at all the state of the Jews but that of the Palestinians and that we the Jews have no business being here. He stresses that the IDF acts more cruelly and violently than all other armies. He explains that the IDF is immoral and that he is ashamed of the army in our state.” She further accused him of publicly ridiculing her.

Sabah is a fighter, and brave. She complained to the school directors, but this did not help.

Consider the pressure that this young woman faced. She has to pass matriculation exams, is at the mercy of her teachers and yet dares to voice her opinion and open criticism.

Our media treated her despicably. Ben Caspit and Hagai Golan “interviewed” her on the 103 FM radio station. No, it was not an interview but rather a lesson, similar to those Sabah had to hear from Werte. Caspit did not let her express her opinions but tried to instill in her his perverted values. In his words: “he [Werte] is in distress, you are violent!” It was so bad that Sabah did the unthinkable in the eyes of Caspit, and discontinued the interview.

Caspit was not alone. On January 20, Oded Ben-Ami interviewed her on his 6 p.m. Channel 2 TV program alongside a friend of Werte, Ram Cohen, the principal of the Alterman High School in Tel Aviv. At that time, it still seemed that Werte would be fired. So Ben-Ami asked: “You do not retract what you wrote since your letter is the cause for Werte’s dismissal?” Ending his interview with Sabah and as a preamble to his congenial interview with Cohen, he quotes from a letter written by Sabah’s fellow students, who claimed that the atmosphere in Werte’s lessons was congenial, giving the immediate impression that Sabah was way out on a limb. He did not have the courtesy to let her respond to this accusation, even though she stayed on air.

In his amicable discussion with Cohen, Ben- Ami makes it clear that the “ease” with which Werte was to be dismissed was just not right.

At the end he again turns to Sabah and asks: “After you listened to Cohen, don’t you think that you went too far?” Sabah, with poise, responded that no, she didn’t, and also explained how she was encouraged by many for her actions.

As of the writing of this article we are informed that Sabah is not accepting the decision of ORT to let Werte continue to teach teenagers how to hate the army. She is appealing it.

It doesn’t have to be this way. A different kind of interview took place on the same morning on the Orly and Guy program on Channel 10. The moderators, Orly Vilnai and Guy Meroz, took pains to make Sabah feel comfortable, asked her questions – but let her answer. Their other guest was Professor Nimrod Aloni, head of the Institute for Advanced Education at the Kibbutz College, or Seminar Hakibbutzim, and an outspoken left-winger.

The discussion that ensued was civilized and exemplified by their first question to him: “Had a teacher exhorted his students that we must invade area A [in the West Bank] or Gaza, the three of us would have raised an outcry – ‘how can a teacher talk this way’?” Ben-Ami could learn something from Orly and Guy and others who did a decent job of interviewing Sabah.

The absurdity of the media response to Sabah’s challenge was exemplified, ironically, by the IDF radio station itself. Thursday of last week, Yaron Vilensky on the 5 p.m. news magazine interviewed Werte’s lawyer, Michael Sefard, and then Sabah. Sefard is an experienced attorney. One might have thought that therefore he would be presented with tough questions. His interview lasted four minutes, and he was asked four bland questions by Vilensky: What was in the hearing of Werte? What were your arguments against his dismissal? It is said that a teacher cannot proclaim in a school that the IDF is an immoral army? Did you get an impression from the panel at the hearing what they would decide? In contrast, the 17-year old Sabah was grilled.

Her “interview” lasted just over three minutes, during which she was asked eight questions, some of them lengthy. Vilensky was not very interested in her answers; his purpose, it would seem, was to discredit her – a young woman who will be joining the army within a year.

Does the army encourage, through its sponsorship of Galatz Radio, people like Werte? Our “profiles in courage” will be continued, there are many more people who have demonstrated courageous behavior, facing a biased, unfair and even vicious media, out to make sure that the politically incorrect opinion in their eyes is suppressed. “Courage” is a foreign word to these people.