September 21, 2014

MEDIA COMMENT: The ‘new’ Public Broadcasting Authority?

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:06 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The ‘new’ Public Broadcasting Authority?

by YISRAEL MEDAD,ELI POLLAK, 09/17/2014

Are we getting a new broadcasting authority or is it only an exterior change of clothes?

We have been critical of some of the aspects involved in the creation of the new Public Broadcasting Authority which is to replace the old Israel Broadcasting Authority. Nevertheless, we also are hoping that the new entity will improve, be more open to the public and its needs, fair-minded, balanced and pluralistic. Are these expectations too far-reaching? Thus far, there has not been much change in the programming. Keren Neubach, with her personal social agenda, is still there from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Kol Israel’s Reshet Bet. The size of the defense budget is one of her favorite subjects. She leaves no doubt as to her opinion that too much money flows into defense, at the expense of social services and needs. But a week ago Sunday, she went overboard.

The Iron Dome missile defense system irrefutably saved many lives during the past few years and especially during Operation Protective Edge. The system is the baby of a special unit, the Defense Directorate for Research and Development, known in Hebrew as MAFAT. It operates under the aegis of the Defense Ministry and the IDF. Its job is to prepare the IDF for future challenges. Developing the Iron Dome was no small feat and the cost ran into the billions of shekels. As anyone who has ever dealt with development of new equipment knows, the risks are great and the guarantee of success nonexistent.

In fact, at the start among a few alternatives two major strategies were considered.

One was the missile strategy that was adopted, and the other was a laser defense strategy, which was being developed in the US. One of the central figures that tried to persuade MAFAT that the laser system was the better option was Col. (res.) Yossi Langozky.

He was not successful, but the story does not end there.

Langozky, an engineer, claims that for years he has warned that the Gaza tunnels are a strategic threat, but no one listened to him, including the people in MAFAT. Relating to the defense budget, Neubach “interviewed” a fortnight ago General (res.) Maharan Prosenfer. As usual, she did most of the talking while the general mostly listened. This is how it went: Neubach: “I have to read to you in this context of research and development a citation from Yossi Langozky in an interview with Giddi Weitz of Haaretz. …In MAFAT he [Langozky] says, they work like Histadrut clerks. They come to work at 8:15 a.m., pick up two phones to the bank, have a meeting, at 10:30 coffee break, they work another hour or so, noon break, another three hours of work and at four or five they go home. This is the way to solve operational challenges? Is he correct? Is Langozky’s description accurate?” Prosenfer: “Look, I don’t know the officers and civilians who work in MAFAT, but… they don’t call the bank, I am not aware of those who contact the bank.”

Neubach: “So I will tell you about someone I know who has an 18-year-old daughter who serves in a software unit, an excellent computer student. She sat next to the officers every day, wrote the software while they checked on what was happening, what’s new with their stocks, then went out for a walk, arrived at 10 a.m., left at 4 p.m. – officers that you and I pay the salaries of, including their lucrative pensions.”

Neubach here did not limit herself to citing Langozky but added a fairly fanciful tale about, for all intents and purposes, an unhappy girl doing a job she did not like, and used it to defame the IDF, and in an anonymous fashion at that. The implications of her statement were clear: the IDF is wasting our money and we should not increase its funding.

Neubach was unprofessional. As an informed journalist, she should have known that Langozky had axes to grind with respect to MAFAT. Neubach knew beforehand that she was going to accuse MAFAT on the show, so why didn’t she do the professional thing and have a MAFAT representative, or someone familiar with all sides of the story on the show, so that the public would have a chance to hear something besides what Neubach wanted them to hear? At Israel’s Media Watch, we heard, listened – and acted.

On September 8, a letter was sent to Yona Wiesenthal, the present acting head of the broadcasting authority. We are still waiting for an answer. Is this the new authority or the old one? Communications Minister Gilad Erdan is rightly proud of having abolished the TV tax, saving Israel’s citizens hundreds of millions of shekels per year. But are we getting better radio? The previous chair of the IBA, Dr. Amir Gilat, ordered that Israel radio would limit itself to at most nine minutes of advertising per hour. We checked this and found that nowadays, the norm is 10 to 12 minutes. Here, too, we wrote a letter to Wiesenthal. This was passed on to the IBA’s complaints commissioner David Markowitz who justified the complaint and noted that for the past year he has been raising this issue, to no avail. Is this then the new authority or the old one?

The Gatekeepers is a one-sided, biased “documentary” produced by extreme leftist Dror Moreh. It was severely criticized when first shown in cinemas abroad. Last year, the IBA found it necessary to broadcast his series and the outcry was vociferous. As a result, the IBA had each program followed with a short discussion enabling the viewers to obtain some balance and perspective.

Now, the IBA is again airing the series, but without any discussion. We complained to Wiesenthal who again passed our letter on to Markowitz. This time, Markowitz did not justify us, claiming it is standard practice to rerun a series paid for by the IBA. He also claimed that the series was valuable and precisely the kind of production that the IBA should support. No, he did not point out that the IBA would be running a similar series with a different viewpoint in the near future, because such a thing does not exist, so is this the new or the old broadcasting authority? On Monday, Haaretz and other left-wing news purveyors were happy to inform us that finally the IBA’s satirical program The Jews are Coming would be aired on Channel 1 TV after Succot.

This is the program whose promo was a song by characters portraying Yigal Amir, Yona Avrushmi and Baruch Goldstein: “I always remain myself – a right-wing murderer.”

The former director of the IBA, Yonni Ben-Menachem, decided that it would not be aired. Now we will be getting this type of drivel for 11 weeks in a row. Balance? The Authority claims that yes, it would be followed by a satirical program produced by Latma.

Our sources tell us that this is only spin as a contract has not been signed with Latma. So, are we getting a new broadcasting authority or is it only an exterior change of clothes? Time will tell. We hope for the best but expect very little.

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September 11, 2014

MEDIA COMMENT: Is media regulation necessary?

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:16 pm by yisraelmedad

Media comment: Is media regulation necessary?

by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 09/10/2014

If regulation were to be reduced and quality stations were to appear, the public just might prefer quality over the garbage purveyed today, and then the websites, too, would no longer be a problem.

In many aspects Israel is an over-regulated country.

This is especially so when it comes to our electronic media. Due among other factors to the over-regulation, we have only three major TV channels. The law which created the Second Authority for TV and Radio (SATR) over 20 years ago and was later amended to allow also Channel 10 to broadcast made high demands of the concessionaires.

They were obligated to fund a news channel which operated independently of them. They had to pay large sums of money to the state for the concession. A sizable portion of their programming had to be locally-produced content. Of course, Channels 2 and 10 overcame the draconian content demands with relatively inexpensive reality junk shows. They also claimed that by transporting Israeli crews to Europe they were fulfilling the condition.

By any measure, our commercial TV stations cannot be regarded as high quality. It is fair to say that the legislation which was aimed at creating quality TV failed. There is almost no historical drama and certainly no national- value humor or satire programming. Only left-wingers can be funny. Even the news channels are nothing much to be proud of.

All this leads inexorably to the conclusion that regulation does not work. It would be better to have a free market, let anyone participate and let the best purveyor of culture, entertainment and news win. But is it so simple? There is no regulation of the Internet. Although channels 2 and 10 are highly regulated, their websites – Channel 2’s Mako and Channel 10’s Nana10 websites – are not.

The SATR law was formulated before websites became popular and so these remain unregulated. Any attempt at complaining about their content or unfair practices which reaches the complaints commissioner gets the true answer: “I have no power over this, the law’s jurisdiction does not include the websites.”

The Internet, as we all know, is highly competitive.

At least as far as channels 2 and 10 are concerned, the competition has led to anything but quality. Near-pornography and too much naked flesh is much more apt description of the results. That which is not allowed on the airwaves is the bread and butter of the Internet.

Consider some very typical examples: A short clip on Mako on September 7 showed a young man emptying a Jack Daniels whiskey bottle in less than 15 seconds. The headline was “the media and the experts decry the clip” – but why then did Mako show it at all? If one clicked on the information box appearing on the video screen, one was forwarded to another clip entitled “she undresses in the supermarket.”

Last week, it would seem that new lows were reached.

As reported on the Walla website, a condom manufacturing company opened a campaign by asking “Israelis” what their sexual preferences were. The “winners” were then photographed with a “beauty queen” realizing their desires. Mako described the campaign and publicized the pictures.

The item came to the attention of Tal Schneider and Vered Cohen-Barzilai, founders of the women journalists’ cell, which was actively engaged in assuring women’s rights in the media. Among other things, they demand an end to sexual harassment of women working in the media, and were the first to publicize that journalist Immanuel Rosen was suspected of harassment (the case against Rosen was closed by the attorney general due to lack of evidence).

Cohen-Barzilai is a social activist, feminist and pundit, and Schneider is a leading independent political blogger.

Both women can be identified as belonging to Israel’s political Left.

Schneider and Barzilai started a campaign against the item on Mako, accusing Avi Nir, the CEO of Keshet, and Drorit Vertheim, a representative of the owners of the network, of collusion with pornographers and the objectification of women. One may guess that what drove the item on Mako was money. After all, it was an advertisement for the condom company, which must have paid quite a fortune for the publicity. It took a day for Nir and cohorts to bow to the pressure and remove the item from Mako’s website.

There is a huge difference between websites such as Mako and Nana10 and the pornography industry. The latter are readily closed to viewers and parents can filter them out easily. But Mako and Nana10 are considered to be legitimate and open to the public. Youngsters as well as older people who enter the website for whatever reason are quickly exposed to, at the very least, soft pornographic content, alcohol and not a small measure of reporting on violent events.

Should we care? Isn’t it a free country? A commission charged with the task of defining anew the regulation of commercial media was appointed this year by Communications Minister Gilad Erdan. It is headed by Professor Amit Schechter of Ben-Gurion University. In an interim report, the commission recently recommended reducing the level of regulation of the TV industry. We at Israel’s Media Watch appeared before the commission and supported deregulation, but were we right to do so? A 2011 frequently-quoted research paper on the psychological effects of television programs asserts that many teenagers who have broken the law view TV programs that contain inappropriate content more often than their peers. The study defined inappropriate content as violent, self-abusive and erotic scenes. These depictions have negative psychological effects on teenagers and affect self-image, behavior, personality and social views. Choosing inappropriate figures as role models or imitating the behavior they display distorts youngsters.

Teenagers lose their grasp on reality, leading to negative emotions and actions.

Other studies, conducted as early as 1973, used measured skin conductance and blood volume pulse to establish that youth exposed to such programming undergo a process of desensitization which can, at times, lead to them themselves engaging in the acts they have watched. There is a proven danger on the TV screen.

To be fair, studies have found differences between television, video game and movie violence exposure based on the active nature of playing with intense engagement.

As for other improper content themes, such as sex, drug use and abuse of food, for example, the message is still a negative influence.

On the one hand, the natural inclination is to reduce the big brother effect and reduce regulation. On the other hand, if the websites of the TV stations indicate anything, it is that without regulation, the situation will become even worse than it is today.

There is, though, a third possibility. The Israeli public, because of over-regulation, is limited in its choice of TV stations and has no other recourse but these two websites.

If regulation were to be reduced and quality stations were to appear, the public just might prefer quality over the garbage purveyed today, and then the websites, too, would no longer be a problem.

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September 4, 2014

MEDIA COMMENT: The public complaints report

Posted in Media tagged , , at 11:02 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The public complaints report

by YISRAEL MEDAD, ELI POLLAK \ 03/09/2014 22:51 submit to reddit

Regev writes that the complaints raised such questions as whether reality shows should be limited, or does freedom of speech and expression protect them

David Regev, the Second Authority for TV and Radio (SATR ) public complaints commissioner, finally provided the public with his annual report for 2013. His Introduction is a wonderful example of what the duties and responsibilities are of a public complaints commissioner.

Under the headline, “What bothered the public,” Regev notes that the public was very concerned about various aspects of reality shows. They were unhappy with the coarse language, verbal and physical violence as well as racist slurs. Regev writes that the complaints raised such questions as whether reality shows should be limited, or does freedom of speech and expression protect them, and whether regulators are at all involved in these shows. He reports that the SATR decided to carefully review the reality shows, issued fines for extreme violations and demanded more openness with regard to the choice of the participants and their auditions.

A second topic in Regev’s report is the ongoing saga of marketing content within programs, in violation of the limitations placed on advertisement time. Regev claims that he believes this issue should be resolved by legislation. Commercial content would have to be designated as such letting the consumer know that the material is an advertisement, and the minutes used would be part of the advertising content allowed the concessionaire.

Regev is proud of the fact that “again this year the complaints commission continued a series of professional initiatives and increased in 2013 its cooperation with social organizations and consumers making the commission more accessible to the public at large.”

Regev, though, has quite a bit which he could improve. For example, in his whole long report, not one name of a media personality found to have violated media ethics is mentioned. A politician is named, but no journalists. Why? Do they have immunity? Regev habitually defends one of the most egregious violations of the ethics code, namely the mixing of news with views. A case we have mentioned in this column many times is Yonit Levi, the star anchor of the Channel 2 TV evening news program.

Levi makes a habit of mixing her views in with the items she reports on.

January 2013 was election time in Israel.

Levi does not like the extreme right wing in Israel. On January 15, 2013, she describes the “Strength for Israel” party, headed by former MKs Professor Arye Eldad and Dr. Michael Ben-Ari, as “the most extreme party in Israel.” The factuality of this assertion may be questioned, but it isn’t the facts that are the main issue here. Rather, the real problem was Regev’s answer to the complaint submitted by Avi Komash.

Regev replied that, “As for the question of giving her personal views, according to the definition of her job Yonit Levi is not a narrator and presenter of the news, but a journalist. Her journalistic work, under the auspices of the freedom of speech and creativity, grant Yonit Levi as well as other journalists the right to express their opinions, as in this case.”

Levi aired one item detailing the harsh situation a 92-year-old person found himself in when he refused to move out of his own home and accept alternate housing from a certain company. She included the company’s response – but ended the report with her personal judgment against the company. One of us (YM) noted this to Regev, but the latter’s answer was the same: this is part of her profession. Regev apparently does not understand that Levi is paid to be a journalist, not a judge.

He will go to great lengths to defend his fellow journalists. Levi is not small fry. She is, arguably, a model for other Israeli journalists.

Regev should have used his position to clarify that news and views should not be mixed and that by doing so Levi is not only giving her profession a bad name, she is working against the interests of her own job, which is to present reliable news to the public. Biased news is no news at all.

Another one of Regev’s bad habits is his tendency to defend SATR . During April 2013, a large supermarket chain ran an advertisement with the slogan, “To Be an Israeli.” The Keshet TV concessionaire simultaneously ran a series of reports in the program People under the headline – you guessed it, “To Be an Israeli.” In one of the People segments a store manager was asked to talk about what being an Israeli meant to her. In the background was a supermarket, with the logo plainly visible. It took Regev four months to answer the very reasoned complaint of Nili Ben-Gigi, the former executive director of IMW. The eventual answer? Defense of the concessionaire and full denial that there was any commercial content purposely included in the People segment.

Regev is proud of his increasing outreach to NGOs. This is rather interesting; he is so proud that he does not mention even once in his report the hard work of Israel’s Media Watch in pointing out the violations of the concessionaires and the Channel 2 news company when it comes to covert advertisement.

The SATR, on the other hand, did pick this up. On October 27, 2013, SATR ’s director general wrote that this practice is unacceptable as it is against the law, which clearly states that the concessionaire is not permitted to use the airwaves to further his own goals. Regev, who was repeatedly asked to intervene, did not.

Regev also did not mention his ongoing attempt to put us down by preventing the public from placing its complaints through our website. In 2012, IMW received 242 complaints regarding the SATR from the public. Regev answered 159 of them. In 2013, only 151 complaints were submitted and Regev answered only 50. Regev repeatedly stated that he will respond only to complainants and is not willing to accept anything sent to him by a third party. This practice breaks an explicit promise given by his predecessor in the Knesset, but Regev does not care and he has the backing of SATR’s legal adviser.

Is Regev really open to the public as he claims? Complaints sent through IMW get publicized, along with the names of the people involved as well as the sometimes ludicrous answers of Regev and his associates.

Instead of realizing that publicity and openness is at the heart of his job, Regev seems to be fearful of valid and embarrassing complaints directed at his journalist friends. His colleagues, the complaints commissioners of the IBA and the army radio station differ with him, and are open.

Perhaps Regev can be made really accountable to the public?

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