October 30, 2014

MEDIA COMMENT: The legacy of Communications Minister Erdan

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:25 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The legacy of Communications Minister Erdan


Upon becoming minister, Erdan identified a number of actions which could affect large parts of the population.

Likud MK Gilad Erdan has served as communications minister for the past year and a half. His predecessor, former Likud MK Moshe Kahlon, had a huge impact on the Israeli public during his four-year tenure.

Kahlon’s insistence that cell phone usage was outrageously expensive and needed to be reduced, his forceful leadership and ability to withstand huge political and economical pressure made its mark: as we all know, our cell phone bills are no longer outrageous.

Erdan’s entry into the ministry presented him with a challenge and an opportunity.

The challenge was to fill the void left by Kahlon; it is not every day a minister can even consider a strategy which would reduce the taxpayers’ burden by billions of shekels.

The opportunity was that Kahlon had succeeded in greatly increasing the ministry’s influence on our daily lives.

As minister, Kahlon mostly addressed communications per se, and even with so restricted a focus had only partial success.

For example, we still pay very high phone rates when we go abroad. Erdan realized this and initiated a number of steps to reduce the burden. Simply by announcing this past August that his ministry would consider regulatory measures which would force the cell phone operators to significantly reduce the expense has created positive change. Led by Golan Telecom, with Cellcom following shortly thereafter, prices have already been significantly reduced. But the final impact of this on the average taxpayers’ monthly bill is rather limited.

What Kahlon did not do, however, was address the second aspect of his ministry’s responsibilities: regulating the media industry.

Upon becoming minister, Erdan identified a number of actions which could affect large parts of the population in this regard.

It is no secret that in Israel, media regulation does not work. The word “quality” is foreign to our commercial TV. The main competition between TV channels 10 and 2 involves reducing expenses while still keeping sufficient public attention to sell commercials.

The commercial TV news channels are characterized by sensationalism, superficial coverage and cultural and political bias.

Israel needs more media purveyors and a different regulatory structure.

A second issue is public broadcasting. Israel is wasting over a billion shekels a year on publicly funded media organizations, most of it going to the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

The IBA’s TV stagnated and quality local programming disappeared over the years.

Corruption was a way of life at the IBA and all previous attempts to change the situation failed. (We do note that Kahlon’s responsibilities did not include the IBA, but it was reinstated at the beginning of Erdan’s tenure.) The Educational TV network, operating within the Education Ministry and whose annual budget was around NIS 100 million, is not doing much better than the IBA.

To add to all this, one of the ridiculous aspects of Israel’s governmental system is that the law and the Justice Ministry prohibit the communications minister or his or her officials from “interfering” in the daily operations of the media purveyors, including the publicly funded ones. This is done in the name of separation between politics and the media, supposedly safeguarding the media from political pressure and intervention. This makes it very difficult for any minister to create real change.

The minister’s power is limited to appointing members of the regulatory boards and even here, the minister is subject to the strict and politically motivated veto of the Justice Ministry, who can with impunity nullify any of the minister’s appointments. Thus, although the media industry needed deep change, it was not at all clear whether any communications minister could actually create it.

Erdan did not approach these issues as a babe in the woods. He had intimate knowledge of the operational structure of the IBA, having served on its board from 1998-2000.

He was also chair of the Knesset Economics Committee from 2006-2009 and became intimate with all aspects of media regulation in Israel. Among other tasks, he took an important part in the legislative process which led to the 2012 version of the public broadcasting law.

It is thus not surprising that Erdan’s most important impact is the closing down of the old IBA and creation of the Public Broadcasting Corporation (PBC). Realizing that revamping the publicly funded media was impossible by conventional means, Erdan decided that the only possible route to create change was to use his influence as a minister via the legislative process. The bottom line is that the new law has adopted our policy, suggested a dozen years ago in these pages. The unfair TV tax has been abolished and replaced by the car tax, which is paid for by all, with the rich (who own more cars) paying more than the poor who have one or none.

Erdan’s legislation abolished educational TV, unifying it within the PBC. The new law obliges the PBC to outsource almost all of its TV programming, barring the news. It reduces the manpower of the PBC by over half. The expected annual budget of the PBC will be 30 percent to 40% percent less than what is it today. Erdan has just finished the process of appointing a new council for the Second TV and Radio Authority (SATR). He wisely removed the previous chairman, Dr.

Ilan Avisar, the head of the TV programming committee, Yaakov Shacham, and the head of the radio committee, Yossi Elituv. All three failed miserably, as outlined elsewhere in our columns. Unprecedentedly, two thirds of the new council are women.

At the same time, Erdan continued the process initiated by his predecessor Kahlon of unifying the SATR with the Satellite and Cable TV regulatory board. The purpose is to streamline the regulatory body and bring it up to date with the enormous technological developments of recent years, which no longer really differentiate between one broadcasting method and the other. However, this legislative process, which one would think is much easier to implement than the dismantling of the IBA, has not yet been finished.

In fact, Erdan is leaving the Communications Ministry too early. Although he did abolish the TV tax, it is not at all clear that the net result is a savings for the taxpayer.

The immense financial cost of firing 1,000 employees is not clear at all. The taxpayer will bear the burden and one can assume that the Histadrut will make sure the bill is hefty. Will the new PBC really be better, or just more of the same? Erdan’s law assures that the new PBC will be dominated by Israel’s media elites; not a good prescription for real change.

Nothing is forcing Erdan to leave the ministry.

As a public servant, motivated by a desire to improve the life of Israel’s citizens, he should have remained in office to assure that the very positive vehicles of change that he initiated would come to full fruition. Is his departure a sign that he really knows that he would not have been able to succeed?


October 23, 2014

MEDIA COMMENT: Creeping anti-Zionism in Israel’s media

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:23 pm by yisraelmedad

Media comment: Creeping anti-Zionism in Israel’s media:


the anti-Zionist vogue has spilled over into the media. The influence is pervasive

Creeping anti-Zionism in Israel’s media An anti-Zionist malaise has always existed, especially among Jewish society elites. Lord Edwin Montague, British secretary of state for India, attempted to sabotage the Balfour Declaration, telling prime minister Lloyd George, “All my life I have been trying to get out of the ghetto.

You want to force me back there.” Judah L. Magnes, Hebrew University president, sought to restrict Jewish immigration in the 1930s.

On the eve of statehood on May 4, 1948, he suggested to US secretary of state George Marshall and then to president Harry Truman that contributions from Americans to Israel be “cut off” and that America “impose… financial sanctions.”

In recent years, a variety of groups have been monitoring the anti-Zionism embedded in Israeli academic circles. The bad joke is that whereas scholars in the fields of a wide range of scientific spheres of study gather together out of a sincere love of their chosen subject, Israel-related conferences are packed with those who very much are hostile to Israel and Zionism.

The Im Tirzu NGO, for example, produced a study of the bibliography suggested by lecturers for their university courses on themes of Israel history and Zionism. The mandatory reading was found to be biased, one-sided and politically motivated in favor of what we could term “Palestinianism.” The significant presence of academics on media talk shows and discussion panels has to varying degrees naturally led the anti-Zionist vogue to spill over into the media. The influence is pervasive and it is not surprising that too many in our media then provide platforms for its dissemination.

This past Saturday evening, Rina Matzliach, political correspondent of Channel Two television, interviewed Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman. Her next-to-last question touched upon the “Milky Affair,” the Facebook initiative of an Israeli who emigrated to Berlin (after trying out Paris) and claimed that his main motivation for doing so was the lower price of the chocolate-flavored pudding in Germany.

She opened her question by stating that “the young Israelis do not find their place in Israel any more.” She could have said “some Israeli youth” or “what appears to be a growing number,” or, even better, “the media is painting the picture that large numbers of young Israelis are leaving.” But she didn’t. She preferred the negative construct, as if Israeli youth were moving overseas en masse.

If she had bothered to read Haaretz, she would have seen in its economic section, The Marker, the headline of Lior Dattel’s October 14 story. It read: “Israeli emigration slowing down, despite fears of ‘Berlin aliya.’” Dattel informed us that “despite the ‘Milky scare,’ only a few thousand Israelis live in Berlin.”

Had she read the first paragraph of the article, she would have learned that “despite concerns over a wave of emigration from Israel…

figures show that the rate of emigration has slowed dramatically, and that in 2012 the rate was the lowest since the state was established.

Emigration is also low in comparison to member countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.”

But that would have interfered with the drama she sought to inject into her interview, if not the overtly anti-Israel message she was projecting. Matzliach was not seeking information but using her prime-time slot to present an untruth.

Dattel’s story in Haaretz, however, was itself an exception. Other stories in Haaretz attempted to inflate the emigration story. Typical headlines were: “Israel’s leaders are to blame for the emigration to Berlin” (October 10, 2014); “Poll: One-third of Israelis think about leaving” (September 7, 2014); “The right has turned Israel into a hopeless place,” (October 13, 2014).

Sever Plutzker, a senior journalist writing in Yediot Aharonot, was more professional. He looked up the facts. Unemployment is twice as high in Berlin as in Israel, and life expectancy in Israel is 82.3 vs. 80 years in Berlin. While a typical food purchase in Tel Aviv cost $480 vs.

$390 in Berlin, a typical clothing purchase was $580 in Tel Aviv vs. $710 in Berlin. In other words, much ado about nothing. Some things are better in Berlin, others in Israel. But Mazliach and her cohorts had no use for the facts; they were promoting an agenda.

Haaretz’s main agenda, as we have documented in our columns, is the dismantling of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, supporting the agenda of the Palestinian Authority and bringing down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Its headlines are repeated over the radio and senior TV and radio staff all too often select their stories and their interviewees mostly from its pages.

Haaretz’s bias was starkly displayed this week in its English-language edition. As blogger Elder of Ziyon pointed out, when describing Jewish attempts to enter the Temple Mount, three Arab news websites, Al Arabiya, Al Bawaba and Ma’an, used quotes around the word “attacks” or used the less inflammatory term “provocations” in their headlines for the Jewish actions. But Haaretz had one up on them; it not only used the term “attack” but also added the accusation that the only Jews who ascend to the Temple Mount are “settlers.” Haaretz refers to the Temple Mount as “al-Aksa.”

Al Jazeera’s October 17 headline was simply: “Rift over access to al-Aksa ignites clashes”; Haaretz was more anti-Israel than some typically anti-Israel Arab media.

Haaretz was not always so. A former editor, Hanoch Marmari, while clearly left wing, always knew where to draw the line between valid criticism and anti-Zionism. Marmari is today the editor of the Israel Democracy Institute’s The Seventh Eye online journal.

In an article which appeared on October 12 he opened by asking whether some editorial decisions were not a result of “self-decapitation.”

He continued by insisting that today’s Haaretz is infected by a “virus” which “creates provocations” and has developed into a “pandemic” condition resulting from a “poisonous mushroom” in the paper.

He saved his most cutting criticism, however, for a demand by reporter Chaim Levinson to basically dumb down the Hebrew language.

At Israel’s Media Watch we have compiled a list of foreign words in use over our electronic broadcasting networks. The words used have equivalent Hebrew language terms, but the foreign terminology is preferred. Some typical examples are: “vacuum,” “militant,” “comeback” and “spin,” “attractive,” “element,” “picnic” and “popular.” This preference for the English language is a stab in the back of the revival of the Hebrew language, one of the central successes of the Zionist movement.

As Ben-Dror Yemini wrote last September 22 in his Ynet column on whether Israel’s democracy is in danger, in essence the real danger to the country’s democratic fabric is “Leftists obsessed with telling the world that Israel is becoming more racist and more fascist, and to hell with the facts.” And that is the essence of Israel’s media anti-Zionism.


October 13, 2014

MEDIA COMMENT: Horton does not hear a who

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 8:11 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Horton does not hear a who


Emails openly available in Google groups show that two of the authors, Manducca and Ang, have sympathies with the views of David Duke, a white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard.

Presumably most of us enjoyed reading to our children Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears A Who. Horton the elephant has big ears and so picks up even the faintest sounds. He hears something from a small speck of dust almost flying into a pool, saves it and protects it from the other animals who threaten to boil it. Deciding that voices must be raised in unison, Horton finally succeeds despite various obstacles and the planet of Whoville is saved.

Seuss understood human behavior. The world too often does not respect the different, the strange. Worse, they try to eliminate it. It takes the effort of all involved to prevent disaster. In his book, it was the voice of one lad that made all the difference. Seuss was an optimist, believing that the world really does listen, and is willing to admit error.

What does all this have to do with an op-ed on the media? Usually, we write about the Israeli media, but in the spirit of Succot, considered to be the universal festival, we dedicate this article to an international story, one which has everything to do with media ethics in which Israel is but a minor player.

The faithful readers of this paper would be by now familiar with a real-life Horton, Professor Richard Charles Horton, the editor of the high-profile scientific journal, The Lancet, considered to be one of the world’s leading medical journals. The Lancet does not shy away from political issues. It has been at the center of many a controversy, not least the question of the exorbitant subscription prices that Elsevier, the Dutch-based company that publishes it, demands.

Much has been written in this newspaper as in most other Israeli media outlets, about the July 28 letter to the editor published in The Lancet under the title “An open letter for the people of Gaza.” As reported in The Jerusalem Post and as researched by NGO Monitor, the central authors of the letter, Paola Manduca, Iain Chalmers, Derek Summerfied, Mads Gilbert and Swee Ang, are not sweet innocents whose only purpose in life is to save lives. But this is not the issue to which we wish to relate.

We don’t intend here to claim that the war in Gaza was or was not humane or justified. Rather, in the context of the concept of “media,” The Lancet, also belongs to this field. Just as the media is guided (or rather should be guided) by an ethics code, so too should a scientific journal that permits itself to become a platform for political issues. Without truth in publishing, science as we know it today could not be maintained.

One of the most powerful tools that editors of scientific journals have at their disposal is the retraction of a paper. The pressure on scientists to have their research appear in prestigious publications cannot be overstated. Their professional life often depends on it. “Publish or perish” is a truthful description of scientific life. Once in a while, articles are retracted. Sometimes due to honest error, but all too often, it is due to the falsification of facts, such as laboratory results. Reprisal is harsh for when the article is retracted and the institution involved usually opens a commission of inquiry. Frequently a consequence is that the guilty author’s professional life is terminated. Such a process, tragically, has even ended with suicide.

Elsevier’s code of ethics is clearly stated: “Public trust in the peer review process and the credibility of published articles depend in part on how well conflict of interest is handled during writing, peer review, and editorial decision making. Conflict of interest exists when an author (or the author’s institution), reviewer, or editor has financial or personal relationships that inappropriately influence his or her actions [such relationships are also known as dual commitments, competing interests, or competing loyalties]. These relationships vary… The potential for conflict of interest can exist whether or not an individual believes that the relationship affects his or her scientific judgment. Financial relationships… are the most easily identifiable conflicts of interest and the most likely to undermine the credibility of the journal, the authors, and of science itself. However, conflicts can occur for other reasons, such as personal relationships, academic competition, and intellectual passion.”

The authors of the Gaza letter, as demanded from all people who submit letters to The Lancet, had stated that “We declare no competing interests.” This was far from the truth, and Professor Horton must have known this. In an appendix to their letter, the authors delineated their “past experience,” which clearly pointed out that they were in a state of “personal relationships that inappropriately influence his or her actions.” As mentioned in the NGO Monitor report, the peoplesvoice.org website reported that on February 2, 2009 that The Lancet’s Global Health Network published an article of Dr. Swee Ang and Dr. Ghassan Abu Sitta entitled “The Wounds of Gaza.” The Network, in its introduction to the article noted that “Two surgeons from the UK… managed to get into Gaza during the Israeli invasion. Here they… conclude that the people of Gaza are extremely vulnerable and defenseless in the event of another attack.“ On March 2, 2009, the journal removed the article stating, “We have taken down the blog post ‘The Wounds of Gaza’ because of factual inaccuracies.”

A cache of emails openly available in Google groups show that two of the authors, Manducca and Ang, have sympathies with the views of David Duke, a white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard. Wasn’t this sufficient for turning on all the red lights at The Lancet? In fact, it went even further and on August 28 published a sequel by the same authors, “Israel–Gaza conflict – Authors’ reply” in which they stated, “We declared no conflicts since none of us has any relevant financial interests.”

Professor Horton and Elsevier have ample reason for retracting both July 28 and August 28 letters. By refraining from doing so, they are violating one of the most important standards of conduct of the scientific community and their own ethics publishing code. Many in the community have raised their voices. Horton, who was invited to Israel by Rambam Hospital made some sounds of regret, but as we have all been taught by Maimonides, regret is not sufficient, it needs action. As of the writing of this letter, neither Horton nor Elsevier retracted the letters.

One of us is the chairman of the Chemical Physics Department at the Weizmann Institute of Science and for fifteen years a member of the advisory editorial board of an Elsevier publication, Chemical Physics. He resigned from the board, stating that “I find it my duty to do the little I can, to try and make sure that such a breach of public trust, which harms our scientific community, does not go unanswered.”

Our real life Professor Horton, did not hear the “who.” Dr. Seuss would be disappointed.


October 2, 2014

Media comment: The media year that was

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:22 am by yisraelmedad

Media comment: The media year that was


Media ethics is an ongoing struggle, and not only in Israel.

Another Hebrew calendar year has come to a close and we are in the period of taking account, both of the successes and failures of Israel’s media as well as our own activities. Almost 20 years have passed since we founded Israel’s Media Watch (IMW). Our goals were to monitor the Israeli media, judge its performance according to the media’s own codes of ethics and the laws of the country, and seek to prevent media bias which undermines Israel’s democratic fiber.

Media ethics is an ongoing struggle, and not only in Israel. A month ago, the American-based Society of Professional Journalists approved a new code of ethics at its Nashville convention. Citing the idea that “a just society and good government require an informed public,” the code seeks to ensure that reported information “is accurate, fair and thorough.”

At that same convention, the Radio and Television Digital News Association proposed a new code of ethics whose core is the proposition that “journalism verifies, provides relevant context, tells the rest of the story and acknowledges the absence of important additional information.”

One issue dealt with by these overseas bodies is one with which we are quite familiar here in Israel. Due to the pressure of deadlines and sharp competition, corners are cut, complex concerns are oversimplified and editors are too busy with “trending,” “going viral” or “exploding on social media.” The end product is less reliable and informative.

Given this reality, abroad as well as in Israel, what was the past year like? While the Americans worry about ethics, here at the Israel Broadcasting Authority, which is now under receivership, there is no longer a binding code of ethics.

The old authority tried to install a new code, one which we thought was counterproductive as it undermined journalistic responsibility. Contradictory resolutions were passed by the IBA boards with the result being that the IBA’s complaints commissioner can validate almost any ethical infraction of the IBA’s “stars”.

One would hope that the new leadership would quickly step in and install a binding code of ethics.

Just last week, Israel’s High Court of Justice handed down its decision on the drawn-out “Captain R” affair.

The captain’s name was besmirched by Channel 2’s Uvda program produced by Dr. Ilana Dayan. The court, by majority vote, decided to uphold a previous ruling that Dayan is not liable for libel and therefore the fine of NIS 300,000 set by the district court was annulled.

Dayan, whose program wrongly portrayed the officer as the cold-blooded killer of a young girl, announced that the court “anchored the basic principles of freedom of expression in its decision.”

Truthfully though, the court’s decision was a mixed bag. First of all, the TV station was still fined NIS 100,000 for its unfair promos against Captain R. Secondly, the court did not uphold the previous decision that “momentary truth” is a valid defense against libel cases. Thirdly, Dayan paid a heavy personal price for her tactics. Anyone who has had a court case knows that they involve sleepless nights and worries about the future. Moreover, the court did not order Captain R to pay court expenses to Dayan. In other words, although the court exonerated her of libel and reduced the NIS 300,000 fine, Dayan was indeed punished.

One can assume that in the future she will be much more careful. The media industry paid careful attention to the court’s lengthy judgment and knows that libel is still a violation which may lead to harsh sentences.

Will this judgment improve our media? Hopefully, yes.

We noted in this column several times our serious misgivings with respect to the future of the newly created state-sponsored Public Broadcasting Corporation.

Will it continue to limit the plurality of opinion? Will the narrow-minded focus of its predecessor, the IBA, continue to be the ethos of the new PBC? If so, it would be undermining its important goal of facilitating a genuine dialogue between Israel’s citizens and its political, economic and cultural institutions. Or will the new year bring with it a breath of fresh air? Not only the new PBC, but also the other outlets and networks, radio as well as television, continue to be poorly regulated. The ombudsmen are either lacking in personal courage, or prefer their friends in the media or their positions and financial compensation over the need to call out violations of media laws and professional codes of ethics with appropriate actions against the offenders.

We perceive, and our columns have brought to light multiple examples, month after month and year after year, on a variety of issues, the existence of a media-political complex which allows left-wing views to dominate our airwaves, with near impunity. Panels lack balance. Expert columnists have a one-way view. Concerns of certain groups whether political, religious or ethnic, are ignored. Israel’s media image, despite the country’sdemographic changes over the decades, is still secular, left-wing liberal and Western-oriented.

One bright aspect is that when IMW set out on its mission two decades ago, we were alone in the field.

An effort a decade earlier under the slogan “The People Versus A Hostile Media” was short-lived. Today, there are several left-leaning groups combating media bias, such as The Seventh Eye journal and Tel Aviv University’s Chaim Herzog Institute for Media Politics & Society. Even the far Left has established its own media review organization: Keshev. Columnists specializing in media criticism such as Kalman Liebskind, Erel Segal, Emily Amrusi, Dr. Dror Eydar and Ben-Dror Yemini enjoy a broad readership.

The Internet has sprouted valuable media review organizations in Israel, such as Presspectiva and the Velvet Underground blog of Dvorit Shargal. In academia, scholars have also begun to pick up on media review.

Some of these contributions were recognized by the prestigious Abramowitz Israeli Media Criticism Prize.

Nevertheless, the inertia, the historic process of “a friend bringing a friend” by which the media replicates itself, the power of government budgets and commercial financial interests all manage to defend what should be indefensible. Media infractions receive protection from politicians, from judges, from fellow media personnel and, to our chagrin, a public that is too often apathetic to actually mobilize.

Channel 10 literally rode roughshod over and simply steamrolled the members of Knesset when it wanted to continue to broadcast despite all its failings and unethical performance. The army’s Galei Tzahal radio station is still working in financial secrecy. News anchors continue to get away with making remarks that color the facts in accordance with their viewpoints.

As we go into the year 5775, Israel does not yet have a “robust media” or a truly free press. Israeli media may be more appropriately described as the tool of the country’s elite. Our hopes for the coming year are increased pluralism, for example implementation of Communications Minister Gilad Erdan’s program to turn Channel 2’s Reshet and Keshet companies into two independent channels, close down Channel 10 permanently and open the field to anyone who wants and knows how to broadcast.