February 19, 2015

MEDIA COMMENT: Twenty years of media review

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:25 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Twenty years of media review
Media bias must be balanced by the media consumers.
Stymied, frustrated but seeking to campaign forcefully against the media’s bias and unethical practices, Israel’s Media Watch (IMW) was launched 20 years ago, in March 1995.

Two fundamentals guided the monitoring of the media from the outset. The first, to assure objectivity, was that precise quantitative analysis would be employed. Programs were recorded, names of politicians and personalities noted, transcripts were prepared, comparisons were analyzed and broadcast durations registered.

Day after day, program after program, the evidence was collected and reports were issued. The second aspect of IMW’s work was that the criteria used to ascertain the level of fairness and professionalism would be based on Knesset legislation and the professional codes of journalism ethics. These two principles would guarantee that the review would be objective and non-partisan.

Examples abound. One of the easiest aspects to review was gender balance. Twenty years ago, the main radio programs interviewed males 90 percent of the time, and females were usually asked questions about cooking or sexual abuse.

A woman expert in foreign affairs or security or economics was a rare event. The response of radio program host Dalia Yairi was not friendly. IMW was attacked, with Yairi claiming that she was a woman and that was sufficient. But times change, and today we note that gender balance is much improved, though not yet perfect.

A second example is political. In those early years, Israel had only two TV broadcast channels and the broadcasters felt they could do whatever they wanted.

The absolute majority of hosts and panelists of Channel 1 TV’s main talk show, Popolitica, sided with the Oslo accords.

Even a decision of Supreme Court Justice Theodore Or who was chairman of the Central Elections Committee ordering the program not to deal with political issues during the week prior to elections was publicly treated with disdain by the show’s Dan Margalit and Tommy Lapid.

Here, too, one notes today a much more pluralistic approach on talk shows, thanks to the increase of platforms and to the public’s awareness.

Perhaps the most frightening experience of those early years had to do with the events which led to the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. The Eyal organization run by Avishai Raviv was “allowed” to receive exhaustive TV reports on its activities, in which the group explicitly incited to violence. IMW complained, a month before the assassination, but the IBA responded with disdain. This was a clear example of hand washing hand.

Raviv, as we now know, was an agent of Israel’s Internal Security Agency, or Shin Bet. The program portraying a swearing-in ceremony in a cemetery was most certainly organized by Raviv’s manipulators, all in an attempt to discredit the substantial part of the population that were against the Oslo accords and used democratic means to express their misgivings. Such dictatorial manipulations would be much more difficult nowadays.

With time and experience, IMW’s activities branched out. The need for a media review organization became very clear when the ombudsman of the IBA, Victor Grayevsky, requested IMW’s help in assuring that Knesset legislation would not undermine his authority. IMW demanded in the Knesset education committee that the ombudsman’s mandate at the IBA would be no less than that of the public complaints commissioner in the Second TV and Radio Authority. This was accepted fully by the committee and its chairman, MK Immanuel Zisman.

This legislative experience was the first of many. IMW can take credit for quite a few laws and regulations which came into effect during these 20 years. Commercials directed at children were banned during the day. A law was passed by then Education Committee chairman MK Zevulun Orlev which imposed a content rating on TV programs. The Knesset finance committee forced the IBA to submit a full annual budget proposal and report. The Army Radio station was forced to follow the law and submit a report on its advertising. It was also coerced into appointing an ombudsman.

We reported quite a few times in the past few years about IMW’s successes in influencing the new public broadcasting law. IMW’s demand that the TV tax be abolished and be replaced by the annual car license tax was fully enacted. For the first time, everyone will participate in the tax, including the Arab sector and the haredim (ultra-Orthodox). The law-abiding citizen of yesteryear will be paying much less.

Arguably, the most important contribution of IMW is its complaints form page on its website. In the early years, complaints were treated very leisurely. The rules of the game changed the minute that the various authorities became aware that the complaints would be public and that attempting to ignore them would lead to further steps. Now, the answers are published and treated with much greater seriousness.

These complaints have led sometimes to dramatic changes. The regional Arab radio station “Shams” no longer runs a program of greeting to terrorists serving time in prison. Gender discrimination has been all but abolished at the Kol Barama haredi radio station.

As reported only last week, IMW has for the past 15 years awarded the Abramowitz Israeli Media Criticism Prize. The award ceremony has often led to headlines. Only this last Sunday, IMW presidium member Erez Bitton testified at the ceremony how as a member of the Israel Prize committee for literature he had to struggle against political intervention. Former IMW president Minister Yuval Steinitz reminded the audience that prime minister Rabin took away the Israel Prize from Professor Yeshayahu Leibovitz and no one at the time thought that this was “political intervention.”

Israel’s Media Watch broke the ground and in its wake, numerous other media review organizations were created. The extreme Left created the Keshev organization whose mandate was to show that the Israeli press is right-wing. The Israel Democracy Institute created the Internet-based Seventh Eye media review journal. Israel’s Education TV has a media review program, Tik Tikshoret, which incidentally has never found it necessary to interview IMW representatives (so much for the professional standards of that program). Israel’s Right created the Tazpit organization whose mandate was to expose left-wing bias in the media. Foreign media review organizations such Honest Reporting and CAMERA have also created daughter organizations in Israel.

IMW has not only worked from the outside. Its members often themselves became regulators, whether in the IBA plenum or the Second TV and Radio Authority.

IMW reps were members of national review boards, and have testified and presented numerous position papers to governmental committees on a wide spectrum of issues. The main theme has always been to increase pluralism, reduce governmental involvement and foremost, have an open ear for the needs and desires of the public, instead of dictating content to it.


Where will IMW be 20 years from now? Will it still be needed? The answer is yes, because without diligence, the old habits will return. Media bias must be balanced by the media consumers.


February 11, 2015

MEDIA COMMENT: The state’s newspaper

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:58 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The state’s newspaper
‘Yediot Aharonot’ has the audacity to call itself the “state’s newspaper;” 20 years ago it was a monopoly and could formally claim this, but not today.
The politician’s criticism of the press was harsh, biting and even threatening. As reported, he said: “Some of our national newspapers had sunk to depths of unethical and illegal behavior that disgraced the name of journalism… these weren’t just isolated incidents. They were habitual, and sometimes even matters of policy… a small group of media moguls, executives and senior journalists…enjoyed extraordinary power… They themselves, in my view, have become the power in this country. They have operated like a mafia, intimidating here, bribing there, terminating careers when it suits them and rewarding their most loyal toadies….

“For years, they could ‘fix’ any legislation that affected them, in a way that no other industry could. But it didn’t stop there. Their influence was so great that it became impossible to know who was really running the country… [media publishers are a] little group of greedy, cruel men. They don’t want fairness, they don’t want change. No catalogue of the wrongdoing they have overseen would be long enough to shame them….”

No, those were not the words of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They were spoken by Tom Watson, a Labour MP in Great Britain, during his speech at the second annual Leveson lecture on December 3, 2014.

Watson is the author of Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain, and in 2004 won the New Statesman New Media Award under the category of the use of an elected representative using his weblog to further the democratic process.

Here in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu this past Monday launched an all-out and direct attack on Arnon (Noni) Mozes, the publisher of the Yediot Aharonot newspaper and its affiliated news website Ynet. As reported in this newspaper, he published his thoughts on his Facebook page, writing: “In recent weeks, the attacks on me do not just appear once a day, in the morning, when Yediot Aharonot is distributed. They are published almost every hour and sometimes every half hour on Ynet. These two platforms initiate time and again ridiculous, false and biased slanders against me and my wife as part of a media campaign to replace the Likud government by a left-wing one and allow Noni Moses to take over the media market again.”

Many pundits claimed that this was the first time ever that the prime minister, in the midst of an election campaign, identified someone not running for office as his major target. In the past Netanyahu has attacked the media (as have many others), but did not name anyone specifically. This, according to people like IBA’s political commentator Yoav Krakowsky, was crossing a red line.

The post immediately received a response from Yediot’s most celebrated columnist, Nachum Barnea, an Israel Prize recipient. Defending his paper and place of employment, he was interviewed on IBA’s Reshet Bet 8 a.m. morning program and said, “I don’t understand the style, nor the tone nor why the prime minister has to trouble himself with this type of paranoia… he needs to be hospitalized… he is full of it… he has the ability to decide everything but is full of fears. This war is so strange; it belongs in the psychological ward.”

One notes that Barnea, as is usual for him, did not even attempt to answer Netanyahu’s accusations.

Facts are not important; he preferred to attack the prime minister, using language which certainly does not befit an Israel Prize recipient. Another irrational media view was Sefi Rachlevsky’s writing in Tuesday’sHaaretz that Netanyahu “took control of nearly all Israeli media outlets.”

Netanyahu’s post is part of a much deeper struggle, one between two media moguls, Arnon Mozes and Sheldon Adelson. Later in the day, a lawyer named Shachar Ben-Meir petitioned Judge Salim Jubran, who chairs the Central Elections Committee, demanding that the Israel Hayom newspaper be instructed “to refrain from and to stop publishing election propaganda.” The brief bases itself among other things on the opinion of Anat Balint, a former media reporter for Haaretz and a contributor to the Israel Democracy Institute’s Seventh Eye website.

Her message was that Israel Hayom’s “coverage of the prime minister is aimed foremost to glorify the politician Netanyahu, his family and his surroundings and to eliminate and blur any criticism of him.

As such, it is preferable to consider it as propaganda rather than journalistic reporting.”

She also appeared on Channel 1 TV’s HaMussaf program this past Monday and stated that Netanyahu is hostile to the media, does not defend freedom of the press and incites against the media, which is, to her mind, the basis for democracy. The next day she was interviewed by Ben Caspit on Channel 2, repeating her views. Former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner, president of Israel’s Journalists Association, noted that any newspaper has a right to take a position and that this is part of the democratic process.

However, we cannot fathom what makes Justice Jubran tick. He did not hesitate to stop foreign minister Avigdor Liberman and his Yisrael Beytenu party from handing out free copies of the Charlie Hebdo magazine, as this he deemed to constitute bribing the electorate, which is prohibited by law.

In previous election campaigns, the standard practice was the free distribution of propaganda material under the guise of a newspaper. Liberman has taken the case to the Supreme Court, which will consider it next week.

The truth is that Yisrael Hayom does support the prime minister. It is also true that Yediot Aharonot is out to get him, and there is nothing wrong with this per se. A privately-owned newspaper has the right to have a political line. For example, it is very clear that Haaretz is a post-Zionist newspaper while Makor Rishon, its main competitor, is Zionist in orientation.

Some claim that Israel Hayom is “different” because it is distributed freely. But so are many newspapers all over the world. Moreover, Ynet is also distributed freely. Does this make it any less newsworthy? The real issue is not the pulling of the wool over the eyes of the public. Yediot Aharonot has the audacity to call itself the “state’s newspaper.” 20 years ago it was a monopoly and could formally claim this.

Today, not only is it no longer a monopoly, Israel Hayom beats its circulation. Yediot is in truth a left-wing paper. It is not neutral; it is not “the state’s” newspaper. Its pretensions, however, tell us all that is wrong about it. The paper is not really interested in purveying the truth, least of all about itself. One thing positive which might result from all this brouhaha is that the public has been made more aware that Yediot does not live up to its self-made and false image.

February 5, 2015

MEDIA COMMENT: Acknowledging excellence

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:08 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Acknowledging excellence
The goal of the Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism is to encourage journalists, pundits, public figures and organizations to contribute toward a critical review of the media.
It is relatively easy to criticize, as we do in this column almost all year round, but more difficult to praise.

The beginning of our campaign to reward ethics in journalism was 15 years ago when Dr. Yuval Steinitz, first president of Israel’s Media Watch, established a prize for media criticism. The goal of the Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism is to encourage journalists, pundits, public figures and organizations to contribute toward a critical review of the media.

Review and criticism are among the best ways to assure quality. A media which is given rein to exploit its power, without checks and balances, cannot truly serve the public. In fact, there is an inherent danger in such a press, especially during election campaigns but also when it comes to culture, social issues and even sports.

One of the topics that the Israeli media is loath to cover seriously is the Palestinian Authority. As has been documented all too often in this column, the Israeli media is dominated by those who believe that Israel’s future depends on the realization of the two-state vision. Our pundits describe PA President Mahmoud Abbas as a relative moderate, with whom one may cut a deal. This may be true or not, but the public deserves to know whether the facts support it.

Is Abbas a moderate? Is the PA under his rule a model of moderation whose only interest is to create a Palestinian state within the June 4, 1967 demarcation lines? The media’s job is to collect the necessary evidence and provide it to the public. One would think that this is at least as important as knowing the fate of empty bottles.

Unfortunately, our media has consistently shied away from this issue. We should never forget how difficult it was for then MK Benny Begin to have Israeli TV publicize the speech Arafat made 20 years ago in a mosque in South Africa. This same reticence continues to this very day. This is why Israel needs an organization such as Palestinian Media Watch. Its very existence is a stinging rebuke to Israel’s media.

The organization, founded in 1996 by Itamar Marcus, has during the past two decades reported on the PA. Its material is available to all, yet the Israeli media is very loath to bring to the fore some of the egregious hate incitement in the PA, condoned by Abbas.

This hate is not against the “occupation” per se, but is anti-Semitic. It encourages terrorism against Israelis and aggrandizes those who commit despicable crimes, such as killing infants in their beds, just because they were born to Israelis or “settlers.”

Why does the media ignore these warnings? One reason is that the idea of peace is so tantalizing that facts are not allowed to interfere. A more sinister motivation is racism – the Palestinians are not considered to be sufficiently civilized to be held to Western standards, and their behavior is discounted as that of primitives. Be it what it may, we at Israel’s Media Watch have found the Palestinian Media Watch and its founder and leader Marcus to be worthy of the media criticism prize this year.

PMW’s work both within Israel as well as in its presentations abroad, in the media, parliaments and other platforms not only provides the Israeli people and allies abroad with an essential service, but by its very existence constitutes a profound critique of the Israeli media. PMW’s work should have been carried out by the Israeli media.

Our talk shows, whether on radio or TV, are usually characterized by a lack of civility.

There are those, such as Oded Shachar of Channel 1 TV or Nissim Mish’al from Channel 2, who believe that a good discussion is one in which the participants shout at each other without being able to finish a sentence properly. They consider the medium in which they operate to resemble a boxing match than an educational presentation providin a public service, namely enabling the public to better understand different viewpoints on serious issues.

Very different is the approach of Ayala Hasson, who hosts radio shows as well as the Friday night news program on Channel 1 TV, the news division of which she is also the director of.

As Minister Uri Orbach has stressed many times, the best way to change the media is to bring good people to it. The best media criticism is actually to encourage those who do the job well. Hasson is a highly effective reporter who has brought to light many serious issues through her careful research. But in the present context, we note her civility, her willingness to listen, her understanding that her role is to bring to the fore the opinions of the people she interviews, while at the same time not letting them dodge tough questions. It is these traits for which Hasson was awarded the media criticism prize this year.

Good journalism should not be limited to political issues. Economics is the fuel that makes our society function, for Israel’s existence depends on its viable economy. But quality economic journalism is important on a personal level too. Nowadays, almost all of us have to make economic decisions.

We have pension funds, tax-free funds for “education” (known as Keren Hishtalmut in Hebrew), inheritances and what not. An educated public will tend to make educated economic decisions and this improves quality of life for us all. Quality economic journalism, which does not hesitate to tackle significant issues, even when they are not popular, is a resource which should be encouraged.

IMW’s economics prize committee, chaired by former Finance Ministry director general Shmuel Slavin, decided to award this year’s prize for quality economic journalism to Hezi Sternlicht, the economic correspondent for the Israel Hayom newspaper.

Sternlicht is one of the outstanding journalists who did not hesitate to criticize finance minister Yair Lapid’s zero-VAT program for housing for young couples. He exposed the fallacy of those who claimed that it is easier to finance life in Berlin than in Israel.

When various NGOs tried to convince us that our society treats its poor harshly, Sternlicht illustrated factually that the claims were wrong. Too often such claims are motivated by organizations that have an inherent conflict of interest; their survival depends on the existence of poverty.

In contrast to many of his contemporaries, Sternlicht’s reports are balanced and he always makes the effort to cover all sides of an issue, irrespective of his own opinion.

The prizes will be awarded in the presence of Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein on Sunday evening, February 15 at the Sokolov House in Tel Aviv. It is our hope that the number deserving journalists will increase to the point that the prizes themselves become obsolete.