May 27, 2015

MEDIA COMMENT: Hiding facts

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:26 pm by yisraelmedad

Media comment: Hiding facts

Netanyahu, before the elections, acceded to Channel 10’s blackmail.

The headline “Channel 10 may shut down after Knesset rejects debt payment” appeared in The Jerusalem Post on December 12, 2011. The station then owed NIS 60 million in royalties and franchise fees. MK Carmel Shama-Hacohen (Likud), at the time the chairman of the Economics Committee, noted that “Channel 10, as a financially weak company that will require government support, cannot be the watchdog of democracy. At best, it would be a poodle.”

Another headline, in Haaretz on December 14, read: “Channel 10 expects board to shut down station on Dec. 31” – but the year was 2012, 12 months later. And on December 28, Haaretz ran the headline: “Channel 10 halts broadcasts, blames Netanyahu” and informed readers that the station had begun an on-air protest campaign using a denigrating photo angle of Netanyahu and warning of imminent closure following failed last-minute attempts to bail out the station. But this was only six months ago, in 2014.

If you are thinking that December is a jinxed month for Channel 10, we’ll quote this Ynet report, published on a July 14, whose headline informed us that “Channel 10 may go off air in one month.” The reason provided by Yossi Meiman, who owns a controlling interest in the channel, was that “his media group may stop financing its broadcasting.” However, other “sources” in the media group informed the reporter that the “crisis emanated from a regulatory failure.” The year then was 2009. Finally, in a May 20, 2015 review of the never-ending saga of the closure of Channel 10, Haaretz’s headline was: “Channel 10 may shut down after buyers back off.”

The financial aspects, the responsibility of the owners, the proper government regulatory system and the parliamentary oversight should all be considered. But perhaps first and foremost one should consider, three years later, Shamma-Cohen’s observation that a financially weak company cannot be a robust watchdog of democracy.

Channel 10 broadcasts the daily hour-long London & Kirschenbaum interview show which our monitoring has exposed time and again for its left-wing biases.

Raviv Drucker produces a weekly investigative program and appears frequently, several times a day on average, on the network. His personal bias against Netanyahu (the two have been in court airing mutual recriminations), characterized by a nasty snideness, is well recognized. There’s a biting satire show, Gav HaUmma (The Nation’s Back), and the daily evening news broadcast, which has proven unwilling to back down from in-your-face criticism of government positions.

JUST LAST week, the first part of a documentary on opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog’s election campaign was aired on Channel 10’s HaMakor (The Source) program.

It was a devastating portrayal of a politician. The second part was even more damaging. Reuven Adler, hired to save Herzog’s campaign, was heard calling Herzog Tzipi Livni’s key-holder.

Gideon Levy demanded in his May 21 column that Herzog immediately resign, adding that the Zionist Union’s head shouldn’t have been the party’s candidate for prime minister, should have resigned the day after his defeat and, at the least, “should quit his post…in the wake of the documentary.” The Twitter accounts of political reporters erupted.

The film uncovered the evident collusion of central elements of the media who were probably aware of multiple aspects of the developing failings of Herzog’s campaign and the negative comments from within the campaign headquarters. The film’s director and sole interviewer, who sat in Herzog’s cars, accompanied him seemingly everywhere and participated in senior staff meetings, is Anat Goren. Goren is the life-partner of… Channel 10’s Raviv Drucker. The couple have three children.

Attila Somfalvi of Ynet, in line with his boss’s preference, saw the “good,” tweeting that Herzog “at certain moments was a real man: he didn’t blame anyone, didn’t sidestep his responsibility.” Haredim10’s Sari Rot’s tweet read: “am I the only one who wasn’t shocked how bad [Herzog] was? I actually think he was human, considerate, a mensch.” Drucker, incidentally, publishes a personal column on the Haredim10 website, an example of secular/haredi coexistence. Avishai Ivri, main writer at Channel 1’s “We’ll Be the Judge” satire crew, wryly commented that perhaps PR whiz Reuven Adler should have run himself. He probably would have lost but, Ivri typed, it “wouldn’t have been such a sad joke.”

Orit Galili, formerly of Haaretz, admitted that the journalist referred to in the film as warning Herzog the Friday prior to the elections that Netanyahu would win was herself. Kol Israel’s Keren Neubach was blunt: “I can only wonder what made Herzog allow Goren to film him in such embarrassing moments… and why anyone presumed he could win.”

That last Neubach observation is the heart of the matter.

Herzog’s “march of folly” was open and as the film clearly shows, obvious to many media people; the producers, director, cameramen, support crew, editors and their assistants and perhaps even Raviv Drucker himself. Herzog’s victory was very much in doubt, but this was kept a secret. Journalists hid the reality from the public.

As Israel Hayom’s Haim Shine wrote on May 19, the film showed journalists “who saw Herzog’s audience- less election conferences in Beit She’an and Beersheba but still tried to convince us that Herzog was our salvation.” More important for him, and for democracy, was his demand “that the media take a look at itself and atone for its sins, the sins of arrogance, deception and exploiting freedom of speech.”

Channel 10 violated professional ethics. Its editors must have known about Goren’s devastating report, but they preferred silence to honest reporting. Why then should we the public believe anything controversial emanating from this channel? The latest in this saga is the channel’s accusations against the prime minister who, on his last day as finance minister, implemented a recommendation of the Second Authority for TV and Radio (SATR) to impose upon the channel a payment of NIS 16.8m., a past debt of the channel for the right to its broadcasting concession.

Channel 10 immediately cried foul, accusing Netanyahu of purposely harming the negotiations to find a new financier for the channel. It promptly petitioned the Supreme Court to annul Netanyahu’s decision, and Justice Anat Baron ordered the prime minister to respond to the claims within a week.

Netanyahu, before the elections, acceded to Channel 10’s blackmail. Despite six months’ breathing space to mend its ways, the channel showed no gratitude to the politicians’ largesse. Why should the Treasury overlook the channel’s debts once again? Channel 10 is a blight on Israel’s media industry. It does not uphold accepted media norms, it wastes the public’s money and it does not hesitate to blackmail the political system prior to elections. We can only hope that the prime minister will not once again cave in to the channel’s pressure and that the Israeli public will for once and for all be rid of it.



May 21, 2015

MEDIA COMMENT: The media challenge

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:53 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The media challenge
New governments in Israel, especially if they are not left-wing, do not receive the traditional 100 days of grace.
It took some time, but Israel finally has a new government.

Its stability is questionable, and there are elements in the media doing all they can to destabilize it, even though one may safely assume that the public would not want its tax money to be used for yet another costly election campaign.

New governments in Israel, especially if they are not left-wing, do not receive the traditional 100 days of grace. Criticism of the prime minister for his keeping the Communications Ministry portfolio to himself is broad and biting. The Zionist Union’s Tzipi Livni, speaking on Galatz radio Tuesday, asserted the elections were a “ploy” by Prime Minister Netanyahu to “take over the media…to dominate the media…which is the watchdog of democracy.” Minister Ofir Akunis was deprived of full responsibility for the ministry, yet he does serve in the capacity of a minister in the Communications Ministry.

Given that the prime minister will be kept busy by his myriad other responsibilities, among them the Foreign Ministry and the efforts involved in holding the coalition together, one may well assume that Minister Akunis will de facto be the communications minister and only in acute cases would he need the advice and consent of the prime minister.

Minister Akunis also has a record of being an honest politician who has the public interest at heart. Indeed, even though his appointment is only for one year – MK Tzachi Hanegbi is scheduled to get the job a year from now – a year is plenty of time to tackle and solve some of the big issues facing our media today.

Arguably, the most important issue is over-regulation and media pluralism. The Second TV and Radio Authority (SATR) has a track record of doing its best to amass power and never relinquishing it. Somehow, the SATR leaders turned out to be more interested in the good of their bureaucracy than in the public good. There is no other way to explain the SATR’s successful efforts during these past years to block any initiative aimed at opening up our electronic skies. The SATR blocked attempts at increasing the number of radio stations. If anything, the number of independently operating stations in Israel has been reduced, especially in view of the shared programs of many of the regional stations.

The Knesset wanted to bring in deregulation, turning the concession law into a licensing law. Fundamentally, the idea is that opening up a TV station would be similar to opening a new restaurant. All that should be needed is a license. In practice, the SATR simply wasted taxpayer money, assuring that while the title of the law was changed from concessions to licenses, the conditions to be fulfilled by a licensee are equivalent to those of a concessionaire, and the results are evident. We still have to suffer from Channel 10 TV. Channel 2 TV has not changed much and the Israel Broadcasting Authority is in a financial-managerial-procedural crisis. As written in Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun.” The new law provides the SATR with almost unlimited power in demanding license fees, bank guarantees, interfering in programming and more.

The new government should thoroughly revamp this law, making it possible for anyone to open a radio or TV station. The authority of the SATR should be limited to making sure that the licensees have the necessary equipment and that the broadcasts do not violate the law in terms of content. There is no reason in the world why national broadcasting must be limited to the Galatz army radio station and the IBA.

Technology allows for opening dozens of radio stations on the FM channels. Israel for some unfathomable reason does not yet have satellite broadcasting for cars.

With some legislative effort, which incidentally would probably be supported by quite a few members of the Opposition, the new minister can create a true revolution.

No more the monopoly of the few and powerful, true competition is what we need in the media. One may also assume that such steps would significantly lower the cost of advertisement, allowing more small companies to advertise their wares through the electronic media.

The outgoing minister responsible for public broadcasting left the public broadcaster in shambles. The new board, recommended by the appointments committee chaired by former regional court justice Esra Kamma, has not been approved by the present government. The present law states that the TV tax will be abolished, but without a massive influx of cash from the Finance Ministry (that is, from our pockets) the public broadcaster will not be able to continue operations. The change of guard is way behind schedule, new legislation is needed just to keep the broadcaster alive, and essentially, the present situation is close to anarchy. There is no public supervision of the IBA, and the results are evident.

Broadcasters do as they will, violating basic ethical guidelines. The programming we are receiving, especially on radio, has not improved.

We call upon Minister Akunis, if indeed he is given the opportunity to do so, to thoroughly revamp the public broadcasting law, turning the IBA back into what it should be, a public broadcaster which serves the public interest, rather than an unfair competitor to the commercial broadcasters. Israel (or any other country in the free world) does not need a publicly funded commercial entity. Either liquidate the IBA, canceling all the taxes, or make sure that it keeps its hands off the business world and provides the public with the quality public programming we sorely need.

The same holds true for the army radio station. There is no justification that we can think of for continuing to fund it from the public coffer. Our small country does not need two national public broadcasters. The only reasons it continues its operations is that it serves the needs of the media in providing jobs and lucrative salaries and that it advances a left-wing, post-Zionist agenda.

One can be sure that if the army radio station were to become right-wing, our “democrats” would quickly shut it down. In a true democracy, where checks and balances are essential, the military does not have a national media organ of its own.

We have not even started to delve into other issues, such as providing fair competition between Internet and cell phone providers. Even this has far reaching implications for the average Israeli. For example, if the cost of roaming abroad was reasonable, the average Israeli abroad would have no difficulty following the media when not at home. As the cost of roaming decreases and the quality of Internet broadcasting increases (4th generation services), the need to shell out money to outrageously expensive cable and satellite TV stations diminishes.

The bottom line is that the new minister has the opportunity to create a true revolution in our media life.

Instead of populist slogans such as “I have abolished the TV tax,” a well thought-out program can do wonders for us all.

May 13, 2015

MEDIA COMMENT: The media and elections — Britain and Israel

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:09 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The media and elections — Britain and Israel
This past week’s election in England and that in Israel two months ago beg the comparison of what role the media played in each campaign.
The day after the recent elections, this apology was published: “This is the confession of a political journalist. I get paid to know about politics, to explain politics and yes, to predict politics. On this general election, I failed. I got it wrong. I didn’t see this result coming…My job is to tell the people who read me things that will leave them better informed about the subject at hand. And I didn’t do that job as well as I could have done….”

No, that was not an Israeli media pundit like Amnon Abramovitch, Ben Caspit or Yossi Verter, but rather James Kirkup of the UK Daily Telegraph. Did anything similar occur among the many pundits who were predicting a very different result from that which happened on March 17 here? Could it have happened? Or did all simply explain why they were not responsible for the information they were peddling.

This past week’s election in England and that in Israel two months ago beg the comparison of what role the media played in each campaign.

In England, an ongoing Cardiff University media research project found, for example, that the BBC’s election coverage was focused more on policy issues than the other four main broadcasters during one two-week period.

According to a YouGov poll there, almost two-thirds of the public did not think the quality of the British press had improved since the Leveson inquiry which investigated press ethics and law violations (discussed in previous columns). Does anyone think that Israel’s media has improved its political coverage over the years? More relevant to the situation here in Israel, threefifths of the respondents in England lack confidence in the self-regulation system set up by the newspapers and 59 percent support tougher regulation of the press.

The study found support for tougher regulation even among the readers of newspapers that have been most opposed to stronger measures. Mention “regulation” in Israel and you will be abusively attacked.

In an unusual move, opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband gave an interview to Russell Brand, a comedian and actor with 9.6 million Twitter followers and his own YouTube channel, and Brand publicly endorsed Miliband. Miliband even tweaked press magnate Rupert Murdoch during the interview, saying: “The British people have a lot more sense than some of these papers give them credit for.” Words that return to haunt. But even London School of Economics media professor Charlie Beckett said Miliband’s move made sense: “Russell may get better cutthrough than Rupert.” The media provided extra spin, mocking Conservative Party leader David Cameron’s attempts to consider Brand and Miliband themselves as a joke.

In the end, Brand’s effect on the voting probably matched that of our own cultural icons, Yair Garboz, Natan Zach and others of the far Left, and drove voters in the opposite direction. The presumptuous self-importance of media-linked personalities took a hit in both election campaigns. The day after the count, they realized that they lived “in a bubble” of their own making, linked with the inability, or worse, unwillingness, to step outside and investigate the real world.

Another failure of perception was provided by David Yelland, a former British newspaper editor, who said, “The era, both here and in the US, of newspapers endorsing candidates and the feeling that that carries weight, that has gone.” We are not sure that Arnon (Noni) Mozes agrees with that opinion. Mozes, the owner and publisher of Yediot Aharonot, led the attacks against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, threw the full weight of his media power and influence behind the campaign to defeat Netanyahu – and continues to do so. His methods are unethical, his media’s professional standards are wanting.

Haaretz continued its own nasty opposition to the Likud and Netanyahu on Sunday, linking Cameron to its perception of how they both won with this headline to Anshel Pfeffer’s “analysis”: “Cameron’s surprising election victory owes a lot to the fear factor, a la Netanyahu.” We thought that the Tory victory was dependent not “a lot” on fear but other factors such as the economy. And if fear was a factor, of what were the Scots afraid that they wiped out the Labour Party north of Hadrian’s Wall? Should analysts not be held to some standard of consistency? The left-leaning Independent predicted that Cameron would use his majority to pursue “a radical agenda” which would cut welfare, shrink the size of the state and re-define Britain’s relationship with Europe. It then quoted, anonymously (as our local media does) “Conservative insiders” that he would move to the Right after years of compromise with the Liberal Democrats.

Reading the minds of political leaders is also practiced in Israel in an attempt to rein in politicians who do not toe the media line.

In England, as Netanyahu did here, politicians attacked the press. Labour politician Sadiq Khan declared: “The problem is if someone reads a hostile paper day after day, after a period of time they might start believing the nonsense that’s being written.” And across the aisle, the government’s culture secretary Sajid Javid accused the BBC of ethics violations. After calling one particular item “very, very anti-Tory” (Scottish comic Rhona Cameron called the Tories a “cancer”), he intimated that the job of changing the way the press is regulated, in an upcoming BBC charter review, would include an investigation into bias. He made it clear that the corporation’s license fee could be cut if his party returns to power (which it did).

Here in Israel, the media response to any attempt by politicians even to raise the subject of change within the media, even the state-sponsored networks, is to have them led to the whipping post. Incidentally, Israel’s Zionist Union co-leader, Isaac Herzog, used the term “virus” in his attack last week on Netanyahu’s coalition maneuvering, but there was no media protest.

On the other hand, as Dror Eydar noted in his Israel Hayom column of April 29, the political figure who Israel’s Left portrayed as a fascist now “is being painted as a romantic figure. [Avigdor] Liberman hasn’t been attacked for the promises he made before the election, for his declarations of supposed commitment to the right-wing camp…Why should they go after Liberman? Because anyone who could smash the Netanyahu coalition is welcomed.”

He listed Yediot’s Nahum Barnea, Sima Kadmon and Shimon Shiffer as the paper’s cheering squad who praised Liberman’s bowing out of the coalition.

Alastair Campbell, formerly Tony Blair’s press spokesman, in a pre-election address, pointed to a central problem media consumers are forced to suffer here as well: “My complaint about newspapers has never been that they are biased…[but that] the broadcasters…allow that bias to impact on them.” There is in Israel our media elite milieu, which accepts mainly the news and views that come from within the milieu.

In England, one paper acknowledged that “at times, like on Thursday, or at the recent Israeli general election, polls get it wrong.” Can we ever expect that the media will get things right?


May 6, 2015

MEDIA COMMENT: When is violence permitted?

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:26 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: When is violence permitted?

Listening to our media this past week, one would get the impression that Israelis are racists who have systematically done all they could to take advantage of the Ethiopians.

One of the bright chapters of Israeli history is the emigration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. In contrast to many other societies, Israelis welcomed the Ethiopian community wholeheartedly. Many a family took it upon themselves to personally care for Ethiopian immigrants, even though the cultural and social gap was big. Apart from a few exceptions, the religious Orthodox school system made conscious efforts to absorb them. Although much needs to be done, many of the community, and especially the first-generation Israelis, have become successful professionals, in politics, medicine, the military and more.

Listening to our media this past week, one would get the impression that Israelis are racists who have systematically done all they could to take advantage of the Ethiopians without giving anything in return. Indeed, there was the video of violence against a member of the Ethiopian community by policemen.

Such violence cannot be condoned, and already the relevant authorities have taken steps against those responsible.However, was this incident really outstanding and unique? Was this the first time that the Israel Police used excessive force against someone? Hardly. There was the police brutality in Amona in February 2006 against innocent youths whose only crime was demonstrating peacefully, sitting inside nine houses scheduled to be razed. Indeed, a comparison between the Amona events and the demonstrations by some in the Ethiopian community this past week is illuminating.

Police brutality in Amona was very different.

Yehiam Eyal’s skull was cracked by the police, leaving him hanging between life and death.

Miraculously, he survived. Yet this is what Haaretz had to say about the incident in an editorial on February 2, 2006: “On the night between Wednesday and Thursday people prayed for the health of 14-year-old Yehiam Eyal…they accused the police who clubbed him. Yet even those whose heart goes out to the child lying helpless in his bed cannot fail to see the cynicism and viciousness of this emotional manipulation…Even if there was a policeman who used excessive force one may ask what were these children doing at the Amona hilltop on the day of its forceful evacuation?”

In Jerusalem last Thursday and again on Sunday, members of the Ethiopian community clashed violently with the police. In contrast to Amona, where the demonstrators did not raise even a hand against the police, these demonstrations saw violence, too much violence, coming from demonstrators. On Sunday, they closed off the Ayalon highway, causing huge disruptions in traffic, reminiscent of the big demonstration organized by former MK Moshe Feiglin against the Oslo process, back in the summer of 1995. Closing off traffic is not only illegal, it is a violent act. The police, who were quick to arrest any demonstrator during the year preceding the 2005 expulsion from the Gaza Strip and North Samaria who so much as indicated with her or his foot that they intended to block a road, in this case allowed the disruption to take place.

As a thank-you note, the demonstrators proceeded to go to the Rabin Square in Tel Aviv and eventually hurled rocks, bottles and whatnot at the police and then accused the police of employing excessive force. The number of wounded police officers vastly outnumbered the number of wounded demonstrators. All the wounded demonstrators were released from hospital in less than 48 hours; unlike in the Amona case, no demonstrators were seriously hurt.

How did the media respond to the Ethiopians? They employed excessive empathy, going out of their way to show understanding for their actions and motives, reminding us all the while how badly we as a society have reacted to this community. No one asked, for example, who funded the buses that brought thousands to the demonstrations.

Consider the following comment made by Yuval Ganor, the anchor of the 7 a.m. news program on Kol Yisrael, prior to interviewing Knesset chairman Yuli Edelstein on Monday: “As someone who was stuck in the traffic jam resulting from the demonstration, one may say that the majority of the Israeli public is very understanding, identifies with their [the Ethiopians’] feelings.” One wonders what Ganor’s sources of information were. But let us not be so small-minded. Ganor was just expressing his understanding that the media represents the majority of the Israeli public.

Consider a second example: Keren Neubach, also from Kol Yisrael, who opened her 8 a.m. program with her usual personal comments, noted that the country had come to a standstill and that this was a positive development.

It would seem, she added, that nothing will ever change in the shoddy and discriminatory attitude toward the Israeli of Ethiopian descent. One should ask why was it so urgent in that case for the police to disperse the protesters the way they did.

Neubach was not even honest enough to remind listeners that the police acted only after allowing the demonstrators to stop traffic for hours in Tel Aviv.

Niv Raskin on Galatz at 8 a.m. interviewed Genatu Mngistu, one of the organizers of the demonstration. He did not ask him why he should not be jailed for breaking the law and blocking traffic. Rather the questions went as follows: “What was your feeling at the end of the demonstration? That you succeeded in creating an agenda in the media or that someone harmed your struggle? In the aftermath do you think that you will move toward public office? To have influence?” Raskin then interviewed Yaron Ohayon, deputy commander of police in Tel Aviv.

These were his questions: “What were your instructions to the large forces who were there? Did you see groups of anarchists, leftand right-wing organizations who stoked the fires? People talk about the outrageous ease with which the police strike and are violent only due to the skin color, many complaints of this sort have surfaced…,” and so it continued.

The same accusatory style was used by Asaf Liberman, the anchor of the 7 a.m. news program on Galatz.

The truth is that the true racists in this whole sad series of events were the media themselves. Their treatment of the Israeli Ethiopian community was as if they were different from other Israelis. The laws of this country, which outlaw violent demonstrations, seemingly are not applicable to Israeli Ethiopians. The leaders of the demonstrations are not innocent babes, but criminals who illegally stopped traffic, demonstrated without a permit and should be prosecuted for their actions. At the least, these questions should have been posed, but they were not. Rest assured, if these same actions had come from “the settlers,” the calls denouncing them would come from almost everywhere, and justifiably so.

It is not racist to assert that the law applies to all, Israeli Ethiopians, Arabs, haredim (ultra-Orthodox), residents of Judea and Samaria and the homeless. We simply wish to remind our media that, as our sages put it, “Without the fear of government, one would swallow his brother alive.”