September 24, 2015

MEDIA COMMENT: Media pluralism? It depends

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:47 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Media pluralism? It depends
By YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 09/24/2015
The closing down of the Voice of Israel is a loss for true pluralism, perhaps that is why the media largely ignored it and did very little to try and help save the station.
One of the strong messages the Israeli media has sought to make to those who would, they claim, interfere with and restrain their freedom during the past year was the need for media pluralism. This was the reason given for allowing Channel 10 to continue broadcasting and even providing it with a license for 15 years. This, in spite of the fact that Channel 10 repeatedly violated the law, violated its financial commitments and blackmailed politicians. The same reason was given for providing a further lifeline to the public broadcaster, the IBA.

After decades of mismanagement, employee unions who did all they could to prevent streamlining and cost cutting, and a continuous usurping of the public airwaves by the employees who largely felt that the public broadcasting stations belong to them, it was high time to start a completely new page. But instead of releasing all employees and starting anew, the Histadrut labor federation, together with the media, in the name of pluralism and media independence, demanded and received a stay. The employees remain in place, we the tax payers provide their unnecessary salaries, and can expect more of the same old public broadcaster that has never understood what the word pluralism really means.

The third chapter in this saga, which has unfolded during this past year, was the question of the future of Channel 2. At present, the channel’s entertainment belongs to two concessionaires, Reshet and Keshet, who split the time between them. Channel 2 news is funded by the concessionaires but run by a separate independent public board. In the wake of the Channel 10 fiasco, former communications minister Gilad Erdan and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested that Channel 2 be split into two separate channels. This would have created media pluralism. But the idea was not supported by the media. Channel 2 wanted to remain the way it is. Not surprisingly, what the media wants, it gets. Pluralism is only a nice word, used to bamboozle the public to further the interests of the media, its owners and journalists to the detriment of the media consumers and, we stress, the state’s democratic fabric.

In principle, there should be public oversight over the media’s activities. This is the job of the Second Authority for TV and Radio, which, instead of carrying out its duty to the public, let Channel 10 continue and spit in the eyes of the public. It would have been the SATR’s job to split up Channel 2 and provide us, the public, with pluralism.

In fact, after giving in to Channel 10, SATR’s chairwoman, Ms. Eva Medziboz, publicly announced that she would support the splitting of Channel 2, moving the two concessionaires to receiving broadcasting licenses. Last week it turned out that these were words only, meant to calm an irate public. Medziboz, in a complete volte-face, announced last week that it would be better to allow Reshet and Keshet to continue with their concessions, which will terminate in 2017. Ms. Medziboz now supports non-interference. We suggest that Ms. Medziboz should be serving the public, not the concessionaires.

There is another, even sinister, element linked to the need for pluralism. The natural assumption is that the public will get more information if there are more sources. In a normal country, usually this is true but in Israel, maybe. As noted by veteran columnist Matti Golan in Globes last week, Channel 2 news did not inform the public about the strange goings on in Bank Hapoalim concerning the financial problems of Moti Zisser who was reported to have hired private eyes and attorneys to bring down the bank’s CEO. It also did not mention the recordings of Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, who according to Channel 10, gave out a PR contract to “friends,” a charge vigorously denied by Regev and all those accused.

Golan claims that the blackout has to do with ego. Since the scoops were brought by the competitor, Channel 10, Channel 2 news left its public uninformed. But isn’t Channel 2 news a publicly run news organization? Where was its public oversight committee? Where was Ms. Medziboz in all of this? Media pluralism? Another element in this saga was the recent closing down of the independent Voice of Israel Internet radio broadcaster.

The Voice of Israel, after a year of broadcasting, had to close down at the end of August due to lack of finances. It provided what Israel’s mainstream media failed to do. It had news formulated from an editorial outlook that sought to provide world Jewry, and Israel’s non-Jewish admirers, with news and views not colored by a left-of-center worldview.

It was Jerusalem-based and its 30 person staff included media professionals who declared their Zionism proudly and a good number with a religious orientation. Pro-Israel advocacy and confronting the global pro-Palestinian propaganda was an agenda item. It reached audiences in 170 countries. Among its 14 regular program hosts were Daniel Seaman, Yishai Fleisher, Josh Hasten, former MK Dov Lipman, Eve Harow, Gil Hoffman, Dan Diker and Judy Lash Balint.

As its CEO Glen Ladau was quoted, “There’s just this disconnect between Israel and the Diaspora. They can read the news and the other English sources, but it wasn’t giving people a real connection.”

Diker, who hosted a show that focused on National Security, said, “It truly revealed the real Israel, showing it inside out… and I think it is a great tool to fight delegitimization of Israel.

It really revealed Israel as a Jewish state with great sensitivity to other cultures and peoples.”

Critical voices were not denied airing and prominent left-of-center politicians and public personalities were invited into the studios.

It was, however, a reverse image of Israel’s broadcast media. The censorious, condemning and negative fault-finding standard of Israel’s media was replaced by something positive, Zionist in its nature.

Excluding the IBA’s very short English daily TV show that will probably disappear shortly, our media fails those abroad who listen and watch via website streaming. The mainstream foreign affairs commentators either cannot grasp the intricacies of global politics and military affairs or are themselves part of the “progressive” camp.

One need not be a truth-denier to find good things to say about Israel or to highlight the many advances its citizens are responsible for in the fields of science, culture, social action, archaeology and hi-tech business and much more. The closing down of the Voice of Israel is a loss for true pluralism, perhaps that is why the media largely ignored it and did very little to try and help save the station.

We, the public should start getting used to receiving our news from sources such as the Voice of Israel. As Israel’s Media Watch has been stressing, we can all listen to Internet radio in our cars, using a simple wire to connect our smartphones to the “aux” outlet in the car radio – IMW supplies it for free. In this coming year, all of us should become part of this revolution; by listening to other sources we can create true media pluralism.

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September 17, 2015

MEDIA COMMENT: Who needs press conferences?

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:57 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Who needs press conferences?
by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 09/16/2015
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the media seeking sources and the sources seeking publicity.
It is usual that on the campaign trail, the media has full access to a candidate running for political office, even over-access, at times.

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog early this year went so far as to have a reporter follow him everywhere to film his campaign, which he hoped would lead to victory. Once ensconced in office, however, most politicians prefer to keep the press as far away as possible. The cancellation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s usual round of interviews on the eve of the New Year this past week is an example of the frustrating situation that political commentators and correspondents face. Politicians avoiding the press is nothing out of the ordinary.

For example, in England, The Sun newspaper has been in a broil with Andrew Burnham, who is expected to take a senior job in the Shadow Cabinet as James Corbyn was elected Labour leader. Burnham has refused to speak to the paper during his campaign, and in fact since 1989.

The big loser is the public, which is not exposed to the opinions and actions of a leading politician.

The other side of this coin is that when the press treats a politician unfairly or blackballs a candidate, that is not only a problem for the candidate but a danger to the public and the democratic process.

We have always maintained in our columns that a free press, albeit responsible and committed to ethical journalism, is a requirement for a thriving democracy. Open access should be the norm (unless a specific punishment for egregious behavior is in place, which is also a time-honored practice in many countries). Unfortunately, the prevalent practice in Israel, as in many other Western countries, is that direct, open access does not exist. At best, a “senior government official” releases some information.

At worst, politicians feed scoops to their favorite journalists. An especially egregious example was that of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who informed the public that he would be bringing the Gaza disengagement plan to a cabinet vote via a newspaper interview with Haaretz journalist Yoel Marcus.

Prime Minister Netanyahu maintains a Facebook page, the Government Press Office issues statements and there is a prime minister’s web page, but the live give-and-take of a press conference, even with the prime minister’s spokesperson, is missing. Such sparring is the heart of a democratic discourse between the elected and the voters.

As Aditi Bhatia points out in his 2009 academic article on press conferences, they are “a part of media discourse, since [they] are held more for the benefit of the general populace and members of the media…

in part creating the reality we are familiar with.”

The American system is different.

Most weekdays, the White House conducts, and then provides both video-recorded footage and a transcript of press briefings, including occasional briefings by the president and other administration officials.

The State Department follows the same basic practice.

The prime minister owes the public answers to many questions.

He, as well as the finance minister, should explain to us why for example they believe that reducing VAT by one percent will heal the economy.

The prime minister should explain why he does not keep his campaign promises, for example the further development of Judea and Samaria. The defense minister owes us an explanation regarding his decisions to evacuate Jewish communities while delaying planning and authorization of new construction.

The education minister should give an accounting of his handling of the crisis in the Christian school system, a crisis that is giving Israel a black eye abroad. Yet, none of this happens.

Instead, the politicians get away with Facebook or Twitter comments – or worse. According to Vigo, hired by the Walla news website to track the viewing statistics of a short video clip Netanyahu released on the theme “what the media won’t tell you about me and my government,” the number of times the mainstream media (television, radio and websites) mentioned the clip was five million, which more or less equaled the number of people who would have seen/read an interview conducted with him in those same outlets. That effort of Netanyahu’s was a form of talking to the public above the heads of the media. The monitoring traced at least 11,000 “likes,” 1,500 responses, 1,500 “shares” and another 5,000 spin-off “conversations.” Netanyahu beat the press on their own turf.

The public, and our democratic process, would have been served much better by a give-and-take interview.

The relationships between the press and politicians, and especially senior government officials, can be portrayed as murky and Machiavellian.

But the same is true for almost any intersection of any other institution with the media, from rock stars, industrialists and academics to sports club managers. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the media seeking sources and the sources seeking publicity.

Herbet Gans wrote in 1979: “[T]he relationship between sources and journalists, resembles a dance, for sources seek access to journalists, and journalists seek access to sources.

Although it takes two to tango, either sources or journalists can lead….” To paraphrase a 1993 study, the country’s highest elected official is more than newsworthy, but possesses the equipment to manage the flow of news. Instant news, photo opportunities and ceremonies are the tools. By using them (or not), one can exert considerable influence over the citizenry.

The essence, though, is interaction between the elected and the voter. If that interaction is disrupted, from either side, or one side or the other unfairly manipulates the information received or distributed, it is the public that loses out. In Israel, both the so-called “leading journalists” and politicians prefer the situation as it is at present; the former get scoops, while the latter can enact policy with no serious questions asked.

This practice undermines the media consumer’s ability to comprehend and make decisions on issues of politics, economics, diplomacy and culture; passively listening to or reading the words of a prime minister is the closest a citizen can get to an unfiltered conversation.

Almost unfiltered, that is.

The other side of the picture, which perhaps justifies to some extent Netanyahu’s avoidance of direct contact with the press, is that the media does not treat him or his government with the required objectivity. We would guess that Netanyahu is not averse to criticism – provided that it’s honest, as opposed to politically motivated and narrow-minded. Silly interviews such as those conducted in the past by people such as Aryeh Golan or Nissim Mishal are the other side of the coin; lack of jouralistic professionalism creates an aversion to the media among too many politicians.

Israel’s democracy and public would gain if journalists would simply do their homework and consider themselves agents of the public, rather than Netanyahu’s ideological rivals. If this were to happen, we would be in for a good start to a new year.

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September 10, 2015

MEDIA COMMENT: We win, the public loses

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:49 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: We win, the public loses
By YISRAEL MEDAD,ELI POLLAK, 09/09/2015
Last Thursday, in the wee hours of the morning, it seemed that after 65 years something was really moving in our public broadcasting system.
Last Thursday, in the wee hours of the morning, it seemed that after 65 years something was really moving in our public broadcasting system. Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud) and Rabbi MK Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism) spearheaded a welcome change in the ethical principles guiding our public broadcasting. After years during which especially the public broadcasting journalists usurped the airwaves for their own purposes under the guise of free speech and democracy, the Knesset, guided by Akunis and Eichler, passed the following amendment, which would be applicable to all employees of the public broadcaster: “Avoid one-sidedness, prejudice, expressing personal opinions, giving grades and affixing labels, ignoring facts or selectively emphasizing them not according to their newsworthiness.”

These words resulted in a brouhaha. Our public broadcasting journalists led the pack, shouting gevalt! a crime! Here’s one example, from the Facebook page of IBA representative Yigal Ravid, who had this to say to Minister Akunis: “You were the patron of crooked and stupid administrators who provided you with the microphone without your asking for it and you did not pay attention to warnings about their flattery.”

In one sentence, this public broadcast journalist potentially violated the new law twice. He attacked not only the minister but also his colleagues in the IBA, who were carrying out their duties as public servants. Ravid expects that a minister or MK has to request to be interviewed, but does not think it reasonable that sometimes an editor might invite a politician to be interviewed without having pressure put upon him.

Another example is Amnon Abramowitz, who in his Friday night weekly sermon on Channel 2 TV reminded us all that 20 years ago Israel’s Media Watch went to the Supreme Court against the IBA, demanding that Abramowitz’s private opinions be withheld from the public. Abramowitz, as in many other cases, was not accurate in his report. Our brief at the time was to assure that he would be balanced by someone else with different opinion, to assure pluralism. The IBA had no choice but to accept the demand but argued that balance need not be achieved on a specific day, but over time. It took but a few more years until Abramowitz had to leave the IBA, since he was not willing to have anyone challenge him on air. Abramowitz and pluralism do not go together.

It is precisely this kind of unethical and unprofessional behavior that Minister Akunis and MK Eichler tried to bring to a halt. Not that one should expect Israeli journalists to abide by the new guidelines; Ravid and his friends have a deep disdain for professional ethics. They also do not understand democracy – after all, the public broadcaster belongs to the public, not to Ravid.

Unfortunately though, our prime minister lost his will to do battle with these self-serving prophets of doom. He gave in to the noise, and it took only two days for him to draft a revision of the law, canceling the impertinent paragraph of Akunis and Eichler.

Minister Akunis, an avid supporter of the prime minister, had no choice but to resign as minister responsible for implementation of the public broadcasting law. If the prime minister is going to overrule his decisions, why should he take the responsibility? Indeed, during the past few weeks, the prime minister on two other occasions overruled Akunis, likely out of fear of the media. The original law mandated that all employees of the IBA would cease working on the day the new law is implemented. The workers, with the Histadrut, threatened a general strike, even implementing a minor two-hour shutdown of the airport, and the prime minister relented. At present, no employee of the IBA will be fired, everything will be done “by agreement” between the employee organizations and the finance ministry.

The third instance had to do with appointing the board for the newly formed Israeli Broadcasting Corporation.

The prime minister did not ratify the appointments.

The outcry was strong, especially from the opposition, and the prime minister again relented, ratifying the new board this past week.

But let us consider the facts. For one, the Akunis/ Eichler amendment is nothing new. The venerated BBC, arguably the most respected public broadcaster in the world, has the following guidelines: “BBC staff and regular BBC presenters or reporters associated with news or public policy-related output may offer professional judgments rooted in evidence. However, it is not normally appropriate for them to present or write personal view programmes and content on public policy, on matters of political or industrial controversy, or on ‘controversial subjects’ in any area.”

The BBC is not alone.

The Australian public broadcaster’s guidelines are: “Do not state or imply that any perspective is the editorial opinion of the ABC. The ABC takes no editorial stance other than its commitment to fundamental democratic principles including the rule of law, freedom of speech and religion, parliamentary democracy and equality of opportunity. Do not misrepresent any perspective. Do not unduly favour one perspective over another.”

In fact, a fundamental aspect of public broadcasting is that its employees do not use their positions to further their personal agendas. A permanent employee who has a daily program cannot be balanced by his or her guests. It violates the principle of pluralism and worst of all, especially when it comes to news, it creates mistrust.

After all, if the anchor has a strong opinion, how can she or he be fair to whoever they are interviewing? It was Swedish professor Hans Rosling, and not a “right wing” Israeli, who, on Danish television last week, criticized the media for being “arrogant,” adding, “You can’t trust the news outlets if you want to understand the world.” And it was Maulana Mohammed Ali Jauhar, one of India’s foremost early 20th-century journalists and a Muslim activist, who declared, “Politics was a passion, not a pastime, and journalism a ‘means’ not an ‘end.’” Legislation is, in principle, bad policy. Ethics and professionalism are implemented much more successfully if they come from within, rather from an external law. The sad truth though is that for decades, pluralism, objectivity and respect for the public have not been part of the public broadcaster’s ethos. This is not to say that one cannot identify some impeccable professionals who do not follow the pack. But it is the majority that create the spirit, which in this case is bad.

Moreover, even though the law provides for oversight in the form of public commissions and ombudsmen, in practice they have no clout and more often are simply unwilling to censor their colleagues. The Akunis/Eichler legislation was a necessity, but was overruled by weakness.

To end on a positive note, we wish all of our readers a happy, healthy and blessed New Year and pray that among many other needs of our valiant country, the newly formed public broadcaster, too, will find the way to turn a truly liberal, pluralistic and democratic page.

__________

in our original article, we wrote:
“In one sentence, this public broadcast journalist violated the law twice.”
In the print version this became:
“In one sentence, this public broadcast journalist violated the NEW law twice.”
But he did not violate the new law, since he wrote the things on facebook and the new law does not relate to that at all and woe if it would. A journalist is allowed to express their own opinion outside of work, just like every one else. He violated a different law, the one that forbids people to attack public servants for doing their job. The addition of the word “New” was, in this instance inappropriate.

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September 3, 2015

MEDIA COMMENT: Obituaries

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:03 pm by yisraelmedad

MEDIA COMMENT: Obituaries
by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 09/02/2015
During the past week we were exposed to repeated comments from employees of the Israel Broadcasting Authority as to how professional they are. They criticized the government for its meddling in their domain, claiming that their record fully justifies the continuation of employment of all IBA employees. Any attempt at involuntary termination of IBA employees is met with forceful opposition. The Histadrut, in solidarity with the IBA employees, has already flexed its muscles, stopping work at the airport for two hours this past Sunday. Employees took over the Broadcasting House in Romema over Shabbat.

As our readers know well, we believe that the IBA is a sick organization which must be thoroughly revamped, and this has been our position since 1995. Not only is the management inadequate and wasteful – to the tune of billions – but the employees have not internalized that they are public servants and that the IBA should reflect Israeli society.

There is no better example of the narrow-mindedness of our public media’s shallowness, ignorance and lack of service than its relation to obituaries.

We all hope and believe that our life’s work will continue to be appreciated by later generations.

Especially when someone who has made her or his mark on life passes away, the sadness is not limited to family and friends but affects society at large. The legacy of the deceased may affect us all, and may also serve as a role model, especially for the younger generation. The reaction of the media to the death of such individuals is thus quite important. It provides an opportunity to consider those things in life which are dear to us all and which we would want to see passed on from generation to generation.

Rama Messinger was a highly decorated Israeli actress. Already in high school she had begun studying acting. Her army service was in the Southern Command Troupe.

She continued with her acting studies at the Beit Zvi College for the performing arts. She participated in many of the productions of the Habima theater and received awards for her performances. In 2012, for example, she received the Israeli Theater Prize for her performance as lead actress in the play Souvenir, performed by the Beersheba Theater.

She passed away on August 18, after a seven-year struggle with cancer, at the relatively young age of 47. Her untimely death was headlined in the news reports of the IBA for two days. Some of her recordings were re-broadcast, as a befitting eulogy for a respected actress.

Yossi Piamenta, a singer and musician, passed away on August 23 at the age of 64, also after a long bout with cancer. His army service was in the Artillery Forces Band, as a guitarist. In 1974, together with his brother Albert Piamenta he formed the Piamenta Troupe, which appeared in various Israeli clubs. In 1978 he left Israel for the United States, where he was considered one of the highly gifted guitarists of his generation. He returned to Israel in 2005. His death was not widely covered by the media.

Perhaps not surprisingly, his claim to fame, as reported in the Makor Rishon newspaper this past Friday, was Jewish music. He was one of the first to use the electric guitar within this context. At the same time, he was also a “ba’al tshuva” (Jew who returns to Orthodox Judaism) who joined and supported the Chabad movement.

Piamenta did not belong to the traditional Israeli performing elite.

The news editors did not rub shoulders with him, were not conversant with Jewish music, and so he simply did not exist.

We do not accuse the IBA or Galatz of purposely ignoring him because he was religious, but the fact that there was no obituary for him is a reflection of the narrow-mindedness and lack of professionalism of those who present us with the arts on in our electronic media.

Professor Jacob Bekenstein, a physicist, is a very different case.

Bekenstein, who was born in 1947 in Mexico, made aliya to Israel from the United States in 1974. At the age of 31 he was already a full professor at Ben-Gurion University. He then moved in 1990 to the Hebrew University.

He was elected to the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities in 1997. He was a recipient of almost any prize one could think of, including the Wolf Prize in Physics in 2012 and the Einstein Prize of the American Physical Society in 2015.

His life’s work revolved around the thermodynamics of black holes.

His contributions are of the same caliber as those of Stephen Hawking.

He passed away suddenly in his hotel room attending a conference on August 16 at the relatively young age of 68.

Israel is a “startup country.” Education of our youth in the sciences is essential to upholding our advantage.

Professor Jacob Bekenstein was a role model. A modest and unassuming person, readily accessible to anyone who wanted to approach him, but a genius at the same time, who made deep contributions to society at large and to Israel’s excellent reputation and recognition in the sciences all over the world. His early death was simply not mentioned. Yes, he was also an Orthodox Jew, who did not hide his convictions, and this, too, was part of his personality; the model of “Torah with Derech Eretz.” Yet, our media ignored him.

Is this what the IBA people consider professional? Professor Robert Wistrich passed away suddenly on May 19 at the age of 70. He was a professor of European and Jewish History at the Hebrew University and head of its Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism. Wistrich grew up in England and received his PhD from the University of London in 1974. He made aliya in 1982 and joined the Hebrew University as a full professor. He was one of the most important defenders of the Jewish People and the State of Israel of our time. He repeatedly warned that anti-Semitism was on the rise in Europe. Wistrich was not politically correct. He did not kowtow to the historians and other academics who have made it a habit to pursue and vilify the State of Israel in the name of revisionist post-modern history. His untimely death was a loss to Israeli society. Yet it was hardly mentioned on our airwaves.

Space limits us from going into detail regarding other great people who have left their mark and passed away recently. One of them is Professor Benjamin Gross of Bar- Ilan University, who passed away at the age of 90 on August 3. Gross was French in origin and was considered one of spiritual leaders of French Jewry. One might have thought that at a time when French Jews are coming on aliya to Israel and under attack in France, Gross’ death would have some impact, but no, our professionals know better.

Is it any wonder that the IBA is now being eulogized?

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