February 25, 2016

MEDIA COMMENT: Pluralism? It depends

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:06 am by yisraelmedad

MEDIA COMMENT: Pluralism? It depends
A different mantra, pushed by our capitalist society, is the need for competition and the reduction of government involvement in the operations of private companies.
One of the mantras often repeated by our democracy gurus is the need for pluralism. In a democratic society which upholds freedom of speech, one should create platforms which bring to the forefront the broad spectrum of opinions, cultural backgrounds and ethnic origins that exist in it. Indeed, this is a cornerstone of the laws which created our public broadcasting authorities. The distance between theory and practice is unfortunately very large, as we shall see when we consider the saga of TV Channel 20.

A different mantra, pushed by our capitalist society, is the need for competition and the reduction of government involvement in the operations of private companies.

The Netanyahu governments have been oft-criticized by our socialists for their privatization policies. But when it comes to the media, one may conclude, especially during the past six years, that the opposite is the rule. If anything, the Netanyahu governments were more interested in concentrating media power within a government umbrella through its agencies, than in encouraging a free and competitive electronic broadcasting market with minimal government involvement.

And, as we shall illustrate, the saga of TV Channel 20 proves the point.

Toward the end of the previous century, the Israeli government rightly concluded that the number of players in the TV market was too small. To overcome legal obstacles and contractual obligations, a rather strange formula was created.

Israel would have five “dedicated” TV channels: a Russian- language channel, Israeli music, Arabic, news and Jewish heritage. The Jewish heritage channel has had a tumultuous history. Eventually, Channel 20 began broadcasts on June 30, 2014. It is a commercial channel, garnering income from advertisements. It may be viewed on cable TV as part of the free package. It can also be watched via satellite as well as on the Ynet website and the cellular phone system.

Its mandate is to provide entertainment and cultural programming related to Jewish heritage, stressing a Zionist and pro-Israeli viewpoint. Its programming is family-oriented. A left-of-center media critic, Lior Averbukh of Globes, describes the channel’s programming as “right-wing religious.”

The owners of the channel are Isaac Mirilashvili and Avi Bar. Mirilashvili is an Israeli billionaire of Georgian descent.

He is considered to be the Russian equivalent of Mark Zuckerberg, having created the Russian- language social network Vknotakte.ru, which boasts 150 million users. Bar was formerly the executive director of the Sports Channel. The chairman of the board is Mordechai Shaklar, who has a rich history in Israel’s broadcasting industry.

He served as the chairman of the board and then as the executive director of the Second Authority for TV and Radio (SATR). He then became the executive director of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

Shaklar identifies with the national religious camp and lives in Ofra.

So much for background.

Shaklar and the channel have a big appetite. They want to broadcast news and current events programs, knowing well that this would increase their viewership and thus their income. This has upset our democracy gurus. The headline on May 21, 2015, Haaretz story on the channel was: “This is how channel 20 changed from a Jewish Heritage channel to the Israeli Fox News.” The subtitle claimed that Channel 20’s mandate was to broadcast programs on Jewish heritage and tradition, “but under the nose of the regulator the channel turned into a current events channel with a clear right-wing conservative point of view.”

As expected, Haaretz hiccuped and the rest of Israel stands at attention. In June 2015, the SATR fined Channel 20 NIS 100,000 for broadcasting an election rally. On August that same year, the channel was fined another NIS 151,000 for presenting news headlines.

Is the news to be a government- controlled commodity? The chair of SATR is Eva Medziboz. She was appointed by Likud Minister Gilad Erdan when he served in the previous Netanyahu government as communications minister. Her board continues to behave in a rather nasty fashion toward Channel 20. The channel has presented a formal request to the SATR to change the conditions of its license. In a country where law and order is respected, this would of course be unthinkable, but in Israel, where Channel 10 TV had for years requested and then eventually was authorized to change its contractual obligations, such a request should be considered the norm.

What did the channel ask for? As reported by the Globes’ Averbukh, the request was to reduce the Jewish heritage programming to 75 percent.

It is here that all those who spoke about pluralism and the need to have more than two TV channels showed their true colors. TV channels 2 and 10, the music channel 24 and the editors union are all against the request. Channel 10 claims that this would give Channel 20 an unfair competitive edge! The Keshet concessionaire of TV Channel 2 claims the same.

They went so far as to note that the license of Channel 20 was not to provide the right-wing religious segment of the Israeli population with its own TV station.

Of course, TV Channel 2 news also joined the fray, claiming that the SATR does not have the legal right to allow Channel 20 to broadcast news. Globes adds that Channel 2 noted that “naturally we support fair competition in TV news broadcasting.”

Channel 20 is also vying to obtaining the license to run the Knesset TV channel.

This would of course allow it to enter the hard and soft TV news market. However, to date, nothing has happened. We do not expect the SATR to give any concessions to Channel 20.

After all, its job is to defend the concessionaires who pay the salaries of the SATR. These are Channels 2 and 10. Channel 20 is part of the cable network and does not have to pay royalties into the coffers of the SATR. So why should the SATR care? It makes more pragmatic sense to kowtow to the concessionaires.

The sad part of all this story is not the expected bureaucratic attitude of the SATR, but that those who trumpet democracy in Israel are for some strange reason rather quiet. The Israel Democracy Institute is silent.

The Seventh Eye left-wing media review website does not defend Channel 20 either.

Communications Minister Netanyahu has also been rather quiet.

Could it be that pluralism is a value honored only on paper but not in practice? That “pluralism” is defined as different shades of left-wing liberal content, with the Right to be shunned and allowed extremely limited access to the public broadcasting arena? We are heartened by a report that senior officials in the Communications Ministry are reviewing the decision to permit only left-wing satire on Channel One television, the subject of our article last week.

Will there be progress on Channel 20’s status soon? We don’t know but in the meanwhile, next time you hear someone complaining about pluralism, remind them of the saga of Channel 20.




February 18, 2016

MEDIA COMMENT: Apologize? Never!

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:14 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Apologize? Never!
Public feelings and outrage are of value only when they support liberal left-wing beliefs.
Reuven Ze’ev (Razi) Barkai, age 67, is a veteran self-admitted left-wing journalist.

His brother was killed in a training accident while undergoing an IDF officer’s course and Barkai himself served as an officer in the paratroopers. Only after leaving the army did he start his professional career as a journalist. In 1971, he joined Kol Israel, remaining there for the next 22 years. Since 1995, he hosts a two-hour daily morning interview program on Galatz called Ma Boer? (What’s Burning?).

Barkai is an Israeli media icon. He is a recipient of many honors, including the prestigious Sokolov Prize. There is no question that he is a Zionist, yet there is also no doubt that he belongs ideologically to the Israel liberal secular camp.

Barkai has appeared too many times in this column, and not in a positive context. Detrimental comments on haredim (the ultra-Orthodox), smoking in public in the Galatz radio studio in violation of the law (since then he has given up smoking) and much more. Yet, his biggest failing comes from his outsized ego. Barkai knows what is good for us as no one else knows.

This past week, Barkai was at the center of a media storm. Sunday a week ago, interviewing Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, he posed the following question in the context of the issue of releasing the bodies of slain terrorists to their families for burial: “Imagine Israeli families, and sadly we know such cases, for example, as a result of Operation Protective Edge, who are waiting endlessly until the bodies of their fallen beloved are returned to them.” Erdan responded: “This is the comparison you are making?” and Barkai retorted, “From the point of view of the feelings of the families.”

The families in question, whose sons Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul fell in the operation and whose bodies are held hostage by Hamas, were upset. The next morning, Simcha Goldin was interviewed on Galatz by Niv Raskin and expressed his unhappiness with Barkai’s question. Raskin was prepared and had Barkai on air to respond. It was here that Barkai’s stubbornness and ego came to the forefront. He was willing to apologize if he hurt the families – but was not willing to retract his question. As he declared, “I believe that there is no difference between the feelings of a grieving mother, whether she is Israeli or Palestinian.”

Barkai was not willing to concede that there is a qualitative difference between a mother who loses her son who was sent by the state to defend it from the enemy and a mother whose son is a cruel murderer or even attempted murderer of innocent people. His question implied that he does not find it justified if Israel keeps bodies of Palestinian terrorists hostage, until Hamas does the decent thing and return the bodies of our fallen.

Worse, Barkai was playing into the hands of the enemy, legitimizing in a sense the fact that Hamas does not allow a decent burial for our fallen soldiers.

True, Israel’s authorities do not always immediately return fallen terrorists to their families, but not simply to hold them as hostages.

They want to prevent mass hatred-fueled demonstrations, fearing that these would only further incite other misguided people to try to kill Israelis. But according to Barkai, this is cruel toward the Palestinian mother, to be equated with the suffering of the Jewish mother.

As a private person, Barkai has the right to his opinion, but he is not a private person.

He is the voice of Israel’s Army Radio Station for the past 20 years. He even represented it during Knesset deliberations on the future of the station. One might have thought he would understand that this publicly funded media outlet should not engage in undermining the effort of the security services to defend the state.

The public outrage against him was huge.

The parents wrote a letter to Galatz head Yaron Dekel, demanding an apology without ifs ands or buts. We, at Israel’s Media Watch’s website, received close to a hundred complaints from citizens all over the country, demanding an apology, but to no avail.

Worse, even, was the February 14 answer of the ombudsman of the station, Eran Elyakim.

“As a public broadcaster, although a military station,” he wrote, “it is our duty to bring to the public the full spectrum of opinion and voices…also if sometimes they are debatable.

Accordingly, it is the job of the interviewer to challenge the interviewee with tough questions that represent opinion and thoughts among part, even if small, of the public.”

He continued with a flat-out falsification of the truth, claiming that “Razi apologized to the families at the beginning of his program this morning.” In fact, that same morning, Barkai opened his program with the following statement: “I cannot lie to myself and give a retraction.”

It just so happened that during this whole brouhaha, Dekel let it be known that Barkai’s two-hour Sunday through Wednesday program would be cut in half with the second hour being hosted by right-wing radio presenter Erel Segal of the Galei Yisrael regional radio station and the NRG news website.

This would not have been the first change brought about at Galatz by Dekel. The leftwing morning news roundup presenter, Micha Friedman, found himself outside, replaced by a much younger colleague, Assaf Lieberman. Yael Dan, the veteran left-wing host of the two-hour noon program, found herself with only one hour, the other being given to another lefty colleague, Rino Tzror.

While the reduction of Dan’s program was accepted without complaint, the very idea of balancing Barkai enraged the media elites. As reported by Elkana Shor on the NRG website, Labor MK Nachman Shai, a former head of the station himself, claimed, incredulously to our mind, that he “is worried about the very existence of the station.” Gabi Gazit, who had to leave public broadcasting because of his outspoken views and rude comments, invited Barkai to join him on FM 103 radio.

Yitzchak Livni, an icon of public broadcasting, joined the fray saying, “this damages Galatz.” Avi Benayahu, another former head of Galatz, added his two bits: “I am concerned about the politicization infiltrating the studios of Galatz.” For some reason, this politicization did not really disturb him when, appointed by former prime minister Ehud Barak as head of the station, he perpetuated its left-wing, liberal character as much as he could.

The brouhaha worked again. Dekel’s resolve collapsed. It was reported on Tuesday that Barkai will continue broadcasting his two-hour program. As for Erel Segal, who knows.

But does someone really care? After all, he is but a member of Israel’s lowly right wing.

Barkai and friends succeeded in bringing Galatz to a new low. Humility, ethics and all the nice words are irrelevant. Public feelings and outrage are of value only when they support liberal left-wing beliefs. The recourse left to the public is to switch to those media outlets which support just a wee bit of decency.


February 11, 2016

MEDIA COMMENT: The ‘joke’ is on us

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:41 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The ‘joke’ is on us


In a country which prides itself on a sincere commitment to values of democracy, professionalism and ethical behavior, those who have been entrusted with working on behalf of the common good would do so without prejudice and would elevate the common good above their own personal beliefs.

That is the basic approach we citizens would expect of our politicians, our police, our judges and the employees of the various public broadcasting networks that, by law, are charged, as is the new public broadcasting corporation, to provide a service that is “independent, aimed at the general public… and providing a fair, equal and balanced expression of the views and opinions generally held by the public.”

Last week, in what would seem to be a more normal country than Israel, Great Britain, Rona Fairhead, chairwoman of the BBC Trust, warned Culture Secretary John Whittingdale that she was “very concerned” that he might be negligent in his duty if he were to ignore the views of the public. Her remarks came in response to the report “that some of the 190,000 responses to the government consultation on the BBC were too ‘left wing.’” In her letter to him, made public, she referred to newspaper reports that a second ministry, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, would be launching its own inquiry amid concerns that the consultation on the future of the corporation had been “hijacked by a leftwing campaigning group.” In an interview at the end of January, Fairhead defended the corporation’s presenters, saying “they are from all political views, so I would say I know just how hard the BBC works [at impartiality],” but last August she also had “called for the public to be given a greater say in deciding its [the BBC’s] destiny.”

Do our broadcasting directors, producers and editors seek to integrate in their shows and programs a balanced reflection of the general public’s views in their entertainment and satire programs or do they engage in elitist disdain for those views and seek to “reeducate” the citizens? The question is of course a rhetorical one. Those who ran the old Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and those who are running the new Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation do not care what we the public really think of them, notwithstanding the slogan “The Broadcasting Authority – yours and for you” repeated many time daily.

The latest escapade has to do again with “satire.”

After four years of dithering, last year the IBA had no choice but to allow, for the first time in Israel’s history, the broadcasting of an openly Zionist-oriented satirical program – Hakol Shafit – (“We’ll Be the Judge”). To be sure, this was “balanced” by a different program – Hayehudim Ba’im (‘The Jews Are Coming’) – aimed at making fun of everything Jewish, right-wing or Zionist.

This year, the public funding of the Broadcasting Authority will again go toward airing Hayehudim Ba’im. However, Hakol Shafit will not be shown. It was rejected at the outset despite the fact that if the ratings were compared, it should have merited a second season as well. Balance? Only when the programming comes from the Right need there be balance, it appears.

And why has only Hakol Shafit been eliminated from the broadcasting schedule? Did they try to find a replacement? It isn’t like there is no other source for good satire. Consider the Underdos website. “Dos” is the Yiddish pronunciation of “dati,” religious.

The creators of this website and its clips took it upon themselves to take an insightful and funny look especially into the national religious segment of Israel’s population.

They introduce themselves as follows: “A group of four problematic religious comedians. They have become notorious, and even wellknown, rabbis and public figures have scathingly denounced them…

The Underdoses express their deep regrets for this distress and simultaneously deny the accusations against them. To purify their names the Underdoses have taken upon themselves the burden of posting video clips which reflect their positive image.”

The troupe was conceived by Nadav Naveh, an alumnus of the Kiryat Shemona Hesder Yeshiva and the Ma’aleh School of Television, Film & the Arts. Together with his study buddy at the yeshiva, Matan Tzur, they discussed the initiative and the two suggested their proposition to another former study partner Yair Ya’akobi, who considered it deeply for five seconds and agreed to join the venture. Finally, they added a fourth partner, Asher Ben- Abu, who they knew from joint service in the army, although admitting that they had their hesitations since he came from a different Hesder yeshiva. Their first clip was put on the Internet in January 2012.

For those of you who would argue that the Authority cannot even consider the Underdoses due to gender discrimination, don’t worry, their clips have many women starring in them, such as Na’ama Kleinman, Tamar Shilo and Avital Ben-Gad.

But all this to no avail. The powers that be decided that only Hayehudim Ba’im will go on air at the end of this month. Why? We don’t know exactly.

To introduce the new season, a promo was released. It’s a song parodying the many names God has in Judaism (except for the unprounceable Tetragrammaton). In the boring two-minute clip, the actors also manage to display their posteriors toward their creator. Moni Moshonov, one of the series’ lead actors, starts to say the first two syllables of the Tetragrammaton and then, poof! He disappears. Is that funny or derogatory? One of the younger figures on the show, 46-year-old Yossi Marshak (Moshonov is 64), does not hide his motivation, which as reported on Ynet is to create anger, the more the merrier. In the IBA’s February 4 press release, he admitted they didn’t even think they would merit a second season. Well, he must be laughing now.

We have urgently requested that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayahu (who is also communications minister) hold off the broadcasting of the series’ new season until it is balanced by another program. We have also alerted Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev to the situation.

You can do the same. After all, it’s the public broadcasting service, no? Or, will the joke continue to be on us.


February 3, 2016

MEDIA COMMENT: Learning a media lesson

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:08 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Learning a media lesson
The media went so far as to imply that the Im Tirtzu campaign was just a natural outgrowth of the assassination of prime minister Rabin.
These past weeks, the Im Tirtzu organization felt the heavy hand of the media which is simultaneously an arbiter, provider and judge of public discourse. Colliding head-on with the cultural icons and heroes of much of the mainstream media, Im Tirtzu ended up battered, vilified and impugned. Its director resigned.

This student group has engaged in many social and political battles since its founding, but always refused to cooperate with media review organizations such as Israel’s Media Watch, believing it more beneficial to work with the media. This week they learned the hard way that the end does not justify the means.

In mid-December, Im Tirtzu launched a social media campaign via Facebook to highlight the extent of foreign involvement in far-left groups opposing government policies and especially the Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria. As we noted in our December 24 column, “Silencing the truth-sayers,” the media provided “judgment of Im Tirtzu’s actions” and “calm and rational discourse was a rare media commodity.”

The buzzword was “shtulim”. Taken from the Hebrew root meaning “to plant,” it was intended by Im Tirtzu to indicate a foreign agent, a mole, as well as those who subvert by working for an outside body/idea within another body, implanted and nurtured with outside funds.

The new poster uploaded last week, reading “The NIF [New Israel Fund] presents: Implanted in Culture,” highlighted the fact that four cultural icons – actress Gila Almagor, playwright Joshua Sobol, novelist Amos Oz and Sha’anan Street, lead singer of Hadag Nachash – not only expressed radical opinions but were actually members of public governing councils of various groups such as B’Tselem, Yesh Din and the NIF.

The purpose was to accentuate the fact that these icons are political activists. The media distorted the message and portrayed Im Tirtzu as an organization seeking to frame them as traitors who should be violently punished. The NIF assisted this interpretation by launching its own counter-campaign. Its poster showed Yitzhak Rabin with the message “they already took care of this Shatul.”

What the media “overlooked” is that Im Tirtzu did not invent the term “shtulim” – the NIF did. It created and funds an organization called Shatil, whose full name is The NIF Initiative for Social Change. This is just Orwellian doublespeak for a program aimed at training Israelis to implement the far-left policies of the NIF. As the name Shatil implies, the goal is to “implant” activists within Israeli society who will create a New Israel, a more “progressive civil society” dominated by “humanist” values.

Anyone with a basic knowledge of the Hebrew language can grasp that a graduate of Shatil should be called a “shatul,” someone who has been implanted.

The Israeli media totally ignored this. They related to the word “shtulim” as fascist terminology, preferring to view it as a throwback to John La Carre’s novels on the Cold War period and his descriptions of a deeply implanted double agent.

The media went so far as to imply that the Im Tirtzu campaign was just a natural outgrowth of the assassination of prime minister Rabin. Im Tirtzu’s accusations, it was implied, were intended to bring about a similar fate for the icons mentioned in their campaign.

Im Tirtzu chose a frontal attack on what The New York Times defined as “beloved leftist literary icons…who have been considered the voice – and conscience – of the state.” That adulatory judgment was voiced by Rina Matsliah on Saturday night presenting Channel 2’s Meet the Press program. Instead of taking neutral ground as media ethics would dictate, she referred to “this baseless campaign” that has “poison flowing in the streets.” She then continued her unprofessional conduct by interviewing actress Sara von Schwarze with no right of reply given to Im Tirtzu, and followed that with an interview on Monday while hosting, “Shesh” (Six) the evening news program. Talking with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, she stated, not as a question, that there is an “evil wind” blowing from the Right. To Shaked’s credit, she called out Matsliah for ignoring the negative left-wing campaign.

The simple but quite effective tactic of not giving Im Tirtzu the right of reply was also implemented on Channel 1 TV’s “Friday at Five”, when Uri Levy and Kinneret Barashi interviewed Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich regarding Im Tirtzu’s campaign. The same tactic was used by left-wing media icon Rino Tzror on Sunday when he interviewed Alex Livak and Ronny Someck, targets of the campaign. He also used the loaded term “great fear” to unethically influence his listening audience. On his Twitter account, he tweeted out Someck’s line “my pain is that of the State.”

Last Thursday, Yoav Krakovsky with Nechama Duek on their Kol Yisrael Reshet Bet “Dining Room” show interviewed only Yacimovich. She spoke of a “very dangerous attack on the freedom of expression and the rule of law.” Im Tirtzu was denied the opportunity to respond. That same day, Attila Somfalvi, Ynet’s chief political correspondent, described the campaign as “provocative.”

At the Walla! news site, again on Thursday, Dov Gilhar interviewed Sarit Vino-Elad, the sole discussant.

His question to her was: “Can you find it possible to say to these despised, fascist and contemptible people who composed these posters: ‘gentlemen, I am no less patriotic than you and perhaps even more so’?” Her reaction was to say, “Blood may be spilled over this.”

No one in the mainstream media recalled language employed in the past by these same cultural icons attacked by Im Tirtzu. In his 1989 speech in Tel Aviv’s (now) Rabin Square, Amos Oz declared that Gush Emunim is a “messianic sect, autistic and cruel, a band of armed gangsters, criminals against humanity, sadistic, pogromists, and murderers…[which] emerged…from the cellars of beastiality and filth…to force upon us a blood-thirsty and insane cult.”

The media did not remind us that right-of-center artists continue to be regularly shunted off our public stage, demeaned and even boycotted. It was Benny Ziffer in Haaretz on February 2 who noted “the left’s obscene contest over Israeli culture.” President Reuven Rivlin disinvited Amir Benayoun from an appearance at his residence a year ago in November. Ariel Zilber was prevented from receiving an award due to Dalia Rabin’s political opposition and Haifa University reneged on its decision to award Nobel Prize laureate Robert Aumann an honorary doctorate.

The meek and weak politicians from the Right collapsed, preferring to attack Im Tirtzu. The Likud’s Benny Begin, in a Kol Yisrael interview, stated, “Singling out so-called traitors is an old-fashioned fascist technique that is both ugly and dangerous.”

Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett opined: “The campaign against the artists is embarrassing, pointless and degrading.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu added, “I object to the use of the term ‘traitor’ for those who don’t agree with me” – a term Im Tirtzu did not use and which was falsely implanted in the discourse by the media.

In the end, Matan Peleg, Im Tirtzu’s executive director suspended himself and took full responsibility for the firestorm the poster created. The media won out.