June 29, 2016

MEDIA COMMENT: Channel 2, freedom of speech and the Knesset channel

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:36 pm by yisraelmedad

Channel 2, freedom of speech and the Knesset channel
Let us hope that at least the Knesset channel will no longer be under the hegemony of Channel 2 in the next decade.
C-SPAN, the Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network, was established by the cable television industry in the USA in 1979, providing the public with live coverage of a variety of governmental proceedings and congressional debates, historical programming as well as soft news. As reported on Wikipedia, it is a nonprofit organization, funded by a six-cent fee paid by the cable and satellite affiliates.

Emulating the US, Israel established the Knesset TV channel in 1995. Eight years later, the Knesset enacted a new law – “TV Broadcasts from the Knesset” – which firmly established the concept that there would be live broadcasts of Knesset deliberations. The funding for the channel comes from the Knesset budget, that is, we the taxpayers. TV Channel 2 won a 10-year contract to operate the channel starting November 2006.

In comparison to other TV channels in Israel, the Knesset channel is the most pluralistic.

Its presenters include people with diverse opinions, representing Right, Left, secular, religious and others. Notably though, the Arab minority is quite absent. The channel maintains a culture of fairness and equality. The other media channels have much to learn from it in this regard.

With the 10 years contract of channel 2 almost over, Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein has started the process of searching for a new carrier for the next decade. Wisely, he decided that after 13 years since the law was enacted, it is time not only to renew the contract, but first to review the operations of the channel, see what is positive and what needs to be changed. For this purpose he appointed a committee headed by former judge Sara Frisch.

The other members were Prof. Amit Shechter, a former legal adviser of the IBA; Prof. Alean al-Krenawi, president of Achva College and a sociologist whose expertise is the Beduin communities; Dr. Dina Shkolnik who lectures on behavioral science; Dr. Revital Amiran, a political scientist; Mr. Haim Zisovitch, the spokesman of Bar-Ilan University and a former radio host and correspondent at the IBA; Mr. Zvika Brot, the Knesset correspondent of Yediot Aharonot; former Likud MK Yossi Achimeir; and journalist and Likud member Naftali Ben-Simon.

The Frisch Committee submitted its recommendations to Edelstein in February. The latter decided to adopt most of them, and they certainly include some sweeping changes.

Perhaps the most important relates to improvements in communication technology; the report recommended that all Knesset deliberations be shown live via the Internet. It also recommended rephrasing the law’s title to “Law of Knesset TV Broadcasts” which would limit the broadcasts’ content. Issues which have nothing to do with the Knesset and its deliberations would be avoided.

The committee further noted that the purpose of the channel is to serve the Knesset and so suggested the law should include a paragraph disallowing degradation of the Knesset.

As might be expected, these suggestions (and others) raised a brouhaha. People like journalist Amit Segal, who has a weekly program on the Knesset channel and is also the political correspondent of TV Channel 2, obviously have to worry about their future in the channel.

The present recommendations might imply that there is no space for soft news programs such as his. Unsurprisingly, Segal promptly and severely criticized the committee’s findings. As reported in Globes, his ire was especially directed toward Dr. Amiran, accusing her of allowing the Knesset speaker to use her as an academic fig leaf. Amiran did not agree with all the committee’s recommendations and added minority opinions. For example, she thought that the legislation should not deal at all with the means of recording, considering these to be professional concerns regarding which any interference would be a sort of cewnsorship.

At the same time, she defended the “degradation paragraph” which has been the central target of criticism by, for example, Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich, who accused Knesset speaker Edelstein of attempting to exploit the channel for political purposes.

Last week, the Knesset initiated deliberations on the proposed legislation. The “degradation paragraph” was roundly criticized by the opposition.

Not less important, though, was the sharp criticism of Avi Weiss, CEO and czar of TV Channel 2’s news company.

With tongue in cheek, he noted: “We are very concerned about the Frisch Committee recommendations, independent of the question of who will get the contract. I have a difference of opinion as to the depth of the work of the committee.”

The “concern” of people like Weiss and of Amit Segal, whose blatant conflict of interest should have led to a total rejection of their comments, is but another reflection of the dominance of TV Channel 2.

Let us hope that at least the Knesset channel will no longer be under the hegemony of Channel 2 in the next decade.




June 22, 2016

MEDIA COMMENT: Oshrat Kotler is in trouble. Again…

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:16 pm by yisraelmedad

MEDIA COMMENT: Oshrat Kotler is in trouble. Again…
At least her diatribe was useful for someone.
Last October, in our weekly column entitled “Managing the news,” we described how Oshrat Kotler, a two-decade veteran of Galei Tzahal and Channel 2, and currently Channel 10’s news presenter, manages the news. We complained about her ethics infractions in 2014, but her bosses wrote back that they allowed her to be “opinionated in places where required.”

On October 3 last year, Kotler asked, “Why are Jews still permitted to enter the Temple Mount?” and called Temple Mount activists a “bunch of crazies.” Neutrality isn’t her style.

Nor is proportionality; four out of five people who appeared on her panel at the time opposed the right of Jews to benefit from the Law for the Protection of the Holy Places.

Back in January 2008, Kotler called for Israel’s government to negotiate with Hamas “before we sacrifice hundreds of victims on the altar of Israeli masculinity.”

Earlier, on Remembrance Day 2003, Kotler asked her viewers to “count 365 days of death, violence, government stupidity, poverty, ignorance, corruption, brutal warfare, suicide bombings.” She then broke down and cried, live on TV.

This past Saturday evening, hosting the week’s magazine news round-up, which included an item on the Samarian community of Yitzhar whose spokesperson also sang, Kotler informed her viewers that “he knows how to sing, to compose and direct – there is no doubt that he is a sane settler. It seems that those types do exist, even in Yitzhar.”

Channel 10, realizing that a storm of criticism was brewing on social media, quickly announced that its CEO had spoken with Kotler and that she would formally clarify her comments during the next program.

However, as the comments, overwhelmingly negative, increased, Kotler used the program’s Facebook page to inform readers that, “At the end of the report I decided to compliment Ezri Tovi, who sings well in my opinion, and I mentioned that it is good to know that there are sane settlers, in quotes, even in settlements such as Yitzhar.”

“My intention was obviously to commend Tovi’s moderation,” Kotler wrote, adding, “I certainly do not think that the settler community is insane, period.”

The real point of this latest episode is simple: if a media person violates the law or the professional ethical code the network has adopted, and is not punished or reprimanded, why should infractions or misbehavior not continue? Israel’s mainstream media elite, the guild of left-leaning liberals known as the “branja,” cares for ethics only if violations come from “the other side.”

To be fair, Kotler has been criticized from the far Left. Here is Gideon Levy in a column published in Haaretz on July 14, 2006: “There was always something didactic and teacher- like about her… For years, Oshrat Kotler was a newscaster on Channel 2. She came across as relatively intelligent, but with a sanctimonious streak.” It is amusing to note what bothers the extreme Left.

Given the fact that Kotler and others who have been the subjects of our media critique in this column have gotten away scot-free, is it any wonder that the spokesperson of opposition leader Isaac Herzog, Ofer Newman, felt it was quite acceptable to post his opinion that “The settlers built swimming pools on the blood of children they murdered… They blatantly abused our chances of not dying here. They violently took our hopes. They trampled Jewish ethics under their coarse feet… What kind of a twisted moral basis enables these people to stride along on a path toward the deaths of thousands of Israelis without anyone saying to them: ‘You have gone too far! You are lowly murderers. You belong in prison!’”

Newman obviously has been hearing too much from other “dignitaries” such as Amos Oz, David Grossman, Yair Garboz and a slew of politicians, many from the Labor Party, who over the decades used far worse language in their attempt to degrade the “settlers.”

True to form, Newman also apologized, with his excuse being his viewing that evening Shimon Dotan’s film, “The Settlers”. As it happens, one of us (YM) posted a blog back in July 2013 detailing, from an application Dotan made for funds for his film, the extreme negative views Dotan held and his agenda to paint the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria in the worst possible light.

Herzog realized his spokesperson was a potential albatross around his neck and said, “The post by my spokesperson, was… very wrong, because it creates a generalization that I am unwilling to accept and uses imagery that we mustn’t use under any circumstances…even in the middle of the debate, we will uphold their honor and do so respectfully.”

But as if from a script from one of our satirical programs, Newman himself sought a unique defense. He pointed to Oshrat Kotler’s own apology that Saturday night.

At least her diatribe was useful for someone.


June 16, 2016

MEDIA WATCH: McCarthyism in the media

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:51 pm by yisraelmedad

MEDIA WATCH: McCarthyism in the media
Some of the people at Channel 10 are afraid of a regulator who lived many years in Gush Etzion, has a kippa on his head and in the distant past worked for the prime minister.
Israel’s media knows that it can flex its might, especially with a right-of-center government.

Conservative politicians have an incomprehensible fear of negative reporting. The Rami Sadan brouhaha, over supposed remarks made by the new Channel 10 news oversight committee chair, is but one of many. It should be clear that Sadan did nothing illegal. His job is that of a regulator and his powers are limited.

Even so, some of the people at Channel 10 are afraid of a regulator who lived many years in Gush Etzion, has a kippa on his head and in the distant past worked for the prime minister.

Since Sadan is one of the founders of Israel’s Media Watch, we will not say more about his case, except that we believe that his detractors will be surprised at how well he carries out his job.

Ran Baratz was nominated in November 2015 by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be the director of communications in the Prime Minister’s Office, a job held previously by former editor of The Jerusalem Post David Bar-Ilan. True to form, the media searched, found a Facebook comment by Baratz relating to President Reuven Rivlin: “He is a peripheral person. One can send him with a paraglider to the Syrian Golan controlled by ISIS [Islamic State]. Just take him.”

Baratz did not violate any law. He made a negative comment, which one may or may not disagree with.

The damage, though, was done. To this day, no one has filled the job.

The prime minister is very sensitive to such criticism.

From 2000-2010, Danny Seaman was the director of the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO). From there he went on to become the deputy director general for information at the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs. Seaman was a veteran official, but his vast experience did not help him when in August 2013, he made the following Facebook comment about the Japanese: “I am sick of the Japanese…. holding their annual self-righteous commemorations for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims… instead they should be commemorating the estimated 50 million Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Malay, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Indonesian, Burmese and other victims of Japanese imperial aggression and genocide.”

True to form, Haaretz not only publicized his comments, it made sure that there would be international trouble for Israel by requesting the official response of the Japanese government to the criticism. This created a crisis in Israel-Japanese relations and the result was that in January 2014 Seaman resigned. Since then he is retired, no longer contributing his expertise for the sake and good of Israel as a government official.

Another example is the failed appointment of Danny Dayan, former executive director of the Yesha council, as Israel’s ambassador to Brazil. Extreme left-winger and Israel basher Alon Liel, a former Foreign Ministry director general, took it upon himself to block the appointment. He went to Brazil to convince the corrupt government of Dilma Roussef to veto the appointment. Liel is a private citizen, and can do what he wants, although we think his actions were treasonous. But the Israeli media just went ahead and publicized the issue.

It did not roundly criticize Liel for his actions, making it impossible for him to further show his face here in public. Quite the contrary, he is still considered an expert for example on relations with Turkey, due to his stint as Israeli charge d’affairs there from 1981-1983 and his PhD thesis, “The Dependence on Imported Energy and its Impact on Turkey’s Foreign Policy.”

He is sufficiently “respectable” that the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya is proud to have him mentioned on its website as a faculty member of the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy. Consider what would have happened had Ariel University employed Baruch Marzel as a lecturer on Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Haaretz would be the first to go on a McCarthyist binge against the university, calling for its closure. The rest of the media would then follow suit. But Liel? He’s untouchable as he is an extreme leftist.

Consider a more recent case, that of Gen. Yair Golan, the IDF deputy chief of staff since 2014. On May 4, 2016, Golan infamously compared Israel to Nazi Germany, saying: “Revolting processes that occurred in Europe in general, and particularly in Germany, back then – 70, 80 and 90 years ago – [are] among us today.”

Were his words at all comparable to the comments of Seaman or those attributed to Sadan? Of course not.

Yet there were those of the media who praised him.

When in response to the expulsion from Gaza in 2006 some people wore yellow stars of David they were severely criticized for daring to equate the expulsion with the Nazi era. But Golan not only continues in his job, he is hailed for his courage to speak out. Religious high-ranking officers, who dared pray publicly to the Almighty that he should help them out in their combat mission, were in contrast tied to the stake and burned alive.

Truly, McCarthyism is alive and kicking in the Israeli media. Sadly, Israel’s majority is not capable of putting it in the wastebin.

June 2, 2016

MEDIA COMMENT: A passion for regulation

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:23 pm by yisraelmedad

MEDIA COMMENT: A passion for regulation
Israel, the “start-up nation,” is unfortunately also well known for its heavy-handed bureaucracy.
It was almost 20 years ago that the Peled Commission, appointed by then communication minister Limor Livnat, recommended to the government that it create an Israeli version of America’s Federal Communications Commission. Regulating the media is a necessity, just as regulating restaurants is needed to ensure that the public does not come to harm. Yet, the regulation of the media in Israel is ridiculously complex.

There are separate regulators for the commercial radio and television, for cable and satellite TV, and for the new Israel Broadcasting Corporation.

This situation is very convenient for many people. The politicians profit for they can appoint their friends to the various oversight bodies, and for the employees of the commissions this is a source of livelihood.

It is thus very surprising that finally, the Netanyahu government seems to be getting around to actually implementing the unification of the Second TV and Radio Authority (SATR) and the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Authority (CSBA).

In fact, an in-depth discussion of the proposed legislation took place on Tuesday of this week in the Knesset Economics Committee.

Especially in view of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s capitalist ideology, which looks toward reducing the involvement of the government in our lives, one would have expected that the new regulator would operate under conditions that minimize its interference in the daily operations of the broadcasters. Competition would be encouraged. The regulator would only step in when really needed. This would be especially important for the upkeep of a minimal code of ethics, which would ensure clean programming and upholding basic norms, such as the right of retort.

In practice, the proposed law will lead to the opposite. It will strengthen the involvement of the new regulator in the various media organs. Consider the following example which was raised in committee by the representative of the YES cable company.

She complained that the communications company Cellcom, by broadcasting Internet TV, is unfairly competing with her company. YES is regulated by the SCBA while Cellcom, being defined as a communications company, is not. So far, so good. But then she demanded to have Cellcom regulated by the new authority. Neither she nor anyone else who participated in the deliberations, apart from Ziv Maor, the CEO of Israel’s Media Watch, apparently had the thought that the solution is not to regulate Cellcom, but to deregulate YES.

Indeed, the committee accepted as fact that the regulator would be involved in the programming of the private media stations, or that new players would have to live up to the present norms, which include hefty royalties to the government and intrusions into content. No one present even tried to stop this ludicrous and destructive involvement.

Ludicrous? Yes. Modern technology has made it possible for almost anyone with reasonable means to broadcast through the Internet, whether radio or TV. There is no way that the Israeli regulator would be able to control these broadcasts. There is also no need, for example, for the regulator to limit advertising minutes. If there is sufficient competition, the public would simple turn away from a broadcaster that advertises too much.

The real challenge of the regulator is thus to encourage competition as the best means of assuring quality TV.

Yet it is precisely this goal which SATR for one has consistently and successfully fought against.

TV Channel 20 is still limited in its ability to provide news. Why? Because the CSBA is more interested in defending the rights of the major players, such as TV channels 10 and 2, instead of representing the interest of the public.

It should be noted that the MKs who participated in the deliberations of the economics committee were from the opposition. The Likud and Bayit Yehudi factions are simply not interested and do not partake in the legislative process. If Israel’s conservatives show no interest, it is not surprising that the socialist point of view, which calls for excessive government involvement in almost everything, becomes dominant.

Israel, the “start-up nation,” is unfortunately also well known for its heavy-handed bureaucracy. Opening a business in Israel is no trifling matter.

It is for this reason that Prime Minister Netanyahu has formed a new department in the Prime Minister’s Office whose task is to streamline Israel’s regulatory practices, making them more efficient and user friendly. Seemingly a positive step forward, alas, not one representative of this new department took part in the Knesset discussions. Could it be that someone really believes that the SATR and CSBA are doing a good job? Has anyone in government actually reviewed these regulators? For many years, we have been advocating for an Israeli FCC, modeled after the American FCC. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. In the United States, the FCC does not involve itself in programming, but when there are serious issues having to do with indecent programming the FCC is there to set things right.

In Israel, the situation is exactly the opposite. There is over-involvement in the daily operations and lack of power to enforce the minimally needed ethics code.

The message of the new Israeli FCC comes from Ecclesiastes: “What was is what shall be and there is nothing new under the sun.”