July 20, 2016

MEDIA COMMENT: Does ‘The Jewish Chronicle’ libel Israel?

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:30 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Does ‘The Jewish Chronicle’ libel Israel?
When Abbas made the allegation, the Chronicle kept mum.
One of the issues often used to discredit Israel is the question of water in Judea and Samaria. For example, on June 23, The New York Times published an article by Diaa Hadid headlined, “[Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas claims Rabbis urged Israel to Poison Palestinians’ Water.”

To be fair, Hadid made it quite clear in the article that the allegations were unsubstantiated. But Abbas received a standing ovation in the EU Parliament for a speech which included these remarks: “A number of rabbis in Israel announced…demanding that their government poison the water to kill the Palestinians.

Isn’t that clear incitement to commit mass killings against the Palestinian people?” As also reported in the New York Times, the response from the Prime Minister’s Office was, “Abu Mazen [Abbas] showed his true face in Brussels…someone who spreads a blood libel before the European Parliament is falsely claiming that his hand is extended for peace.”

With this as background, we might have expected that The Jewish Chronicle, which describes itself as the “world’s oldest and most influential Jewish newspaper,” would be sensitive to spreading lies about the water problem in Judea and Samaria. In fact, it was the exact opposite.

When Abbas made the allegation, the Chronicle kept mum. The Times, by contrast, immediately informed readers that Abbas was “echoing anti-Semitic claims that led to the mass killings of European Jews in medieval times.”

Only on June 30, a week after the blood libel, did Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer, a regular analyst for the Chronicle, write that the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Abbas had retracted the accusation. He added that Abbas “has affirmed that he did not intend to do harm to Judaism or to offend Jewish People around the world.” A search of the Chronicle’s website reveals no other item on Abbas’s libel.

Was this a one-time “slip”? No.

On May 2, 2014, the Chronicle published an article by Simon Rocker, the paper’s Judaism editor, headlined, “Board of Deputies treasurer ‘shocked’ by visit to West Bank.”

What shocked the treasurer, who has since resigned? We quote: “Mr. Brass added that the abiding memory of his visit would be ‘the sight of an old rusty car being dumped down the village well, thus preventing the locals from having fresh water.’” His trip to Judea and Samaria had been sponsored by Yachad, an extreme-left anti-occupation group.

His one-day trip to Sussiya was led by a guide from NGO Breaking the Silence, whose campaign to libel Israel has been documented by NGO Monitor and now exposed as unreliable by Channel 10’s Hamakor program.

Brass was shocked by the fact that “just 48 hours after we left, a six-year-old girl from the neighboring village of Atuwani was admitted to hospital with head wounds after being stoned on her way to school.”

Brass bemoaned that this type of behavior goes unchecked by the IDF.

Brass can think what he likes, libel Israel and support Breaking the Silence, although, as a Board of Deputies official he was roundly condemned.

But the Chronicle? Where are its basic ethics? Did it check his “facts”? Did it investigate his claims? Did it seek to balance the story? Or is it a blind supporter of anti-Israel propaganda? The Israeli NGO Mattot Arim thought that perhaps in the aftermath of the Abbas “blood libel” the Chronicle would set the record straight and retract the damning 2014 article. Mattot Arim’s spokesperson, Susie Dym, wrote to Orlando Radice, foreign news editor of the Chronicle, on June 26: “You seem to have run an early version of the well poisoning ‘reports’ that made headlines around the world this past week before being retracted, even by the Palestinians… Would you please consider printing a retraction of the article above, even if belated, in the printed edition of the [Chronicle] and adding the retraction to the linked page?” The response came on June 27.

They only agreed to put a link in the article to a response by Assaf Fassy, the spokesperson of the South Hebron Hills Regional Council.

Fassy’s response was not sought out by the Chronicle; he wrote it on his own initiative when shocked pro-Israel Chronicle readers made him aware of Rocker’s “report.”

Why do Brass’s allegations merit a vetted news report whereas Fassy’s refutations do not? Dym, not satisfied with the answer, went on to ask: “Did the paper ever make any effort at the time, to interview any of the dozen Anglo-Jewish participants other than Mr. Brass, all of whom were present, hence doubtless witnessed the claimed intentional disabling of the village well? …Did anyone file a complaint with the authorities? Was this followed up? Did Mr Brass or anyone in his entourage snap a photo… it does, after all, take some time for a car to be dumped down the village well – ample time in order to capture the event on film or at least in a still? …Did the paper verify the name of the six-year-old girl… were hospital records obtained to verify that this actually happened? Did Israel Police or the IDF Spokesperson confirm to the [Chronicle] that the perpetrators of either of the above were ‘settlers’?” Radice’s answer was brief: “My response is as per the previous response – we added a linked line to the original story.”

In other words, the Chronicle seemingly performed not even the most elementary fact-checking before dignifying anti-Israel allegations with news report status.

These two instances are part of a pattern. The Chronicle claims that its “news and opinion pages reflect the wide diversity of Jewish religious, social and political thought from left to right.” Really? Consider the Chronicle’s analysts.

Rocker cannot be identified with the Right. For example, in an article on May 26 this year, he pushed for the idea that it is not sufficient to teach young children to be cheerleaders for Israel. We already mentioned Anshel Pfeffer. Another “analyst” is Gershon Baskin, well known to readers of The Jerusalem Post for his leftwing columns. Uri Dromi, director general of the Jerusalem Press club, a supporter of the two-state “solution,” is also an analyst for the Chronicle.

Another regular columnist is Jonathan Freedland, who in the Chronicle penned a sexist denigration of Israel’s justice minister: “Ayelet Shaked is… simultaneously gorgeous and a racist; she is a stunning bigot. She has a beautiful face, but her soul is ugly.” Melanie Phillips is presumably used in the comments section for the sake of “balance,” but we all know the subtle or perhaps not-so-subtle difference between analysis, which is supposedly objective, and opinion articles, which are not expected to be objective.

Sadly, it would seem that the answer to the question posed in our title is “yes.”




July 8, 2016

MEDIA COMMENT: The Filber recommendations – good or bad?

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:31 am by yisraelmedad

MEDIA COMMENT: The Filber recommendations -good or bad?
We can only hope that five years from now all this will be moot, as the Internet, cellphone and WiFi markets will make any attempt at draconian regulatory measures obsolete.
Shlomo Filber is the director-general of the Communications Ministry, responsible to the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also the communications minister. Filber is an experienced executive, having served previously as director general of the Yesha Council and as the Netanyahu’s chief of staff. From 2003-2009 he was the secretary of the board of directors as well as the assets manager of Israel Railways. In the last election campaign, he was head of the Likud Party’s elections headquarters.

Having entered the job at the Communications Ministry, he was faced with two major challenges: the organization of and the responsibility for the new Israeli Broadcasting Corporation (IBC), and reorganizing the broadcasting industry in Israel.

For the latter purpose, the prime minister appointed a committee headed by Filber whose task was to provide recommendations regarding the regulatory process of the industry. The other members of Filber’s committee were Eva Meziboz, chairperson of the Second Authority for TV and Radio; Advocate Dana Neufeld, the ministry’s legal adviser, whose record includes serving under communications minister Gilad Erdan and being part of the sad, post-Zionist legislation underlying the IBC; Haran Lav’ut, the ministry’s deputy director, responsible for finances; Assaf Wasserzug; Dr. Yifat Ben-Chai Segev, chairperson of the Cable and Satellite Authority; Advocate Eli’or Balitner from the Justice Ministry; and Yair Hakak, head of planning at the ministry.

There is an inherent conflict of interest in this committee as two of its members are heads of powerful regulatory bodies in Israel, while the task of the committee was to find ways to reduce government involvement in the industry, including unifying the two authorities into one. This should suggest that at least one of the two heads stands to lose her job.

Yet the cover letter Filber sent to Prime Minister Netanyahu sounded very positive, stating that Filber believes the recommendations of his commission would lead to “a reduction in government involvement in content, creation of a broader range of opinion and content to Israel’s citizenship and strengthening pluralism in Israel’s broadcasting market.”

Indeed, in the practical steps outlined in the Filber report there are some important recommendations, which if implemented would do just that. For example, today, TV channel 20 is not permitted to broadcast independently produced news and news-related programming. The committee recommends allowing any content provider to provide news broadcasting, provided that it conforms to accepted ethical codes.

One of the difficulties facing any broadcasting company in Israel today is that the satellite and cable companies Hot and Yes are able, and in practice do, prevent any serious competition by imposing ridiculous fees on content providers. This will stop. Hot and Yes will be allowed to take a set fee, which will be equal for all content providers. If they exaggerate, the minister responsible would set the price.

The committee also set out to make it easier for the consumer to receive sports broadcasts. The sports channels would no longer be permitted to ask an exorbitant price for their content but it would be on the basis of the number of subscribers to the channel.

Another positive recommendation is to gradually reduce any limitations on the number of advertisements allowed. In practice this leaves it to the consumer to decide whether she or he wants to view a channel which constantly disrupts its programming with ads.

However, there are many pitfalls in the recommendations. First and foremost, as expected the regulatory commission will still have much too much power. Even the recommendations outlined above are predicated on the idea that the regulatory body is the czar of the broadcasting industry.

This clinging to power by the bureaucracy is especially evident when considering the recommendations concerning content.

The Filber report notes that at present, Israel spends NIS 740 million on original local content. The commission recommends steps that will assure that this level of spending will remain. It distinguishes between different content providers. The very small ones, with less than 10 percent of the total market share of broadcasting advertising in Israel, would be free to provide whatever content they choose.

The committee expressly notes that market rules of supply and demand would regulate their content. But then companies whose income over a period of three years is more than 10% of the advertising market would be considered owners of an “established” commercial license, which would have to provide news programming. A provider with more than 20% of the advertising market share would have to invest in local programming in addition to news.

These draconian measures conflict with the idea that Israel should have a free market.

Instead of the lengthy deliberations and complex measures which the commission presents, it should have made a clear and unequivocal statement that anyone can broadcast provided that they conform to minimal standards of ethics and the broadcasting laws, such as safeguarding against the exploitation of minors.

The commission itself was aware of some of the limitations. It acknowledged that its recommendations should be considered an interim, five-year measure. After all, no one can foresee how the Internet market will continue to develop.

We can only hope that five years from now all this will be moot, as the Internet, cellphone and WiFi markets will make any attempt at draconian regulatory measures obsolete.