November 23, 2016

MEDIA COMMENT: Media honesty

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:57 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Media honesty
Israel’s media does not understand the public, does not want to cater to it, is not willing to change its ways and like El Al, is digging its own grave.
There is no question that the American media suffered a colossal and embarrassing double failure during the US presidential election campaign. It did not assess the possible outcomes nor did it provide fair coverage of the day-to-day developments. The failures should have been a déjà vu moment for those who have been following our columns these past years as well as our work at Israel’s Media Watch since 1995.

Israel’s elections in 1996 and 2015 as well as many intermediate events were treated by Israel’s mainstream media in an almost parallel fashion.

To their credit, American media figures admitted their errors. Will Rahn, political correspondent at CBS, wrote, “We were all tacitly or explicitly with Hillary Clinton” while “mocking the people who had a better sense of what was going on.” He admitted the press’ “assumption that Trump voters are backward, and that it’s our duty to catalogue and ultimately reverse that backwardness.” Journalists possess “smugness [and] meanness” toward the electorate, he wrote.

The New York Times’s Frank Bruni referred to “we geniuses in the news media” who were “telling… how the Republican Party was unraveling.”

He admitted that the media’s “political correctness has morphed into a moral… sanctimony, undermining its own goals.”

His is a fair description of the elitist character of too many media figures, editors, producers and reporters not only in the US but also here in Israel.

The rumblings from below were heard in America but during the campaign the media there ignored and rejected the valid criticism directed at it, refusing to take stock of its performance.

On August 22 this year, it was reported that nearly four in 10 American voters believe that the US media was biased toward the Democratic presidential nominee. Thirty-three percent said that the media’s fairness to each candidate was “poor.” A September 14 headline reads: “Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low” and an October 19 poll had it that “Majority of voters believe media biased against Trump.”

The findings of a post-election poll by the Media Research Center (MRC) claimed 69% of voters “do not believe the news media are honest and truthful” and that 78% of voters believe the news coverage of the presidential campaign was biased, with 59% of them believing Clinton was the media’s favorite.

Polls in Israel also indicate a growing disdain for the ability or even willingness of the media to preserve the values of professional objectivity and fairness. In light of the American experience, will our journos take time out to reconsider the way their own personal prejudices corrupt their reporting? We doubt it.

CBS’s Rahn, quoted above, could have been commenting on Israel’s media when he wrote, “Journalists, at our worst, see ourselves as a priestly caste. We believe we not only have access to the indisputable facts, but also a greater truth, a system of beliefs divined from an advanced understanding of justice.”

The damage done is not a simple matter of wrong facts or misunderstood trends but, as The Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker noted on November 18, “Of all the losers in this season of discontent, the mainstream media top the list…. and I sincerely fear that loss of faith in journalism ultimately will cause more harm to the nation than any outside enemy could hope to.”

Despite being witness to all this, and more, many of our own media people continue in their unethical, smug and sanctimonious ways.

The press here gleefully reported that only 24% of US Jewry voted for Trump. This was based on exit polls which we know were not accurate.

Who cares? The fact that Jewish voters played a crucial role in certain key states that swung to Trump, like Florida, was simply ignored by our media.

Consider Aryeh Golan, whose performance has been criticized by us many times in the past. He was sent to cover Election Day and its aftermath in the US and chose to cover the happenings at the Clinton base.

To his chagrin, in more ways than one, the center of attention turned to the Trump camp where Nathan Gutman was installed. The least that should have resulted from his professional debacle is that he would come to realize and internalize the errors of the media. But no, that would be asking too much. Political correctness cannot be discarded so quickly.

Just this past Sunday, Golan in his unethical personal opinion opening to Reshet Bet radio’s morning news magazine continued his Trump bashing.

Among other remarks, he said the following: “Now Trump is putting together his dream team. An attorney general who hates blacks and the Ku Klux Klan only disturbs him because the use marijuana; a national security adviser who tweets with respect to the possible election of Clinton – ‘no more you Jews, no more’; and Steve Bannon who according to testimony of his former wife thinks that the Jews educate their children as crybabies.”

Golan considers Trump and his aides to be antisemites. Golan is ridiculous and petty, but his editors and bosses do not even chastise him for debasing our publicly funded broadcasting, presumably they too have been infected with political correctness.

The story, however, is not only Trump, for here in Israel, it is also Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Too many in our media really despise the prime minister and are willing to clutch at any straw to try and remove him. The latest story is the decision to obtain submarines from Germany and the fact that Netanyahu’s adviser, advocate David Shimron, had as his client businessman Miki Ganor who was employed by the German submarine building company. Raviv Drucker of Channel 10 was the one who got the scoop, and the media jumped at it.

Sure enough, opposition leader Isaac Herzog fell into the trap and is now calling on the Knesset to appoint an official inquiry panel. In contrast to many Israelis and Americans who have stopped believing the media, Herzog did not study the issue deeply and took the populistic route.

Had he done his homework he would have realized that Netanyahu’s dealings were, as reported on the News One website by Yoav Yitzchak, government to government. Netanyahu could not have had any direct contact with the construction company, since this was a decision solely of the German government. In other words, Netanyahu certainly did not commit any breach of trust, let alone any legal violation. But, our media has been incessantly promoting the issue already for a whole week, and woe to the person who dares question it. Yitzchak was not interviewed on public radio; the powers there do not believe that his type of reporting is worthy of their listeners. Did we mention smugness and a “we know it all” attitude?

The bottom line is that Israel’s media does not understand the public, does not want to cater to it, is not willing to change its ways and like El Al, is digging its own grave.


November 10, 2016

MEDIA COMMENT: Do we really need public broadcasting?

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:13 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Do we really need public broadcasting? 
It is high time to close down the public broadcasters – all of them, including Galatz.
T he latest brouhaha surrounding the decision of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to stop the establishment of the new Israeli Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) and leave the old Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) as is, has been humongous. It did not come from the public, but from the media itself. The amount of harangues against the PM and coalition head MK David Bitan has been unprecedented. How dare these two rethink the process initiated by former Finance Minister and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Likud Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan? One might think that the decision really threatens Israeli democracy and moves Israel towards fascism.

The truth is far from it.

Let’s put things in perspective and proportion. In February 2016, England’s BBC came under criticism.

The Commons Media select committee had said the BBC’s Trust, its management body, has a culture that is considered “bureaucratic, arrogant and introspective” and called for the abolition of the public broadcaster’s governing body.

The committee’s 65-page report said the BBC’s “lack of transparency” about the pay of stars and senior executives “must be addressed.” It called for the BBC to have a unitary board with an independent chair. There are echoes here of criticism voiced in Israel, both in regard to inherent bias in a so-called public broadcaster (the “public” being a small elitist unrepresentative clique) and atrocious management style regarding personnel and the authority’s budget.

There is nothing outlandish in critically reviewing a public broadcaster’s performance. Democracy is not being threatened – at least no more than an unsupervised public media outlet that demands complete freedom from public control.

As readers of this column know, we were and continue to be highly critical of Erdan and his formation of the IBC.

His legislation suffered from major drawbacks. The IBC was formed on a post-Zionist basis. It disconnected the public corporation paid for by the taxpayers from any public influence on it. The facts speak for themselves. The new IBC, just like the old IBA, does not give a hoot about public opinion.

It makes the decisions for us, and in the old Bolshevik bosses-know-it-all style.

Bitan claims that the new IBC is left of center. The problem is that the old IBA is not exactly right of center. Why then does he support either one of them? The mantra is that Israel needs a public broadcaster. But why? For more than 20 years, Israel Media Watch’s monitoring of the IBA showed unequivocally that it was a fiefdom that abrogated power unto itself, avoiding oversight of its activities. It did not represent the public interest and worse, it sought to manage the news rather than report it.

According to the Landes commission set up by Erdan, the IBC does not need to broadcast to the Jewish Diaspora, is not committed to Jewish values, does not need to cater to minorities (for example to the Israeli English speaking public), there is no need for it to produce Jewish-oriented drama and Jewish values take a back seat. Landes’ center of attention was news. In this day and age do we really need to spend taxpayer money to get news? Many years ago, the old IBA provided an important service. It lived up to its mandate, as a Jewish Israeli broadcaster.

But during the past 20 years, it has moved away from its ethos. Even the Hebrew language is no longer respected by the IBA and its new cadre of hyperactive journalists. Advertisement is the name of the game, the more ads the more money for the personnel. The public suffers silently, but the IBA couldn’t care less.

It freely spends our money. Was it necessary to send Kol Yisrael’s Arye Golan to America to cover the elections, when the IBA already has a correspondent (Natan Gutman) there? Yes, if you ask Golan, he is having a great time there, on our account.

Do we really need a public broadcaster that competes unfairly with private stations? It receives public funding and so can afford to take less for advertising.

One can understand Netanyahu’s frustration with the media. In July, Haaretz attacked Netanyahu in defense of Yedioth Ahronot. “Netanyahu Declares War on Israel’s Media” was the title of Yossi Verter’s July 23 column in which he claimed that “the prime minister has shamelessly set out to annihilate free press”.

A week earlier, another rabble-rousing piece, an “analysis” no less, was titled “Netanyahu runs amok in his attack on freedom of the press.” Ilana Dayan, who has a weekly radio program on the publicly funded Galatz radio station, had the gall to warn that everything necessary must be done to prevent Netanyahu from closing the IBC.

True to her word, this past Monday, Dayan devoted her Channel 2 TV program Uvda (Fact) to a rehash of charges made against Netanyahu in the past, none of which have been proven in a court of law. Even Haaretz admitted that “the general gist of the report was already known to Israelis who have been following these affairs closely in recent years, but the package created by Dayan and her team was both compelling and disturbing.”

Dayan read out a six-minute long response from the Prime Minister’s office and then, added a droopy, if even snide smile, another silent-butdeadly tactic media people employ, similar to the infamous Haim Yavin raised eyebrow. They don’t even need to say anything biased. The PM’s office reaction which Dayan read out was a list of cases accusing Dayan of partiality and belonging to Israel’s left.

The media, instead of considering any of the points raised by the PM continued the attack. The “political correspondents forum” of Israel published a manifest signed by notable public broadcasting correspondents such as Ilil Shachar from Galatz and Shimon Aran and Yair Weinreb from the IBA. The letter noted that “in a democracy the government cannot threaten journalists. A situation in which the PM… paints journalists politically undermines Israeli democracy.”

The truth is that the PM’s critics, as well as those of MK Bitan, have one interest: to continue to control and undermine Israel’s public media.

Dayan does not understand that she has to make one of two choices, either to publicly defend the IBC, or to host a documentary program. Doing both puts her in a conflict of interest and the public loses its trust in her veracity.

For more than 20 years, we thought that the good outweighs the bad. Israel could benefit from public broadcasting, but only if it is truly public and caring of the public. Sadly, this is a pipe dream.

Israel’s public broadcasters are incapable of providing us with fair, pluralistic, Zionist and Jewish-oriented programming. They are not willing to internalize that they are public servants.

Who knows, perhaps Trump’s victory in the USA is a sign that also here the old elites should start counting their days of hegemony. It is high time to close down the public broadcasters – all of them, including Galatz.