January 22, 2017

MEDIA COMMENT: Mozes exposes Israel’s media

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:34 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Mozes exposes Israel’s media
Yaniv and Drucker are not the only ones who have been promoting the doomsday scenario for Netanyahu.
For more than half a year, Eldad Yaniv has been publishing stories in his column on Walla’s website promising a spectacular revelation regarding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ethics as well as hinting at criminal actions. He was the pincer’s second jaw, along with Channel 10’s Raviv Drucker, in an attempt to cause the prime minister to resign.

Yaniv was previously an extremely close adviser to former prime minister Ehud Barak, of the Labor Party.

He coauthored the New Zionist Left political manifesto, and also ran in the 2013 elections as head of the Eretz Hadasha (New Land) Party, which failed to garner enough votes to pass the electoral threshold. He styles himself a social activist and journalist.

Yaniv and Drucker are not the only ones who have been promoting the doomsday scenario for Netanyahu.

The mainstream media, via Army Radio, Yediot Aharonot and Haaretz began to fall in line along with channels 2 and 10. Yaniv was extensively interviewed, commentators commented and predictions were made – all with a negative attitude toward Netanyahu. No one investigated how Yaniv “knew” what he knew or what his sources were. Details began to emerge only during these past two weeks, and even now, no one has bothered to inform the public who is doing the leaking.

There are two central stories. One has to do with expensive presents received by Netanyahu and his family from friendly moguls. The other has been portrayed as an attempt to bribe Netanyahu, through the vehicle of favorable press coverage by the Yediot Aharonot media empire, in return for the elimination of Israel Hayom.

We cannot judge the seriousness of the claims against Netanyahu. But we note that what started out as questions about how many cigars were gifted to Netanyahu and how many bottles of pink champagne Sara Netanyahu imbibed, has ended up as a major debacle for the local media. Whether Arnon “Noni” Mozes, owner and publisher of Yediot Aharonot, will be indicted for attempted bribery is meaningful, but not the real essence of the story. His attempted negotiations with Netanyahu, ostensibly to eradicate his competition, revealed the true face of the country’s self-proclaimed “most influential newspaper.” Mozes is motivated by crass commercial interests, rather than the champion of the free press he portrays himself as.

As MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) said: “On a public level, this is a very grave thing… there’s a risk here that the public will lose faith in the government and in the media.”

Based on the published transcripts of the negotiations between Mozes and Netanyahu, whose genuineness has so far not been denied, Mozes sought to trade with Netanyahu: favorable coverage for a law that would weaken Israel Hayom.

The proposed legislation, portrayed as “saving” the domestic press from the jaws of billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the owner of Israel Hayom, was, it turned out, a major element in Netanyahu’s decision to call early elections in 2015. This past Sunday Netanyahu freely admitted this consideration on his Facebook page.

The legislation was initiated by Eitan Cabel of the Zionist Union in 2014, passed its early reading in the Knesset, against the wishes of the prime minister who voted against it, and was halted only when the Knesset was dissolved. Cabel has been questioned by the police.

This sordid affair has set off an internal media war.

Haaretz is attacking Yediot, as is Israel Hayom. Nahum Barnea, Yediot’s Israel Prize-winning journalist, claimed in his January 12 column that “everyone is a suspect.”

He added, “The reports that are being published are hard to digest for the newspaper’s editors and writers, who are doing an excellent job fearlessly and [without bias]. They are difficult for me too.”

If indeed Mozes was promising a quid pro quo in the form of a more moderate portrayal of the prime minister, this means that self-promoting journalists such as Barnea, who are on Mozes’s payroll and who ferociously attacked the prime minister, are in fact far from what they would want their public image to be.

They are nothing more than pens for hire. Barnea, in writing “everyone,” really means “no one.”

Barnea, though, reserved a special barb for Haaretz.

Accusing it of possessing “a lot of influence on the legal system and on the regulators,” he noted that the fact that it’s printing of Israel Hayom in its printing house was a factor that “contributed to the repression [of the country’s press freedom].”

But the story does not end with the media. It might also have serious political repercussions. Various ministers and MKs have already been required to give testimony to police. One name that has not appeared is that of Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett. Will he be investigated? Let us recall that beginning in 2013 Bennett benefited from some rather flattering coverage in Yediot. The observation in the media was that he had managed to make it onto Yediot Aharonot’s prestigious list in record time.

Bennett, openly competing with Netanyahu as leader of the nationalist camp, was also one of the supporters of the short-lived anti-Israel Hayom bill. Bayit Yehudi Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked also supported the bill.

Did they agree to or were they offered a quid pro quo? Netanyahu claims that the negotiation with Mozes was a farce, or better, a sting operation. He purposely had his chief of staff Ari Harrow tape the meetings, so that if necessary he could use the material against Mozes. From his point of view, the tapes prove Mozes is hungry for power and money. Morals, or the media ethics code, were the last thing on his mind.

Was it a sting operation? Was Netanyahu trying to curry favor or was he trapping Mozes? We do not know, but just like Mozes, Netanyahu’s image has been sullied.

From the material published thus far, it turns out that Netanyahu’s emphasis was on the negative portrayal he was receiving from Mozes and his cronies. We would have expected that the prime minister would take the high road and blast Mozes for destroying the concept of a free press. Instead, like Mozes, it seems that his central interest was self-preservation and the public interest be damned.

We should not forget that a central issue on the agenda is the status of the public media. Netanyahu is also the communications minister. Thus far, he has used high terminology in his attempts to derail the establishment of the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation, which is supposed to replace the Israel Broadcasting Authority. But after this Mozes mess, can the public trust that the prime minister’s interests are pure?

The aftermath of the Mozes debacle is that in Israel, an independent media is a myth. It doesn’t exist in the private sector or in the public one. It is high time that public funding for the media be stopped, but not less so, the prime minister should not, if he wants to protect his image, continue to serve as communications minister.



January 4, 2017

MEDIA COMMENT: Limiting regulatory powers

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:35 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Limiting regulatory powers
These recent steps, which limit and overrule the regulatory powers which deny us a pluralistic media, should be cheered by anyone who values freedom of speech and opinion.
A central role of government is regulation and oversight. The regulation of restaurants, building standards, educational standards and such is necessary and, in principle, serves the population as a whole. At the same time, regulatory agencies often have too much power, power that stifles private initiative and competition.

And so the question is: who then regulates the regulators? Certainly not the government, especially not in a democracy where the professional regulatory staff outlives by years any elected politician.

In a democracy, the job falls to the media.

Despite criticism, the media very often is helpful in this regard. Radio and TV programs often bring up cases in which the rights of the individual have been trodden upon due to one governmental agency or the other. But there is one sector which for many years has been almost free to do what it wants without fear of the media: the media regulatory agencies.

Their power in Israel is much too great – and they do not hesitate to use it. It is the Second Authority for TV and Radio (SA TR) and the Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting (CCTSB) which for many years have prevented the development of a free competitive media atmosphere.

Well into the twenty-first century Israel’s radio broadcasts are deeply mired in the middle of the twentieth. National news on the airwaves is controlled by the publicly funded media organs – Galatz, the army radio station, and the Israel Broadcasting Authority. The SA TR has for years fought tooth and nail to prevent truly free radio broadcasting in Israel. The media itself has been silent on this matter.

The regional radio stations, organized in the Second Authority framework, are part of this deal. They do not let their journalists expose SA TR’s conflict of interest, which is to hold on to its regulatory power at the expense of the public’s right to free airwaves.

In return, SA TR safeguards the turf of the regional radio stations. It does not permit the opening of new ones, or puts in place impossible regulatory conditions.

The public pays the price by being cheated out of multiple voices, news and opinions as well as cultural diversity.

The situation was not any better on TV.

For many years only channels two and 10 were allowed to broadcast news. The result was boring, one-sided and all too often post-Zionist news programs. Of course, if the prime minister attacks the media this is immediately interpreted as an attempt to control it. A better alternative is, as we have done over the years, to point out to the prime minister, especially in view of the fact that he is also the communications minister, that if he really wanted to he could change the situation by reducing the powers of the regulatory agencies.

In fact, almost under the radar, this is precisely what he and his director general, Shlomo Filber, have been doing. Israel Channel 20 TV went on air on June 30, 2014. It was a cable station, operating under the watchful eyes of the CCTSB. Its mandate was to provide “Jewish” TV. That is, to assure that viewers would have the option of seeing more Jewish content than was available on other channels. It was considered an entertainment channel and specifically forbidden to broadcast news of any form.

The channel, true to its mandate, did the unthinkable: it displayed the Israeli flag on its broadcasts. Instead of welcoming the change, Haaretz was upset. On March 30, 2015, Rogel Alpher ran a piece headlined, “Channel 20: An Illegal Outpost on our Television Screens.” The subtitle was “by displaying an Israeli flag every second of every day, the cable station – which is supposed to broadcast Jewish content, not right-wing propaganda – looks more like the state-run channel in some dictatorial Arab regime.”

Worse, though, the channel very much wanted to broadcast news. The CCTSB forbade it. As summarized in a recent article on the INN website by Ofra Lax, the channel managed to get itself fined a total of NIS 400,000 for broadcasting news without permission. TV channels two and 10 were outraged. They rightly perceived that in time, Channel 20 would encroach upon their monopoly. Channel 10, the perennial thief of public funds and violator of written contracts, even went to the Supreme Court demanding that Channel 20 not be allowed to broadcast news.

After a lengthy process the CCTSB finally caved under the pressure. On December 22 it allowed Channel 20 to broadcast a one-hour news program at some point between eight and 11 p.m. Another 30 minutes of news were allotted for the rest of the day. One may rest assured that this permit did not come without political backing from the Prime Minister’s Office. Indeed, as reported on The Times of Israel website, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated the channel adding: “I will continue to work for competition in the media industry in Israel so that you – the citizens of Israel – can choose who to watch and who to hear.”

This is real progress, but slow and limited.

Why does a regulatory agency find it necessary to limit news content? Its job is to assure that the content abides by the ethical code, no more and no less. Of course, we do not expect channels two and 10 to do their job and criticize the CCTSB for its draconian decision. But the least one would have expected is that our public broadcasting stations, especially the IBA which claims that “it’s yours and for you,” meaning the public, would pick up the cause and help the CCTSB open up much more.

But that is not the case. Our public broadcasting stations, in collusion with the commercial ones, will do everything to protect their turf. Democracy, free speech and all other nice slogans are conveniently forgotten.

But, the times, they are a’ changing, slowly but surely.

This past Tuesday, the Knesset took a first step to allow cable TV companies to also own TV news channels. This should allow the HOT TV, owned by Patrick Drahi, who also owns HOT, to broadcast the i24 News channel. To prevent unfair competition with its competitor YES, the cable company will have to allow YES to also broadcast i24 News. This is a double win: Israel will be getting another news station and it will hopefully appear on both cable companies.

The same day the Knesset also passed a law mandating the continued operation of the IBA and delaying implementing the law mandating the new and post-Zionist Israel Broadcasting Corporation. This, too, is a healthy step. Public broadcasting is justified only if it serves Israel, not if it attempts on a daily basis to undermine it and its institutions.

These recent steps, which limit and overrule the regulatory powers which deny us a pluralistic media, should be cheered by anyone who values freedom of speech and opinion.