April 27, 2017

MEDIA COMMENT: Ethics? Not for us

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:21 am by yisraelmedad

Media comment: Ethics? Not for us
Ethics and truth are not a major concern for our media, their collaborators and the regulatory agencies.
Or Heller is no stranger to our readers. He is a star example of why we believe that TV Channel 10 should be closed down. As we reported on May 3, 2012 in this column, Heller is an expert at presenting fake news. His unethical reports have always been defended by the channel.

In January 2010, he reported on Arab youths demonstrating near Neveh Tzuf. They were contained by the army, which used smoke grenades and other standard methods to break up demonstrations. Heller described the Arabs as non-violent even though an IDF jeep’s mirror was broken, a shed was burned down and the Arabs engaged in forcible shoving. Then some Jewish youths appear on the scene and throw rocks at the Palestinians. The IDF, according to Heller’s report, did nothing to stop them. To show that it is IDF policy to do nothing against Jewish hoodlums, Heller interviewed an IDF lieutenant who “explains” that his job is not to arrest Jews but only Palestinians. Trouble was that the “interview” was old and totally unconnected with the Neveh Tzuf demonstrations.

A year later, he presented another clip, “documenting,” as it were, “how police violently arrest a Palestinian child.” In fact, the video did not show any violence, only the arrest of a youngster the police claim was throwing rocks.

Heller also illegally recorded a telephone conversation in April 2012 between Hagit Rhein, mother of Maj. Benaya Rhein who was killed during the Second Lebanon War, and then Lt.-Col. Shalom Eisner, after the latter was photographed hitting a demonstrator with the butt of his rifle. Heller did express an apology but no sanctions or even regulatory measures were applied against him or the station.

Habits are very difficult to change and this past week Heller did it again. He thought he had a scoop. On the prime Channel 10 news roundup Friday evening, a week before leadership elections for the Bayit Yehudi party, he showed a clip featuring an Education Ministry book which had pictures of religious people displayed in a positive light, while a secular family was portrayed as empty and egoistic. Heller added: “A racist book, disgusting. Naftali Bennett is not an education minister but a minister for re-education.”

Bennett responded on Facebook, noting that the book had been published in 2008 by then Labor education minister Yuli Tamir, and that many other pictures in the same book show secular families in a positive light. Channel 10 was not willing to publicize Bennett’s response.

Why? Because it completely undermines the story, which is nothing but fake news. The damage to Bennett’s reputation, however, was done. Is Channel 10 afraid of Bennett and attempting to harm his chances for reelection as leader of Bayit Yehudi? Given the past behavior of Heller and Channel 10, it would not surprise us.

Of course, there is a regulator, in the form of the Second Authority for TV and Radio (SATR), as well as an ombudsman. But both do nothing. Ethics do not interest them very much, the public pays the price and democracy is undermined.

This lack of interest in media ethics is not limited to the SATR. The same can be said for the Council for Cable and Satellite Broadcasting (CCSB). As also discussed previously in this column, the Knesset issued a tender for a new operator of the Knesset TV channel. The tender was to be decided on by a subcommittee of the CCSB. One member of this committee is Naomi Schchori. It so happens that her husband is Katriel Schchori, CEO of the Israeli Film Fund (IFF) since 1998.

The IFF is the central funding agency for Israeli films. However, to obtain funds from the Culture and Sports Ministry it must match them with outside sources. For example, during 2009-2015, TV Channel 2 Reshet and Keshet concessionaires contributed more than NIS 11 million to the IFF. The RGE company, a co-owner of Channel 10, coughed up during the same period almost NIS 4m.

BUT BOTH channels 10 and 2 have submitted their proposals for operating the Knesset channel. Schchori’s conflict of interest was clear, and she should have recused herself. Moreover, the legal adviser of Channel 10 should have imposed her removal. In fact, one might question how Schchori ever became a member of the CCSB in the first place, and remained one for the past six years given the fact that her husband has business relations with some of the companies the CCSB regulates. The Hot and Yes cable companies have invested millions in movie productions together with the IFF. Was there anyone there who cared?

CEO of Israel’s Media Watch Ziv Maor did, and early in March he sent an urgent letter to the CCSB demanding that Schchori be excluded from the Knesset channel tender committee. As might be expected, the CCSB, for whom ethics are an obstruction rather than a guide, stonewalled. Maor had no choice but to submit an urgent petition to the High Court of Justice. The threat worked and this past Sunday, in an interim response, the Justice Ministry gave notice that Schchori had recused herself from the tender committee.

All is well that ends well? No. Why was it necessary to appeal to the court? Why didn’t the CCSB itself understand the conflict of interest? Why did the Justice Ministry wait for a whole month, during which the tender committee met a number of times, before imposing Schchori’s resignation?

Ethics seems also to be a weak point at the IFF. For Holocaust Remembrance Day this week, the Begin Center in Jerusalem premiered the documentary film Will we remember all of them? The Warsaw Ghetto uprising – the true battle, produced by Yuval Haimovitz-Zusser and Simon Schechter. The film follows the actions of the Zydowski Zwiazek Wojskowy (ZZW, Polish for Jewish Military Union) underground resistance in the ghetto. Its members came from the Revisionist Betar Youth and their story and bravery had been suppressed for many years by Israel’s establishment in favor of the socialist Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa (Jewish Fighting Organization).

The names of the leaders of the ZOB group can be found commemorated in many cities and towns in Israel. But even the leader of the Betar group, Pavel Frankel, remains unknown in Israel. This sad chapter in the attempt by Israel’s Left to rewrite history became public through the extensive efforts of former Likud defense minister Moshe Arens. The veracity of the story is supported by the diary entries of the infamous German Gen. Jürgen Stroop, who destroyed the ghetto and who specifically mentions the huge damage inflicted by the Betar fighters on German forces.

It took the producers seven years to finish the film, and as they testified, one of the major reasons was that not a single Israeli fund was willing to help, including the IFF.

The bottom line is that ethics and truth are not a major concern for our media, their collaborators and the regulatory agencies.


April 23, 2017

MEDIA COMMENT: The end of the never-ending IBA saga?

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:38 pm by yisraelmedad

Media comment: The end of the never-ending IBA saga?
Media bias is not some imaginary wand that politicians wave about and which the media claims is, in a sense, “fake news.”
The news item reads: “The Israel Broadcasting Authority’s television and radio stations launched a strike Monday against a government bill that would dismantle the entity and lay off 2,000 workers.” The date of that story is June 2, 2014.

This week’s up-to-date story is that employees of Channel 1 began a partial strike on Sunday to protest the impending closure of the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA). The impending closure is the result of the passage in the early morning hours of January 3 by the Knesset of an amendment to delay the opening of the new Israeli Broadcasting Corporation (IBC, branded as KAN) and its transmissions to the end of April 2017.

And the news this past Sunday evening was that, in a manner familiar from previous years, the television broadcast was interrupted with a message appearing on the screen informing the viewers that “the IBA will be closed by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon. A thousand families will be added to the cycle of unemployment – today it is us. Tomorrow it will be you.”

On Monday evening, the studio was invaded during a live broadcast, halting Michal Rabinowitz’s presentation, by four employees who harangued viewers, criticizing politicians and a law firm working with the Authority. Who permitted them to act in such an outrageous fashion? To take advantage of their professional ability to be involved in producing television programs as well as being paid from the public purse? Imagine a disappointed politician who is never invited to appear on screen acting similarly.

Reforming, restricting, altering and redesigning public broadcasters is not an unknown phenomenon. We noted last year that the BBC was called out as having a culture that is considered “bureaucratic, arrogant and introspective” and that a parliamentary committee had called for the abolition of its governing body, the BBC Trust, as it had “lost confidence and credibility.”

Here in Israel, the dispute between the IBA and government is more than three decades old.

Public broadcasting was one of the central items on the agenda of Israel’s Media Watch from its beginning in 1995.

There was a need for a deep restructuring of the IBA due to its manifest failings.

These included financial irresponsibility, over-employment, extreme featherbedding, outlandish pay scales, byzantine internal politics, employee rivalry and confrontations, multiplicity of workers’ committees and a failing executive administration.

Refusal to use modern equipment that would save time and person-hours despite already being purchased (it was gathering dust in storerooms) was one of the more striking aspects of the structural disarray.

Not least on the list was the practice of IBA employees using their power to support the personal viewpoints and political ideologies of the Authority’s directors and editors.

The bias, which emerged too many times, from studies conducted by IMW and corroborated by others, slowly but surely led to the IBA’s downfall. The public no longer supported a publicly financed body which usurped the funding for its own purposes instead of the public good. It did not understand why it should be forced to pay a TV tax which served no real public need and which was the same for the poor and the rich.

Media bias is not some imaginary wand that politicians wave about and which the media claims is, in a sense, “fake news.”

In mid-February, CBS Face the Nation host John Dickerson, about as much of a media insider as it is possible to be, told a radio interviewer that the media, not President Donald Trump, is responsible for the public’s negative reactions to it. He claimed that “the press did all that good work ruining its reputation on its own and we can have a long conversation about what created that.”

There is no question in our minds that the same comment may be applied to the IBA. Its actions and inactions, committed by senior as well as lower-level staff, are the source of the situation which ultimately led to the formation of the new Israel Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) mandated to replace it. We stress this point, since too often the media claims that the downfall of the IBA was the result of political intervention.

This is not so. Its downfall came from within, from the arrogance of its personnel, from its lack of compliance with ethics and legal obligations and the fact that, if anything, the politicians did not have the courage to call a spade a spade.

In fact, the same holds true for the new IBC. The legislation passed by former communications minister Gilad Erdan handed the control of the IBC, on a silver platter, to the old elites, again ignoring public needs.

If the IBC is allowed to continue without fundamental change, we predict that it too, will not last long. The public outcry will eventually lead to the closure of public broadcasting in Israel.

Last week a new governmental proposal was leaked to the public. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemingly caved in to the pressure of Finance Minister Kahlon and accepted the fact that the old IBA would be closed down and the new IBC would start broadcasting on May 1. However, some significant provisos came with this decision, notably the formation of a centralized Israeli Communications Commission to oversee the media industry, private as well as public. Its members, all of them, would be appointed by the government.

This was criticized almost unanimously by the Israeli media as heralding a new era in which the freedom of the press would be severely curtailed. It should be contrasted with the IBC legislation which usurped the power of appointment of the IBC board from the politicians and gave it to an elitist five-member commission headed by a retired judge.

But shouldn’t the media, like any other business, come under the oversight of the government? Would we want our restaurants to be free of “government intervention” which assures that the food meets certain health standards? We believe that it is the government’s job to make sure the Israeli media upholds the law, which states for example that the media should provide fair coverage of all opinions in the Israeli public. This is only possible if the regulator represents the public, rather than the media itself. The only way for this to happen in a democracy is for the power of oversight to remain in the hands of the representatives of the public, which, for good or bad, are the elected politicians, not any elites.

We do not doubt that the present government, like any government for that matter, whether in Israel or abroad, desires a supportive media. But let us not have such a low opinion of our politicians. Some of them actually do recognize the danger inherent in a media which is too powerful.

The leaked legislation is an example of what should be. Sadly though, we are afraid it will be watered down in the legislative process to the point that it, too, will be useless.