May 24, 2017

MEDIA COMMENT: Truth? What’s that?

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:41 pm by yisraelmedad

Truth? What’s that?
So what have we got? A media industry of questionable trustworthiness and with no accountability.
These past few weeks were quite bad for Israel’s media. One falsification followed the other. The latest absurd episode was a Friday night report on May 12 on the prime-time Channel 2 program Ulpan Shishi.

As reported on the ICE website, Channel 2 correspondent Omri Kronland gave a saucy report about one Adir Peretz, supposedly a bridegroom, and his prenuptial trip to Bucharest with friends. The 11-minute report followed in some detail the group’s immoral shenanigans, starting with a limousine, complete with stripper, which picked them up at the airport. This of course is Channel 2’s method of making its weekly news program attractive. Sex always sells, also as news.

Only it turns out that the whole story was staged. As reported by ICE’s Alexander Katz, for starters Peretz did not get married that week. The Israelis arrived in Bucharest a day prior to the limousine ride. And it was Kronland, or so it would seem, that had the limousine ordered. In other words, the correspondent did not “fall” for the fake story – he created it.

Channel 2’s response? As reported by Keren Greenblat on the Seventh Eye website, the initial reaction was, “The widespread response just proves the importance of the report.” It took three days for the item to be removed from the channel’s Mako website. The channel’s spokesperson, Alon Shani, responded that the item had been removed on Channel 2 news chief Avi Weiss’s order, and that the story was being checked thoroughly – but that it had already turned out that some of the story’s details were “inaccurate.”

Kronland has a quite a record when it comes to “interesting” reports. As reported by TV Channel 20, Kronland tried in the past to induce “settlers” to perform illegal acts. According to Greenblat, Kronland’s report on her struggle to counter sexism on Israeli TV was manipulative, and included pornographic content.

Channel 2 should not only have fired Kronland immediately, it should never have hired him. Dana Weiss, the presenter of the Friday evening show, should have had some hard questions about the report before airing it. But no, neither Kronland nor Weiss have been fired or even suspended until the whole story is thoroughly investigated – and not by Channel 2 personnel.

Eva Meziboz, chair of the Second Television and Radio oversight panel, expressed her dissatisfaction but beyond words did nothing.

Neither did former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner, president of Israel’s press association, who usually is quick to criticize any supposed attempt at limiting the freedom of the press in Israel, make a statement or a demand an accounting. The Israel Democracy Institute has kept mum.

The bottom line of this story? Channel 2 is delighted. It had an item which made much noise. Truth? Ethics? Journalistic responsibility? Who cares.

This is though not the only recent case. As reported on the Walla news website on April 30, Reshet’s former content editor Uri Shzigovsky and reporter Guy Hochman were fired by the Channel 2 concessionaire. They were held responsible for fabricating a report on an ultra-Orthodox individual who broke a pole bearing the Israeli flag on Independence Day. In true form, Shzigovsky then went on to blame Hochman for the fabrication and had no regrets about provoking the ultra-Orthodox to show spite for our national holiday. The ethical quality of former editors and reporters at Channel 2 does not seem to be of the highest grade.

Consider another item that made headlines. The main news channels gleefully parroted the report of the IDF spokesperson that Tel Aviv residents were tops in number of days spent doing reserve duty. Adam Gold (and quite a few other bloggers) did some simple homework, first calculating the percentage of residents in various cities who even do reserve duty. Tel Aviv with 8.5% stands behind cities such as Beersheba with 9.1%, or Kfar Sabba with 10.3%. As reported by Ma’ariv journalist Kalman Liebeskind, when considering the number of reserve days served per capita, Tel Aviv is far behind Modi’in, Beersheba, Rishon Lezion, Holon, Bat Yam and Ramat Gan. But who cares? Most journalists identify with the Tel Aviv milieu or themselves live in Tel Aviv, so they happily swallowed the story.

Had they not been so lazy, or biased, they could have exposed the fallacies of the IDF report. That would have been real news, demonstrating that the army cannot be trusted to provide us with objective and well researched information. It would have raised a truly serious issue.

A similar case is the recent headline-making report of State Comptroller Yosef Shapiro that Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Uri Ariel used his powers as minister to transfer tens of millions of shekels to what is known as “Garinim Torani’im” – that is, groups of religious Israeli families who establish community centers in various cities, in the midst of secular neighborhoods. The implication was that these transactions were illegal and that there was a need for a thorough investigation by the attorney-general. The media reported this gleefully, after all Ariel is a “settler” and a proud symbol of the national religious community.

The media swallowed the comptroller’s report hook, line and sinker. Instead of immediately attacking Ariel, reporters should have looked a little deeper into the allegations. The comptroller’s report based itself on among other things the work of a left-wing organization called “Molad,” a Hebrew acronym The Center of Democratic Renewal. This organization was accusing Ariel back in 2014 of distributing funds to his supporters. Molad clearly has an agenda – how then could the comptroller use its “data” as a source?

Here, too, Kalman Liebeskind of Ma’ariv was a voice in the wilderness, noting that Ariel distributed funds to many, including left-wing secular groups with agendas far from his own.

So what have we got? A media industry of questionable trustworthiness and with no accountability. “Journalism” which perpetuates myths as long as it identifies with them but which hangs in the public square anyone with whom they do not, and journalistic standards be damned.

Perhaps we can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that we are not the only fools in town. The Harvard Kennedy Center just published a report on media bias in coverage of US President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office. Trump’s coverage during this period “set a new standard for negativity” – 80% negative reports. In no one week did the “coverage drop below 70% negative and it reached 90% negative at its peak.”

The report goes on: “Trump’s coverage during his first 100 days was not merely negative in overall terms. It was unfavorable on every dimension. There was not a single major topic where Trump’s coverage was more positive than negative.”

Truth? What’s that?


May 10, 2017

MEDIA COMMENT: Not yours, not for you

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:58 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Not yours, not for you
The makeup of the governing body of the PNC is not representative of the Israeli public, but rather will perpetuate the present stranglehold of the elites on our public broadcaster.
Radio Kol Yisrael’s main news channel, Reshet Bet, informs us many times daily that it “belongs to you and is for you.” This promotional slogan is fiction. The channel wants us to believe that public radio belongs to the public, which funds it, and that its sole purpose is to serve that public. We ask our readers’ indulgence but, once again, our column will be about the public broadcaster which for some reason does not seem to be able to get out of the news headlines. Instead of reporting news, it is creating news. This is a story not about the supposed benefits to the public, but those of the employees of the broadcaster.

In brief, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got cold feet with regard to the operation of the new Israeli Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) and thought it wiser to prevent its operation and resurrect the old Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) in its present form. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon disagreed and the compromise worked out was that the IBC would no longer have a news division. Instead, a new Public News Corporation (PNC) is to be established and it will operate independently of the IBC, just as the news corporations of TV channels 2 and 10 operate independently of the parent channels. The employees of the PNC will be the present news division employees of the IBA. With this decision, hardly any employees of the old IBA would be fired and domestic peace will be achieved.

But all is not well: there still are some differences between the Histadrut and the Finance Ministry as to the exact details. Since the present law states that the IBA ceases to exist on May 15, the government is again requesting a two-week or perhaps longer delay in implementation, ostensibly to iron out those details. Some pundits claim that this in fact is just to guarantee that the Histadrut does not paralyze the country during the upcoming visit of US President Donald Trump and that this ongoing IBA saga does not affect the Histadrut elections that are to be held on May 23. The public interest seems not to be at the heart of the issue.

In the meanwhile, the Knesset is debating the legislation needed to establish the PNC. The government’s proposal is a model of how one should not form a public news corporation. For starters, it will have an independent CEO and chief editor – two added jobs, instead of one. One can only imagine the ongoing clashes between the two when it comes to budgets. A chief editor without budgetary power is a joke, since it is the chief editor’s job to decide which correspondent to send where and with what equipment and with how many supporting staff. This costs money (and is but one of the reasons the old IBA fell into financial disarray). Worse, the chief editor cannot fire employees. The CEO will be interested in cutting costs and will not see the editorial needs. This is an excellent prescription for an impotent corporation.

The proposed legislation provides for an annual budget of NIS 135 million for the PNC, to be transferred directly from the Transportation Ministry. These funds will come from the broadcasting fee paid by us when we renew our car license. The budget will be linked to the cost of living index. This is another sure source of friction. Since the annual increase in the number of cars in Israel far surpasses the cost of living index the parent IBC will see its budget increase far more than that of the PNC.

The proposed budget will also be insufficient to pay the salaries of an expected 400 employees coming from the IBA and additional “fat cats” who will be on special contracts. Worse, the PNC will have to pay for the IBC’s services. One may expect that the IBC will be less than generous in the fees it demands.

In short, a sure recipe for friction, waste and a permanent demand for increasing budgets at the public expense. It would seem that Minister Kahlon’s hope that the budget of the PNC will not come from the account of the Finance Ministry will at best last for the present fiscal year.

But what about content? Is the new PNC mandated to uphold Zionist values in its news reporting? No. The proposed legislation demands that it be: “decent, responsible, impartial, trustworthy and open.” Not a word about a commitment to upholding Zionist values, respect for Jewish heritage and culture, news about the Jewish Diaspora or anything similar. The new PNC is completely disconnected from the Jewish state. One might think that its mandate comes from the United Nations. Why Israel needs to waste public money on such a PNC is beyond our understanding.

And about that claim that the public broadcaster serves the public. In fact, it essentially works the exact opposite way. An argument justifying a public broadcaster is that the public is provided the kind of news which the commercial companies do not offer.

Since the PNC will also be operating over the Internet, it has an unfair advantage over under-financed news sites that actually do provide true pluralism in news coverage. Many news content providers on the Internet, working with shoestring budgets, will be washed out by the PNC with its government support. When a state finances a public broadcasting corporation through the Internet, it creates unfair competition for those who are really doing the job. The private investor cannot compete with the coffers of a government. The result will be a stifling of pluralism rather than its increase.

Another problem is that the public through its elected representatives will not select the PNC’s board of directors. As with the IBC, its search committee, whose mandate it is to present the government with the governing body, is appointed by the minister in charge after consultation with the Supreme Court’s chief justice. The law, whose purpose is to distance politicians from the news corporation, does something much worse instead. As IMW and the Kohelet forum wrote in a letter to the Prime Minister, it gives the Supreme Court unprecedented power, of a kind not existing anywhere in the world. Whoever heard of a court involved in the appointment of media officials? Just imagine the effect on media criticism of the court. Moreover, will this lead to impartial news coverage? No.

These are only the tip of an iceberg. The makeup of the governing body of the PNC is not representative of the Israeli public, but rather will perpetuate the present stranglehold of the elites on our public broadcaster. The public that foots the bill and is disillusioned by the media in Israel will become even more so if this legislation passes.

The whole process is hasty, not well thought out, and does not serve the Israeli public. Public broadcasting in Israel should be abolished, that is the best way to really have news media that serve the public.