August 16, 2017

MEDIA COMMENT: Netanyahu, first blame yourself

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:51 pm by yisraelmedad

MEDIA COMMENT: Netanyahu, first blame yourself
Prime Minister Netanyahu had 10 years to provide the electorate with a free media market.
Last Wednesday evening, we witnessed the latest round of the slugfest between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the media.

In what The New York Times termed a “pugnacious” event, and described as being in “Trumpian fashion,” Netanyahu came out swinging in response to the role of the media in pushing, framing and highlighting the allegations that he has acted criminally in various cases now under police and state prosecutor investigation.

Some of his remarks included: “You remember that the fake news media have been hammering us in a unified choir … because both the Left and the media – it’s the same thing, you know – they are enlisting now in an obsessive, unprecedented hunting trip … with the goal of carrying out a government coup … The media and the Left contrive endless scandals … to apply unacceptable and incessant pressure on law enforcement authorities … The thought police in the media are working full time … The media and the Left that it serves.”

As prime minister, Netanyahu should know better. Criticizing the media is too often a necessary exercise; in our column we do it all the time. Yet there is a fine line that divides between criticism and sensationalism, and Netanyahu crossed it. A serious journalist is not allowed to ignore for example tape recordings of the prime minister’s conversation with Arnon Mozes, Yediot Aharonot’s owner/publisher.

Here too though there is a clear line between reporting events and attempting to manage them. Just as Netanyahu should stay calm in his criticism of his detractors, so too the media should not paint the prime minister in unacceptable colors. Too many senior members of the “branja,” the Israeli term for the media elite, provided disconcerting examples of extreme bias and cheap, unacceptable rhetoric.

Dan Margalit, fired by Israel Hayom and hired by Haaretz, tweeted “Bibi [Netanyahu] … described the media just as antisemites describe Jews.” Raffi Mann, associate professor in the School of Communications in Ariel University, tweeted a poster mentioning nine leaders, such as Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Iran’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, together with Netanyahu and added a caption: “Conclave of the Knights of Democracy: we have made it to the finals.”

We all know Netanyahu has not touched a journalist, let alone jailed one. The comparison calls into question Prof. Mann’s professional judgment.

Haaretz’s Doron Rosenblum posted a wellknown 1930s picture of a large crowd of Nazis with only one person not raising his hand in the Sieg Heil salute, with the caption: “Already tonight he’ll be hearing from [MK David] Bitan.” Bitan organized the Likud Netanyahu support rally. Comparing Likudniks with Nazis is a bit strong.

As if linking Nazism to Netanyahu was not enough, Israel Prize for journalism laureate Nahum Barnea of Yedioth Ahronot wrote, “… Bibi is back on the balcony. As he was then, in October 1995, at Jerusalem’s Zion Square. The same hand-waving….” He was referring to the false charge that Netanyahu was identifying with a photo-montage of then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin dressed in an SS uniform and encouraging those shouting that Rabin was a traitor.

Barnea insisted there was now as then “the same demagoguery, the same incitement… the same sarcasm, the same manipulations.”

We can attest that in every demonstration at that time, Netanyahu immediately admonished publicly and clearly anyone who called Rabin a traitor. But for Barnea, Netanyahu is Rabin’s murderer.

Haaretz guest columnist and Hebrew University professor Daniel Blatman, who sees almost everything the Likud and the Right does as Nazi-linked, sure enough warned in Friday’s edition that Israel is close to a Weimar Republic collapse.

Just last Thursday, CNN severed ties with Jeffrey Lord, a regular network pundit, after he had tweeted “Sieg Heil!” in what Lord characterized as an attempt to “mock” Nazism and fascism in a tangle with the president of Media Matters for America, a liberal media watchdog group. Even though Twitter accounts are considered private expressions of opinion, CNN took another view. In Israel, it seems, the responses depend on who makes them.

Despite all this media misbehavior, the real question is not how bad our media is, but rather whether it isn’t the prime minister himself who is responsible for failing to protect Israel’s citizens from the media’s bias? Wasn’t he, until May 28, communications minister? A post he held for two years? As prime minister doesn’t he have a say in what is happening in the communications ministry? Netanyahu has had ample time to fundamentally change Israel’s media market yet has not. Netanyahu, former communications minister Gilad Erdan and his government relinquished control of Israel’s public broadcasters.

They established the Kan conglomerate such that it is controlled by an elitist board and not by the taxpayer and her representatives. This perpetuated the stranglehold of opinionated, amateurish staff on the public broadcaster.

Had Netanyahu done his job and eliminated Army Radio and limited Israel Radio, the media scene would have been much improved.

Public radio broadcasters in Israel are not only subsidized by the state, they are allowed to sell advertisements. This hits the consumer twice. First, we are the victims of unreasonably long advertising slots on the airwaves. Secondly, and more important, the public broadcasters control the advertising market. They set the rates and the private radio broadcasters cannot compete; they do not get state subsidies. The result is that Israel does not have an open radio market.

The TV situation is not much better. Why in this day and age are we limited to Channels 2, 10 and Kan 11? The three TV channels have consistently made it a point to cover sensational and sometimes unsupported news about the various Netanyahu-related investigations.

They can do so because there is no serious competition which would expose them.

One can only wonder why to this very day Israel’s electronic media is controlled by regulatory boards who prefer their own self-serving interests. For years, they have done everything possible to prevent true competition on the airwaves. But Netanyahu and his governments, who appointed these boards, sat on the sidelines. How does it happen that TV Channel 20, which had to struggle to be allowed to broadcast news, is fined for not balancing a program while TV channels 2 and 10 are subsidized by the government to the tune of hundreds of millions of shekels despite their daily violations of the regulations requiring balance and pluralism? For the past 10 years, the only real action by our prime minster to uphold media pluralism was his defense of the Israel Hayom newspaper.

Even here though, he did not defend it out of ideology, believing that Israel needs a free media market. He defended it only because it supported him.

Prime Minister Netanyahu had 10 years to provide the electorate with a free media market.

This would have provided many new perspectives on the news, better and perhaps more informed sources and commentators.

The boring media chorus of today is a direct result of a prime minster who refused to govern.

He is eating today the cake that he baked for so long.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, stop crying – do something! If you only wanted to, you could.


August 2, 2017

MEDIA COMMENT: A decade of freedom

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:26 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: A decade of freedom
Ten years ago, Israel’s media was dominated by journalists and academics who had a rather narrow definition of press freedom.
 It was 10 years ago this week that the free newspaper Israel Hayom appeared.

In the beginning it was published only on weekdays. After two years its weekend edition was distributed on Fridays. We are proud that Israel’s Media Watch awarded the paper’s founding editor, Amos Regev, the Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism in 2010. As we noted then, the paper changed Israel’s media map. The hegemony of Yediot Aharonot/Ma’ariv/Haaretz was broken. The Israel Hayom editorial line is proud and unapologetic patriotism.

Ten years ago, Israel’s media was dominated by journalists and academics who had a rather narrow definition of press freedom. In accordance with post-modernist ideology, to them a free press is one that attacks and criticizes the government. As if without such (daily) criticism – and it does not matter if it is true and substantiated – their freedom is somehow curtailed.

The flip side is that if a media outlet does not criticize the government, it is suspect for not doing the job the media clique had framed for it. Worse, support or praise of a government is viewed as an anti-democratic act that borders on treason, at least to the profession of journalism. And in the relativism matrix of post-modernism, they deny for others the very “freedom” they champion for fellow journalists and media owners. This attitude is also carried over into media critique columns published in the mainstream press, locking out anyone not toeing the liberal and progressive line.

Israel Hayom suffered from this attitude.

For years, its journalists were shunned by the mainstream media, denying them exposure. They were not interviewed as experts or commentators by the electronic media. The paper’s op-ed articles were ignored. Indeed, Israel’s Media Watch presented the now defunct Israel Broadcasting Authority with statistics showing how the morning headlines came primarily from Ha’aretz and Yediot, and always first, while Israel Hayom was almost nonexistent.

The media called the paper the “Bibiton” (a portmanteau of the Hebrew word for newspaper, “iton,” and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nickname, “Bibi,”), denigrating it for its consistent support for Netanyahu. This is true, the paper did support the prime minister, unabashedly. But Yediot Aharonot supported Ehud Olmert, now a convicted criminal, for many years.

At the same time, it insisted that it was the “newspaper of the country.” The media never took Yediot to task for this, it was not called the “Olmerton.” It was considered to be influential and its journalists were media stars.

But just as the Israelites in Egypt, so with Israel Hayom – “the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and spread.” Israelis are no fools. First of all, who says no to a free newspaper? More meaningful, many subscribers left the old guard of Haaretz and Yediot for Israel Hayom.

The numbers speak for themselves. Today, it is the country’s most read newspaper on weekdays, with 39.2% of the public reading it, 5% more than its rival, and on July 20, TGI announced it had overtaken Yediot in weekend circulation.

The paper’s popularity was so threatening, especially to Israel’s Left, that the Left went on a campaign to pass a law to stop it. Legislation was submitted in 2014 by former minister and now Labor MK Eitan Cabel and sponsored by members of five other Knesset parties which sought to prohibit a full-sized paper published six days a week to be given out freely. Not only that, its price had to be at least 70% of that of competing papers. Yair Lapid, a former Yediot journalist, and his party Yesh Atid voted for Cabel’s bill. The bill garnered support even from Israel’s Right. Ministers Naftali Bennet and Ayelet Shaked of Bayit Yehudi initially supported the legislation, but then were absent at the vote.

There are those who claim that Prime Minister Netanyahu called for new elections in 2015 to prevent Israel Hayom’s closing as it generated his most important support base. If this was indeed the case then there is no better proof of the paper’s essential contribution to Israeli society and democracy.

At the outset, to receive legitimacy, the paper hired known left-wing journalists to provide “balance.” People like Dan Margalit and Mordechai Gilat were paid handily to attire the paper’s pages with their names and left-wing point of view. But after 10 years the paper matured. With the change of chief editors a few months ago, Margalit and others were removed and replaced by unabashed Israeli conservatives such as Amnon Lord, former editor of Makor Rishon, and Akiva Bigman, former editor of the Mida website.

In retrospect, Israel Hayom’s journalistic contributions were not spectacular. It did not “break” the story of Olmert’s criminal acts.

Journalist Yoav Yitzchak and his News1 website had many more spectacular investigative achievements during these 10 years. This is not to belittle the acumen of Israel Hayom’s present editor, Boaz Bismuth, who, as the paper’s chief foreign correspondent, and against the opinion of all his peers, consistently wrote that Donald Trump had a good chance of winning the US presidential election. In fact, it is this politically incorrect point of view which is perhaps the best characteristic of the newspaper.

It is also expressed by Dr. Dror Eydar.

He was an unknown before Israel Hayom.

His consistent writing and commentary, supporting Israeli settlement of Judea and Samaria, expressing the futility of a “twostate solution” and supporting right-wing legislation against foreign-funded NGOs and more is slowly but surely conferring celebrity status on him. Over the past few years he has been invited time and again as a commentator and presenter for Israel’s electronic media. Not enough, not as much as Yediot’s people, but he’s getting there.

The paper also provides former justice minister Yossi Beilin, one of most important persons responsible for the Oslo Accords and the leader of the Geneva Initiative, with a platform to express his leftwing views. And even though supports Netanyahu it does not keep its readers in the dark about his negative actions.

Israel Hayom’s founding editor Amos Regev wrote in the paper this past Sunday: “The past decade was a fantastic journey … it entailed daily hard work in a media market, facing a blunt, coarse and cynical monopoly… of those who consider that they are the sole thinkers… opposing a left-wing media which idolized the peace process and is not willing to listen to any other opinion.”

He summarized the paper’s ethos: “At Israel Hayom we always remember that first and foremost we are Israelis and that the State of Israel is the only state of the people of Israel and a red line defends her – the IDF, police and other security organs.”

Israeli society should be grateful to Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson for giving us such an important present without which Israel would not have a truly free press.

We wish Channel 2’s Gilad Shalmor a full recovery from his severe beating incurred while covering rioting in Jaffa.