November 22, 2017

MEDIA COMMENT:Ethics at Kan?

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:04 pm by yisraelmedad

MEDIA COMMENT:Ethics at Kan?
Why does a broadcaster need a code of ethics at all?
The legislation which created the Israel Broadcasting Corporation, which insists on calling itself Kan (which means “here” in English) authorized its board to create a new code of ethics for the public broadcaster. And indeed, quietly, without any public discourse, this is what the IBC did.

But, one might ask, why does a broadcaster need a code of ethics at all? The same question was hurled at Israel’s Council for Higher Education, of which one of us (EP) is a member. The claim in that case was that a code of ethics should not be imposed by the regulator as it encroaches upon the academic freedom of the colleges and universities.

But more seriously, the argument also noted that any university has a disciplinary code.

If it is violated, the university can punish the offender. If a law is violated, such as by sexual harassment, the police would become involved and they would take the necessary steps.

Likewise for the public broadcaster, if an employee does not carry out their job correctly, discipline may result. Although too many of the Kan employees are not considered to be government officials, an arrangement that releases them from the governmental disciplinary code, they still have to abide by the norms of the broadcaster, which are defined by law. Why then do they need a code of ethics? Consider the words uttered just last week in London by The Guardian’s editor Katharine Viner. In a speech on November 16 before staff, members and supporters, she declared, “journalists must work to earn the trust of those they aim to serve. And we must make ourselves more representative of the societies we aim to represent. Members of the media are increasingly drawn from the same, privileged sector of society. This problem has actually worsened in recent decades.”

All too often, however, such words are simply trotted out as a palliative, to calm media consumers who witness constant media bias and are upset at the product they are being served up. The media most rarely apologizes for its infractions and even more rarely punishes miscreants in any way. Perhaps then a code of ethics is useful if it can be enforced and thus increase public trust? Here in Israel, Kan recently ratified its new Code of Professional Ethics, something which in reality is a code of non-ethics.

Unfortunately, over the years the journalists’ code of ethics in Israel has become a joke. No one abides by it, no one takes it seriously and no one is ever punished for violating it.

This is the argument voiced by Dr. Tehilla Shwartz-Altshuler, director of the media reform program at the Israel Institute for Democracy, who was tasked to head the commission responsible for creating the new code of ethics.

Accordingly, as she explained last Friday in an article in Makor Rishon, the new code does not impose objectivity on Kan employees.

Rather, the “new objectivity” is “transparency.”

So any journalist at Kan can use her microphone or his camera to not only express their personal opinion but to try and convince the public they are right. As long as it is transparent that the opinion is a personal one, this would not only be allowed but encouraged.

Did Altshuler, who represents the “Democracy Institute,” ever consider that the journalist is usurping the public domain, or in more stark terms, stealing the public microphone, and being paid out of public funds to do so? Why should the journalists be allowed to use the resources of a public organization to spread their own opinions? In its forward, the new code states that one of the code’s fundamental demands is to prevent conflict of interest or the receipt of personal benefits. Didn’t the “wise people” see how ludicrous it is to allow the expression of private opinion and at the same time demand no conflict of interest? Arieh Golan, the veteran usurper of the public airways, is an excellent example. Consistently, he opens his news program with his personal opinion.

He then interviews someone on the same issue. Can that interview be fair? Altshuler is aware that public trust in the media in Israel is very low. She herself acknowledges it has dropped from 50% 10 years ago to 25% today. She also notes that one of the reasons for the increased public mistrust has to do with an increase in media review (something for which Israel’s Media Watch and the writers of this column take credit for). However, she did not even consider asking media review organizations to participate in formulation of the new code of ethics. Rather, she claims that “deep transparency” will do the job.

So, if a journalist does express a private opinion, it should be made clear it is private.

Kan’s code of ethics is the antithesis of transparency. Why didn’t they present their new code of ethics to the public for public discussion before ratifying it? What happened to transparency? This new code destroys any possibility of ensuring any media fairness.

The authors of this article were involved in making sure that people such as Gabi Gazit and Nathan Zehavi (both accused lately of sexual harassment) would not work for the public broadcaster. This was possible as long as it was clear that they had violated the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s code of ethics. Additionally, an IMW petition to the High Court was instrumental in removing Amnon Abramovitch from the IBA. With the new code of ethics this would no longer be possible.

The new code is based on false premises.

The public mistrust of the media is not due to increased public criticism, but due to the fact that that criticism is both justified and ignored by the media. Retractions at the public broadcaster are very rare. Impartiality and pluralism do not exist. As we have stressed in this column too often, information coming from the Right is ignored and questions are invariably posed from a post-Zionist point of view. The code does not even demand that journalists speak correct Hebrew, and too many don’t.

Why were the deliberations over the code secret? Why was the Kohelet organization excluded? Are only those with a left-liberal agendas permitted to engage in discussions of ethics? Why weren’t the general public and media NGOs invited to submit position papers? Transparency? Decency? Public trust? No, Dr. Altshuler. As long as people like you are not even aware of the true problems and do not try to cope with them, the public broadcaster will not garner public trust. The purpose of any code of ethics for journalists is to serve and protect the public, not journalists. There is no reason why an organization such as Kan should receive from the state coffers a sum which is even greater than that given to the Israel Science Foundation, which contributes much more to Israeli society.

We do not need a new ethics code. The previous one was quite adequate.

Communications Minister Ayoub Kara should intervene, and closing down Kan should also be on the agenda.



November 8, 2017

MEDIA COMMENT: Words and Weapons

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:40 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Words and Weapons
The tunnel in question was not built to provide Shabbat flowers to the Israelis living on the Gaza border.
In a recent article published in the academic journal Current Sociology, “Words don’t come easy,” Christopher Kyriakides, professor of Sociology at York University, Canada, deals with Al Jazeera’s 2015 decision to substitute “refugee” for “economic migrant” in its coverage of “the Mediterranean Migration Crisis.”

In academese, he writes that what happened was a “distancing of ‘migrant’ from ‘refugee’ in news content.” In other words, a media outlet intervened in a political, economic and diplomatic issue to contest a negative media representation. The broadcaster decided to override the language being used and substituted its own language, justifying the act as giving “a voice” to the people involved.

Kyriakides notes other media terms which have been the subject of academic critique, such as “the Arab” and “the Muslim” in the post-2001 era and, in general, media depictions of migrants, refugees and ethnic minority citizens. A “broadcaster’s self-professed ‘deorientalizing’ decision to ‘give voice’ by ‘challenging racism,’” he wrote, “is discursively delimited by the dominant European migration policy narrative.”

The decision to alter the semantics was deliberate. Al Jazeera’s English director of news, Salah Negm, decided not to “use the word ‘migrant’ any longer in this context. We will instead, where appropriate, say ‘refugee.’” As Barry Malone, online editor with Al Jazeera English explained, “at this network, we try hard through our journalism to be the voice of those people in our world who, for whatever reason, find themselves without one.”

Altering language to change a reality is standard practice. A newly formed and EU-funded organization, RespectWords, seeks to prevent Islamophobia in the media. In semi-Orwellian terms, its report, “Respect Words: Ethical Journalism Against Hate Speech,” suggests how to “rethink.”

It fears a “context-dehumanization” and seeks “the construction of new imagery.”

For example, in dealing with violence committed by some recent arrivals, the causes of it, the report suggests, include “colonialism, racism, [and] general social inequality” and there is “no structural connection between migration and terrorism.”

This paradigm is familiar and touches on a problem we have dealt with previously.

We would suggest that a parallel effort to RespectWords should be undertaken to review our situation here in Israel.

Consider, for example, the international terminology concerning the Western Wall. It is a section of the retaining wall to Herod’s enlargement of the Temple Mount.

For centuries it has been used by Jews from all over the world, for prayers, rejoicing, mourning and socializing. In Hebrew it is called “Hakotel Hama’aravi,” the Western Wall. It was also known as “Kotel Hadmaot,” the Wall of Tears, but Jews never called it “The Wailing Wall.” The poet Uri Tzvi Greenberg once wrote in a poem that “the Wall roars.”

Consider then The New York Times. A search this week of its website for “Western Wall Jerusalem” gives 1,781 hits. For “Wailing Wall Jerusalem” one finds only 716. In The Wall Street Journal the search gives 11 for “Western Wall Jerusalem” and none for “Wailing Wall Jerusalem.”

Is it just a coincidence that in Germany and Switzerland the ratio changes dramatically? At the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung one finds 434 entries for “Klagemauer Jerusalem” (“klagemauer” is the German version of “wailing”) but only 36 for “Westliche Mauer Jerusalem.” Similarly, for the Swiss Neue Zuericher Zeitung, one finds respectively 81 and two entries. German speakers seemingly prefer to relate to our holy place of worship as a complaints department.

When one of us raised this issue with a German-speaking journalist, we were told that it is senseless to use “Westliche Mauer” since the editors will change it to “Klagemauer.”

Returning to Israel, a new complaint about “cruel employment practices” has been leveled against the prime minister’s wife Sarah Netanyahu. Yediot Aharonot, no friend of the Netanyahus, decided to highlight the issue by describing the former employee as a “shifcha,” literally, a slave girl.

This appears to us to be low-level pandering, a nasty form of yellow journalism, especially as the woman’s request was to be reinstated. Did not the paper’s editor consider it curious that a “slave” would wish to return to her master? Shouldn’t he have avoided the term, or was he giving a voice to “those people in our world who, for whatever reason, find themselves without one”? Who is a traitor? In the aftermath of the November 1995 assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, it became politically incorrect to use the term “traitor” when discussing politicians.

But on October 27, Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer published a piece titled, “How Netanyahu Has Betrayed the Jews,” asserting that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had recently “betrayed” Austria’s and Hungary’s Jews since he did not display solidarity with their concerns regarding local antisemitism. That paper’s Chemi Shalev also unashamedly used the term when in January 2016 he accused American Jews of “abandoning… betraying Israel itself” in not protesting what he claimed was a loss of democracy here.

One way to delegitimize your political foes is by the use of damning language.

Consider coalition head MK David Bitan.

It is no secret that he is a staunch supporter of the prime minister. Although we might personally not support his tactics, there is nothing even morally wrong in supporting the head of your political party. But for some the goal in life is to remove Netanyahu from office. Chemi Shalev’s op-ed on October 30 described MK Bitan as Netanyahu’s “hired gun.”

On October 29, on TV Channel 10, the PR man representing the new plaintiff against Sara Netanyahu, Arik Rosenthal, referred to Netanyahu’s attorneys as “hired guns.”

The purpose is obvious: Netanyahu and family are implicitly described as mobsters, who use hired guns to carry out the necessary political assassinations. Repeated frequently, the negative image sticks, and who knows, might even lead to dethroning the “Papa.”

Or take how headlines are composed.

On the day following Israel’s October 30 bombing of a Gaza tunnel, Haaretz published two stories. One, an analysis, was headlined “Israel’s Strike on Gaza Attack Tunnel Could Break Fragile Palestinian Status Quo.” The other was headlined, “Israel Destroys a Gaza Tunnel, Killing Militants.”

Of course we all know that the true headline should have been: “Israel Destroys Gaza Tunnel, Saving Israeli Lives.”

The tunnel in question was not built to provide Shabbat flowers to the Israelis living on the Gaza border. But when the aim of a newspaper is to delegitimize the State of Israel, anything goes.

Moreover, if Haaretz runs such a headline, how can we complain about the Guardian’s headline, “Israel destroys tunnel from Gaza, killing seven Palestinians”? Or Al Jazeera’s “Seven Palestinians killed as Israel strikes Gaza tunnel”? The year 1984 is long gone, but Orwell’s lesson, that the “aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought,” is still relevant.