January 31, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: A bastion of democracy?

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:07 pm by yisraelmedad

A bastion of democracy?
They are the ones who are not aware of the important role of the media as a bastion of democracy. Sadly, too often the media itself does not really understand what this concept implies.
The media, in Israel and the world over, portrays itself as a bastion of democracy, preserving freedoms, standing up to power and corruption and revealing the failings of those who hold high office. The new Hollywood film on The Washington Post’s Katherine Graham is a recent example of how media personalities, deservedly so but sometimes not quite, are cast as cultural icons.

In the name of preserving democracy, more often than not the media provide special care for those ranks of the elites of society who extend protection to the media. At the same time, those who dare to find professional faults and unethical conduct in the media will be the butts of fierce attacks. After all they are attacking the bastion of democracy.

Consider the case of Kevin Bleyer, fired as head writer of the Megyn Kelly Today program in mid-January earlier this year. His description of the administrative workings of a media outlet even if only partially true, is shocking. He wrote, “the executive incompetence continues – as does the dysfunctional management, abusive treatment, maddening hypocrisy, staggering inefficiencies, acidic and deficient communication, and relentless scapegoating.”

That, we remind our readers, came from the belly of the beast. Bleyer had also previously worked for Jon Stewart, Bill Maher and president Barack Obama, and had all the correct ideological credentials.

But he dared criticize the holy industry. Worse, it was an insider’s criticism. The two producers who were Bleyer’s targets were defended by an NBC News spokesperson who said they “are being attacked unfairly. They are both excellent and experienced producers.” Blyer lost his battle. There was no change, only he was out of a job.

Here in Israel, a cultural icon, Yonatan Geffen, found time to write a short poem dedicated to Ahed Tamimi. Tamimi is nicknamed “Shirley Temper” for her years of rambunctious, even violent, behavior in confronting IDF soldiers when they were attempting to quell stone-throwing actions and worse, by residents of her home village, Nabi Salih. The village was vividly described as a hotbed of foreign-promoted NGO “resistance” by German journalist Tuvia Tenenbom in his book Catch the Jew.

Geffen’s “artistic work” ended in a comparison of Tamimi to Joan of Arc, Hannah Szenes and Anne Frank. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman thought that the logical consequence would be Geffen no longer being invited to Galatz Army Radio studios. Liberman, the outsider, attacked Geffen, the darling, the insider. Geffen, however, was defended by media personalities across the spectrum, including those identified with the political Right. No one thought it outrageous that the Holocaust was exploited to aid Ahed’s struggle, who was quoted in interviews expressing support for suicide bombings.

No one raised the point that all three of Geffen’s heroines had been executed and asked him if he was suggesting Tamimi should be “martyred.” One can only imagine what would happen if right-wing columnist Kalman Libskind wrote an article comparing Baruch Goldstein to Jews who paid with their life for defending the state. Geffen, however, is “one of ours” so he must be defended at all cost.

American Vice President Mike Pence’s Knesset speech, a paean of love and appreciation for Zionism and Israel’s accomplishments, was criticized in certain media outlets as the rantings of a Christian Evangelist and therefore unacceptable. After all, he did not attack the “occupation” claiming it is illegal. He was not politically correct. And so the liberal media attacked him. The fact that he was extending assistance and recognition to Israel’s diplomatic standing in the world was irrelevant. Quoted in The New York Times on January 24, Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya political communications Prof. Gadi Wolfsfeld, known for his rather extreme left-wing views, said in response to Pence’s visit, “The news cycle has become shorter and shorter. Today it’s Tuesday? By Sunday it will be a non-issue, if not before that. The overall impact on politics here will be next to zero, or zero.”

Was that his opinion when president Barack Obama also spoke to thousands at Jerusalem’s International Convention Center in March 2013, lashing out at Israel’s effort to resettle Judea and Samaria?

Another example is the career of Moshe Negbi. Negbi, who died last week, was a lecturer at the Hebrew University, a lawyer and for decades the sole legal commentator on legal matters for Radio Kol Yisrael, with frequent appearances on Channel 1 as well.

It took a campaign led by Israel’s Media Watch to force the executive producers of his weekly program to appoint an editor to supervise his broadcasts. Until then, against all ethical standards, Negbi was the sole voice on legal affairs, he selected the guests on his program (who overwhelmingly represented an echo chamber for his own opinion) and set the agenda. Little pluralism and less objectivity were his program’s characteristics. No one dared criticize his record, for that is the fate of those who “belong” and are considered to be pillars of the democratic process.

George Neumayr, former media fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, writing in the January 19 issue of The American Spectator, pointed to another aspect of the elites and their support for “democracy.” He claimed that America’s media engages in acts that facilitate the normalization of “the unruly Left.” “The media,” he writes, “is in a disruptive mood… The [same] media which refuses to ‘normalize’ the unconventional behavior of Trump indulge the unruly behavior of the [Left].”

That observation could be applied to the way the media covered Attorney General Avichai Mandlebit being harassed outside his synagogue on Saturday evening, January 20. Arriving at the synagogue to recite Kaddish for his mother, he was confronted by several demonstrators who demanded he prosecute Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for supposed crimes of corruption. The demonstrators gained favorable coverage with little critical comment in many media reports of the incident, and even more on reporters’ Twitter accounts.

Consider, too, a story by Yossi Verter in the January 20 edition of Haaretz. Verter informed us that the American pollster of the Zionist Union’s Avi Gabbay, Stephan Miller, had conducted a survey for Gabbay. One finding that “stunned” Gabbay dealt with “name recognition”: 17% of Zionist Union voters said that they didn’t know his name when asked to identify him. Among the general public, the situation was worse: 27% didn’t know who he was.

Most of those questioned by Miller, Verter continued, who said that Gabbay was not known to them, were young people who serve in the army or are about to be drafted. In short, first-time voters. Gabbay concluded that his problem was a media problem. We conclude the same. It is a media problem.

Those who do not watch the TV news and current events shows, and don’t read newspapers, are the ones unfamiliar with the Labor Party chairman and Zionist Union leader. They are the ones who are not aware of the important role of the media as a bastion of democracy. Sadly, too often the media itself does not really understand what this concept implies.

The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imediaw.org.il).


January 18, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: Suggestive Journalism

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:33 pm by yisraelmedad

Suggestive Journalism
Journalism can be simply a business, egging on its subjects so that it can make money, or fame, out of the resulting developments.
At last week’s Golden Globes Awards ceremony, Oprah Winfrey noted a phrase heard repeatedly this past year: “We know the press is under siege these days.” Of course, that should work both ways; politicians in multiple countries also feel besieged.

The real difference between the two groups is that the media a priori assume that it is only the siege they feel threatened by which is the evil one.

They claim that it’s the job of the press to be the “watchdog of the people,” so any criticism against them is illegitimate. The latent suggestion is that morality and ethics are possessed solely by journalists, editors and owners of newspapers, radio stations and broadcast studios. In contrast, the politician is considered guilty until the press declares otherwise.

Usually, the adjective “suggestive” implies more often than not something sexual and/ or indecent. We, however, wish to apply the term to a category of unethical journalism.

Suggestopedia is a holistic model of learning and teaching developed in 1978 by Bulgarian psychiatrist and educator Dr. Georgi Lozanov. He intended it in the sense that positive suggestion would make the learner more receptive and, in turn, stimulate learning.

A relaxed but focused state is the best learning environment. To create this relaxed state in the student and to promote positive suggestion, suggestopedia makes use of music, a comfortable and relaxing environment, almost a memorization séance.

In the media, music is replaced by noise.

Media noise is created in many different ways.

A prime example is the leaked-for-money audio tapes of the probably inebriated “me Rambo” ramblings of Yair Netanyahu, son of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

He offered to fix up his friend with his then-girlfriend to pay off his debts, threatened to murder the bodyguard and bragged that his dad had just arranged for his friend’s dad a $20 billion oil-field deal.

We need go no further than to Janet Aviad’s letter to the editor published Wednesday a week ago in Haaretz. Dr. Aviad, a founding member of Peace Now, who cannot be suspected of being a Netanyahu supporter, was appalled by the airing of the tape and the subsequent newspaper tom-tomming of its contents. This was “unfit to print,” she wrote, adding, “shame on the media… you are losing your credibility.”

Why was it that the media avoided the real news item in this affair? The media, which poses as in principle anti-government, or at least extremely suspicious of it, claims that it is the institution that is able to stand up to power and speak the truth, or report it. Any truly professional and ethical editor would have been interested more in the following questions: did a Shin Bet (Israeli Security Agency) agent record Yair? And if so, did he do it legally? Does the Shin Bet have other tapes? And more importantly, if yes, where are they and are they to be used as a future “deep government” blackmailing sting? This is the true story, not the silly ramblings of a drunken young man.

US President Donald Trump’s announcement that UNRWA, which funds Gaza’s “refugees”, might not be receiving American donations as it did previously made some news here. But where have the mainstream media been for the past decade and more? The careful research of especially David Bedein regarding educational materials from schoolbooks as well as video clips of UNRWA “teachers” who are poisoning the minds of Gazan children have not merited media coverage commensurate with its news value.

To be sure, pictures of Hamas-run summer camps which engage in military-style training of future terrorists have received broad exposure. The link, however, between UNRWA and the Gaza reality has remained at best in the background. The only exceptions came when UNRWA installations were damaged by Israel counter-terrorism strikes and even then, the issue of cessation of funding was not mentioned. This was but another example of the media suppressing an important issue.

On December 28, the media informed us that 63 teenagers, on the eve of their induction into the IDF, signed a letter in which they asserted that “the military carries out a racist government policy that violates basic human rights…We therefore have decided not to participate in the occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people.”

Many similar letters have been published over the years, starting with the 1970 “Shministim” (high school seniors) letter expressing the same ideological position.

This recent letter merited coverage in all the media. A letter signed by 1,500 youths and addressed to Prime Minister Netanyahu asking that he not permit the planned destruction of houses in the community of Netiv Ha’avot was also sent this past week. Did it garner publicity? Not really, and certainly not in any proportion to the left-wing letter.

In late November, reservist comrades of a soldier who lives in Netiv Ha’avot and whose carpentry was then to be destroyed signed a letter of support. That, to be fair, did make it into some news sites.

But the media’s selectivity in creating the agenda in these cases basically suggested to the media consumer that the opposition to “occupation” is more prevalent and important than support for Jews residing in Judea and Samaria. This is but another example of unethical, suggestive journalism.

George Monbiot, in his Guardian column of January 10, writes “that a healthy media organization, like a healthy university, should admit a diversity of opinion… should also seek opposing views and publish them too, however uncomfortable this might be…newspapers that claim to be so incensed about no-platforming are not above seeking to deny people a platform.”

This viewpoint is not prevalent within the Israeli media.

In an article we referred to at the time, titled “The unbearable smugness of the press” and published on November 10, 2016, on the CBS News site, Will Rahn, politics editor for CBS News Digital, lashed out at the media behavior we observe in Israel: “There’s a place for opinionated journalism; in fact, it’s vital. But our casual, profession-wide smugness and protestations of superiority are making us unable to do it well.”

We opened with Oprah Winfrey and we’ll conclude with her.

Last Wednesday, Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde, an associate professor at the University of Georgia, published his thoughts on Winfrey’s media-driven candidacy for office in the Guardian. He noted how it had “become the dominant narrative in the media, which function as the megaphone of the most radical politicians, while ignoring the fewer and fewer remaining moderates.”

He pointed a finger at journalists who “want loud and outspoken politicians of ‘opposite camps’ [and at] the same time, they will decry this [polarization], dismiss politicians, and fan the interest in political outsiders who can ‘save’ the system.”

That, too, is suggestive journalism at work.

And it resonates with the biblical story in 2 Samuel 2:14, when Avner says to Yoav, “Let the young men arise and compete before us.”

Journalism can also be simply a business, egging on its subjects so that it can make money, or fame, out of the resulting developments. It should not try to claim the moral high ground.


January 4, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: Still impotent

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:03 am by yisraelmedad

Media comment: Still impotent
Our sages always admonished us: “Wise people, be careful with your words.” But there is some distance between expressing yourself strongly and being suspended.
It is a government’s duty to rule for the benefit of its citizens. Elected officials should be making the important decisions that affect our everyday life.

Unfortunately, this is not the case in Israel. Our government in certain areas is impotent, or at least seems to be. Consider the saga of TV Channel 20, which we have commented on more than once in this column.

The channel received a license to broadcast only via cable and satellite TV. This means that the channel is subject to the whims of the regulator, the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Commission (CSBC). The original license limited its broadcasts to Jewish programming. To survive, the channel knew that it must provide a broader spectrum of programs. Subsequently, in 2014 it received in principle the right to broadcast news, but in limited form. This was re-certified in 2016, but not implemented formally by the regulator.

In fact, Dr. Yifat Ben-Chai Segev, the CSBC’s chairperson, seems to be having the time of her life bullying the channel and forcing it into a Kafkaesque existence. At least this seems to be the conclusion of a recent Ma’ariv article by Kalman Liebskind, who also has a job at Channel 20. He described how Segev uses almost every opportunity to fine the channel. For example, it was fined for broadcasting too many news programs. It was fined for not giving the Reform movement sufficient attention. It was fined for violating the ethics code in a satirical program.

And the list goes on.

We all know that there is nothing original here.

Such violations were and are bread and butter for channels 2, 10 and 11. Satire in Israel is a holy cow – all the ombudsmen always defend it, claiming that even the sharpest satire is sacred – hallowed by the principle of freedom of speech. Only when the satire comes from the Right does it become unethical and do the fines fly.

Given the unflinching, firm character of the regulator toward the channel, it is facing closure. It cannot make ends meet by broadcasting religious rituals from Reform temples or by allowing the head of the Conservative movement in Israel to make speeches to fill the quota of programs demanded of it as per CSBC requirements. To survive, it must broadcast content which interests viewers. This includes news programs, satire, sports, general culture and much more. But the regulator nixes it all.

Ergo, closure.

Left-wing journalist Uzi Benziman wrote a scathing piece against the channel on the 7th Eye Internet media review site. He compared it to the settlement movement. The latter, he asserted, used any means to further its goals. It would receive a permit for an archaeological dig and lo and behold! The dig turns into a new town. Similarly, according to his perverted thinking Channel 20 took a license for Jewish broadcasting but never really considered for a minute that this was its goal. It used the license to create facts on the ground, Benziman wrote, and become a right-wing broadcaster which would compete with channels 2, 10 and 11.

Benziman suffers from amnesia, it seems. It was TV Channel 10 that committed itself to financial terms which it never intended to fulfil. The channel owed the government a billion shekels. But everyone (except for us), including Benziman, defended that channel and declared that the government must prevent its closure.

There is only a small difference between channels 10 and 20. The former is left-oriented while the latter is right-wing. Right-wing media organs seemingly do not have a right to exist, they should be closed, as in the case of the Arutz 7 radio station.

Left-wing organs, on the other hand, are the essence of democracy and must be supported even when they blatantly violate their legal obligations.

There is a fine thread connecting the crisis at Channel 20 and the recent Irit Linor soap opera.

President Reuven Rivlin was in the eye of a storm over what was apparently his call to the public to protest publicly against the corruption which supposedly typifies the present government. In truth, as also testified to by Makor Rishon correspondent Orly Goldklang this past Friday, his statement was misinterpreted and taken out of context. Given the public protest, Rivlin reiterated that he was not calling upon the public to demonstrate against a specific agenda.

But Linor, who works for the army radio station Galatz, and also Channel 20, reacted to the story Wednesday a week ago by castigating Rivlin. She said on air: “I will tell you what is intolerable, Mr. President. You are not a political player and when you were in politics you were a failure. The best you could do is become a minor minister. As a president and a symbol of Israel you call upon the citizens to go to the streets? For what? You are an insolent piece of work. Who are you? There are elections. Ruby Rivlin did not succeed to see the successful side of elections since he is such a failure. You should be ashamed.”

The reaction was swift. Shimon Alkabetz, the new officer in charge of the army radio station, suspended her for a week without even giving her a chance to apologize or explain. There was a public outcry.

Even the left-wing Citizens Rights Movement called upon Alkabetz to rethink the suspension, to no avail.

For sure, Linor’s words were sharp. Our sages always admonished us: “Wise people, be careful with your words.” But there is some distance between expressing yourself strongly and being suspended.

Linor, the recipient of the Israeli Media Criticism Prize in 2002, admitted that she should not have used such strong words, but so what? She attacked Rivlin from the Right, and the Right, as we know, does not have freedom of expression. After all, when it attempts to exercise that right it is invariably portrayed as obstructing the liberal left-wing democracy which is, the media tells us, so essential for this country.

Is this the first time a high official in Israel was publicly and fiercely criticized? Of course not. The prime minister is daily ostracized. On January 12, 2016, for example, TV Channel 2 “celeb” Amnon Abramovitch equated Netanyahu to North Korea dictator Kim Jong-un. Relating to primaries within the Likud which had only one candidate for prime minister, he noted: “You know this does not exist in any country, except maybe North Korea. This is Kim Jong Bibi, very strange.”

Did any official even dare say a word to Abramovitch? Of course not, for he belongs to the “enlightened” camp, along with Yair “mezuzah kissers” Garboz and others.

The conclusion? Democracy is but a one-way liberal street. Israel’s conservative camp remains unable to counter the unelected demagogues of the Left. If it could, Channel 20 would be the most popular TV channel in Israel and Abramovitch and his followers would be has-beens.