March 28, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: Let’s clean it up

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:15 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Let’s clean it up
So now we know that there is too much chametz at the army radio station, why don’t we just clean up? Let’s stop listening to them until they get their act together.
Although she was referring to an incident in which her posterior was groped by an interviewee on live television, what BBC1’s television presenter Helen Skelton said about her reaction could be applied to other ethically problematic facets of the media. She declared, “I felt really awkward… It’s intimidating and you don’t want to be the person who is being difficult… that’s just the culture that television breeds. No one wants to be difficult. You want to bring solutions, not problems.”

In Israel, this is definitely not the case. Our media is urged to bring problems to the fore, but it depends whose problems.

In Skelton’s case, the interviewee would have been immediately hung by the media – provided that he belonged to the “right” camp. Tamar Zandberg, newly elected head of the Meretz Party, was subject to media pressure over her outright lies regarding consultations with right-wing PR adviser Moshe Klughaft for only a short period. Zandberg had denied consulting with him but Klughaft went on record publicly stating that she did.

Zandberg was indeed attacked, and there may still be a legal question, but after 72 hours the issue appears to have died down as far as the media are concerned. Haaretz allowed Alit Karp space to demand she “Go Home!” as she “betrayed voters.” But despite the harsh criticism from Avi Gabbay, head of the Zionist Union, it seems to have ended there.

We are in the midst of the Passover preparations.

Eliminating the chametz from our homes is not only a literal task but a moral one. It implies we should look into ourselves and try to change our habits for the better. For example, our media could try to show more generosity.

Sunday night was a historic evening on the Israeli media scene. A fourth news channel was initiated. TV Channel 20, after years of struggling, finally received the legal go-head to broadcast news. The road was not easy and we reported on the obstacles multiple times in this column. It was only through legislation, aided and supported significantly by Israel’s Media Watch, that the channel received the permit.

One would think that such an event deserved media attention, but on the news of Galei Tzahal or Reshet Bet radio there was no mention. Only the right-wing media – Israel Hayom, Arutz 7, Makor Rishon and a few others – reported on it. The mainstream media kept thunderously silent.

Indeed, the most important comment Arieh Golan gave on Sunday morning was fake news about the Council for Higher Education. Golan claimed that the council had decided to muzzle Israeli college lecturers, preventing them from letting their students know their opinions on current events. The truth is that the council has not decided on anything. It formulated a position paper, which would forbid lecturers from using their lectures as a forum for pressuring students to conform with their personal political beliefs, so as to protect the academic freedom of students to think differently from their teachers.

Golan, had he been a generous, well-meaning person, could have used his radio pulpit to congratulate Channel 20 and note how important it is for Israeli democracy that there exist an additional news channel, one whose point of view differs from all the others, and point out that it will provide sorely needed diversity to our media scene. But Golan only knows how to criticize others. The fact that he usurps the public airwaves for his own political agenda is by now sickening.

So, let us do away with the chametz, for it is our choice to stop listening to Golan. If we want news, not propaganda, there are other, better stations.

Nor is Liat Regev any better. This past Friday on the prime noon news show of Reshet Bet, she had nothing to say about the appointment of John Bolton as the new US national security advisor other than “let’s just see what problems this appointment brings with it.”

Galei Tzahal has been undertaking a special kind of elimination of chametz. It accepted the resignation of journalist Erel Segal. Il’il Schachar, head of news broadcasting, claimed in an interview with Makor Rishon that the reason was Segal’s “insatiable appetite for money” and high salary demands. Unfortunately for her, journalist Kalman Liebskind, Segal’s friend, asked Shimon Alkavetz, the commander of the station, and he denied the allegation, stating that never a word was exchanged with Segal about money. The truth is obviously elsewhere.

Segal is known for his right-wing opinions, of which he makes no secret. In his programs he would attack anything he thought worthy of attacking. His ratings were high, but that was all the more reason to get rid of him – why give a right-winger a position of influence?

Schachar is not new to us. On October 3, 2012, in this column, we reported on Schachar’s blatant unethical behavior.

On November 23, 2011, she provided Galatz’s listeners with a report from Switzerland on a conference of the “Geneva Initiative” which was taking place that week. Her trip was paid for by the Swiss government, a major funder of the Geneva Conference. She knew that a reporter should never receive funding from anyone with interests and especially someone it is her task to report on. But Schachar withheld that information for half a year and divulged it only after being forced to.

Not only was nothing ever done about this, a few months ago she was promoted to heading the news section of Galatz.

So now we know that there is too much chametz at the army radio station, why don’t we just clean up? Let’s stop listening to them until they get their act together.

In a Calcalistech website interview on March 15 on the occasion of their Mind the Teach conference in New York, Randi Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media, said, “We need to encourage and support journalism sites that go deep, that are focusing on telling stories, that don’t have clickbait headlines, and that are really doing good investigative journalism.

I think also as consumers we need to be a little more responsible in what we post and what we click on.” That, of course, is advice all journalists should follow from day one in Journalism 101 (that is, if Israel’s media people had actually been required to learn journalism to be able to work).

Zuckerberg’s suggestions are more than just a nice idea. Consider the case of Cambridge Analytica, now in the news for mining Facebook members’ data. It seems that the group was engaged in “psychological operations” – or psyops – changing people’s minds not through persuasion but through “informational dominance,” a set of techniques that includes rumor, disinformation and fake news. What is now termed “psychographic messaging.” Are certain media elites, whether owners of newspapers, directors of companies or senior-level employees working in media outlets, also, in their own way, engaged in similar activities out of an ideological, political or cultural agendas?

Isn’t this, to borrow a simile, the chametz that media consumers need to burn?


March 15, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: Netanyahu and the press

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:00 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Netanyahu and the press
It is this one-sidedness and lack of truth that is helping Netanyahu. Israel, though, is losing.
As more reports originate from the Israel Police appear, some leaked, regarding the investigation into several alleged cases of embezzlement, bribery and government corruption, the contest for the public’s trust between the media and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is both accelerating and increasing in pitch.

Yardena Schwartz, a freelance journalist and Emmy-nominated producer based in Tel Aviv, formerly with NBC News, called Netanyahu a “media puppeteer” in the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review (February 21).

In his public appearances during his visit this month to the United States, Netanyahu avoided any reference to the legal situation he is embroiled in. It was only mentioned through impromptu remarks to the press, such as “we are attacked all the time – every hour, every minute… I won’t keep silent, I will tell the truth.”

It was but a year ago that he declared, “There is no country in the world where the press is freer [than Israel]. There is no country in the world that attacks its leader more than the Israeli press attacks me. That’s fine. It’s their choice. They are free press and they can say anything they want.” It would seem that even Netanyahu is feeling the pressure.

Some pundits have sought to compare his media wars with those of US President Donald Trump, doing so in a negative, even sneering fashion. But there is more to that comparison.

Andrew Klavan, an award winning mystery novelist whose books have been made into films, wrote on February 4 in New York’s City Journal, an urban-policy magazine, that “a press that has shown itself willing to publish anonymous anti-Trump leaks that sometimes turned out to be false – has made it clear that they do not want you to know what they do not want to know themselves.”

Taking a similar position, The Wall Street Journal editorialized on February 7 that “Some of our media friends are so invested in the Steele dossier, or in protecting their Fusion pals, or in Donald Trump’s perfidy, that they want to ignore all this [the FBI’s wiretap application based on a source working at the direction of the Clinton campaign]. But journalists ought to tell the complete story.”

In quality journalism, a good story is a balanced one, with input from all sides and a “fair” representation of facts and opinions. Are we in Israel receiving professional, impartial, objective, ethical journalism? Or does our press attempt to use its power to forbid us to even think that our editors, reporters and analysts could be, like their American counterparts, less than fair, objective and even knowledgeable?

Robert Lacey is one person whose approach should put television viewers on the alert. He is the historical consultant for The Crown, the Netflix television period drama, and author of many popular histories and biographies. In her December 18, 2017 Town & Country interview with him, Caroline Hallerman observed, “For Lacey, there can be truth without fact.”

In his own words, Lacey said, “I say, ‘I don’t like the word “false.”’ I’d rather say is it true or is it invented? …History is a truth, but there are other truths that are conveyed in the drama.”

While the specific context is docudrama, this type of thinking has infiltrated “straight” journalism. It is standard practice for “expert analysts” who appear on hard news programs. The framework setting attempts to convince the viewer or listener that the speaker is objective and disengaged from the subject she or he is spouting off on. Moreover, these observers always seem to tell us media consumers what the future will be. Not only are the results unimpressive, but the media never seems to check up on how good their “experts” really are. Never has there been a case of a commentator being laid off as a result of false perceptions or predictions.

There is another problematic aspect to modern media, related to how the public engages with the news.

According to the UK Trinity Mirror’s digital editor-in-chief at its regional titles, Alison Gow, many online readers scan headlines and then go to the comments thread without bothering to read the copy (the facts). “People,” she said, “will actively not read a story because they will have a view… If the news pages are full of the personal opinion of reporters, why are they any better than my opinion?”

The Netanyahu case is a classic example. The Israeli press is stumped: after two years of Netanyahu bashing, with one story after another, public opinion polls show, consistently, that the public is not impressed. If one believes the polls, Netanyahu is electorally stronger than ever. Why?

One answer has to do with the perception that too many people in the media have an agenda and therefore cannot be trusted.
In Israel, the public knows there are certain politicians who are protected by the media. Israelis know that MK Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) did not divulge his information about the 1999 election campaign funding (the “Amutot” affair), yet the media did not attack the police nor the attorney general for not following through. Herzog went on to become the chairman of the Zionist Union.

Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party, has been caught repeatedly “misrepresenting” facts. In the latest case, Lapid appeared in front of a camera with a person disguised as a haredi (ultra-Orthodox). Lapid did not divulge this information. True, nothing illegal, but has the media asked itself whether this is a person who can be trusted?

The media after but a scant few days closed the story about the possible criminal implications of the behavior of judges Esther Hayut and Hila Gerstel. Gerstel claimed she had been asked by a Netanyahu crony whether she would be willing to assure, if she became attorney general, that she would work in favor of the Netanyahu family. She also claimed she had mentioned the matter to Hayut who did not even report the matter to the police. Are justices immune from press criticism? Or are only certain judges, with certain political opinions, liable to be victims of a press onslaught?

Former president and prime minister Shimon Peres was the crony of many millionaires, aggrandized himself while still alive, yet no one clamored for his relationships with financial moguls to be investigated. Many Israeli politicians worked hard to get the daily newspaper Israel Hayom removed from our newsstands, pushing legislation and receiving positive coverage in Yediot Aharanot, yet hardly any of them were called to task.

The Israeli public is wise enough to understand that even if Netanyahu has broken the law, what is demanded from him is unique. Others under these circumstances would go scot-free, especially if, like prime minister Ariel Sharon, they bribe the press with an expulsion of Jews from Gaza and northern Samaria.

It is this one-sidedness and lack of truth that is helping Netanyahu. Israel, though, is losing.


March 1, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: To film or not to film?

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:53 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: To film or not to film?
Israel is on the receiving end of too many negative portrayals.
An important part of the media scene in Israel is the weekend brochures distributed freely in the synagogues. Originally, they were supposed to be a source of commentary on the weekly Torah portion, but rapidly became a money-making machine, attracting advertising as well as providing political news to synagogue goers. Various organizations use this medium to give their viewpoint on current events.

One of these leaflets is titled “Yesha Shelanu” (“Our Judea, Samaria and Gaza”). It is funded and distributed by the Yesha Council. This past week’s brochure was dedicated in part to the issue of social media and the immediate broadcasting of terrorist attacks.

There had been a meeting of the Yesha Council with the IDF Brig.-Gen. Eran Niv, commander of the IDF’s Judea and Samaria Division, and leaks of security camera footage of terrorist attacks on social media were discussed. According to the report, Niv claimed such clips harm the families of the victim, who are exposed to them before the tragic information can be provided through official channels. Moreover, he said, the clips are a source of inspiration and even instruction for potential terrorists. The recommendation the council accepted was to call for a halt in spreading these clips.

But there is another side to this issue.

As we well know, Israel is on the receiving end of too many negative portrayals. Our enemies do not hesitate to providing negative pictures of events as soon as they happen. Sometimes their clips are fabricated, in the best “Pallywood” tradition, sometimes they are truthful – but only ever half truthful. Rarely do they provide reasonably objective documentation of events. When such clips go viral, Israel is immediately attacked and our armed forces more often than not blamed for wanton murder of innocents. The world is not sufficiently aware of what our enemies really carry out.

Partly in response to the fake news emanating from Israel, Amotz Eyal founded TPS, Tazpit News Services, which has been providing news in real time to major media outlets about what’s really happening in the field. This has not stopped the flow of fake news but at least it has given our friends and supporters a basis on which to refute the false allegations of our enemies.

But this is not enough. Too often, the IDF itself has reacted too slowly to events, allowing the foreign media much leeway to give Israel a black eye. By the time the IDF gives its official version, it is too late. Lately, the IDF has seemingly understood the potential for damage and is making efforts to provide real-time coverage. The case of the downing of the Iranian drone a few weeks ago is one example.

It is true that often, the information in amateur video footage can be harmful and terribly hurtful to the loved ones of the victim. We also accept that some terrorists might be inspired by or learn from these clips, though especially in the case of the murder of Rabbi Ben-Gal there is not much to learn. We also note that many clips from the period of car-ramming terrorist attacks in Jerusalem were released to the public by the police relatively shortly after the events happened.

But one should also think about the victim and potential future victims. One may guess that if anything, the victim would want his or her tragedy to be the last and so would do everything possible to use it to defend others against the terrorists. Such defense is also part of these clips. For example, the very fact that these clips exist carries with it a lesson that not only should one always be alert to one’s surroundings, but also serves as a warning to terrorists – you are being observed. Such videos could be crucial in preventing a future tragedy. Additionally, by showing the world what actually happened, one undermines the very effect that these terrorists seek to achieve.

Indeed, such clips also lead to negative situations, such as in the Elor Azaria case, where video footage showed the death of a terrorist after he had been arrested by IDF forces. On the other hand, if a crime is committed by a soldier, that fact should emerge – a crime is a crime, and should not be left unpunished.

If Brig.-Gen. Niv is correct, that video clips can motivate future acts of terrorism, one might question why there were no copycat extra-judicial killings of wounded Arabs after the Azaria footage was aired. Is it possible that it’s not the videos that are the problem, but the mindset of our enemies?

In most cases it is the IDF which is on the receiving end. Organizations such as B’Tselem have provided the media with clips that they edited, manipulating thereby IDF actions, showing them in the worst possible light.

The cellphone and its built-in camera is a weapon. It can be – and is – used for offensive purposes by interested parties who wish us ill. It should also be used as a defensive weapon.

Yes, people do get hurt, but that always happens in war. The defense of Israel is more important than the harm along the way. We urge everyone: always have your cellphones ready. Use them – if you don’t, someone else, seeking our harm, will. Use them responsibly, of course. You, the person on the spot, are all too often our best defense.