June 20, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: Hypocrisy

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:37 pm by yisraelmedad

MEDIA COMMENT: Hypocrisy
By YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK
06/20/2018
Israel’s Media Watch, under the Freedom of Information Act, requested specific information from the PBC. We wanted to know the answers to our questions
Public funds, collected from taxes in one form or another, seem always to be treated in a cavalier fashion, almost contemptuously, and without regard to their real value by government officials or the government institutions that benefit from the collections in the public coffer.

There is a Jewish joke that highlights this unfortunate attitude in a particular fashion.

The shtetl’s “fallen woman” had passed away and donated her inheritance to the local synagogue to support the study of the Talmud. The gabbai arranged for a commemorative plaque and invited the congregants for a kiddush in her memory and to honor this considerable monetary windfall. The rabbi was aghast and, quoting the verse at Deuteronomy 23:18, that the earnings of a prostitute should not be brought into God’s House, attempted to halt the proceedings. The gabbai quickly whispered in his ear, “but, Rebbe, it’s really all our own money.”

The details of the finances of the Defense Ministry expenditures for Galei Tzahal radio are not public knowledge, especially the salaries paid to its civilian employees; that is, the media celebrities it hires. It’s as if “it’s all our own money,” not the public’s. There is no official accounting known to the public, detailing income from advertisements and certainly not the price per ad that the station gets for its air time.

The same holds true – even more so – for the Public Broadcasting Corporation (PBC). It took Israel’s Media Watch years to obtain even minimal transparency for the budget of the old Israel Broadcasting Authority. Israeli law, under the Freedom of Information Act, demands that public entities such as the PBC or Galei Tzahal provide the necessary information to anyone who asks for it.

Interestingly, during the seven and a half months of operation in 2017, the PBC’s income from ads stood at NIS 46m., which is less than NIS 75m. on an annual basis. In 2015, the reported income of the old IBA was more than NIS 110 million on an annual basis. What happened? Why the drop? Will the PBC explain the shortfall?

We know that the time allotted to ads on the PBC has, if anything, increased relative to the IBA, so the only possible explanation is that the price per ad has hit rock bottom. If true, this would imply that the PBC is taking unfair advantage of its public funding to undermine the commercial media stations. Of course, the other possibility is that the department in charge of ad revenues is a failure at its job and should be fired.

Israel’s Media Watch, under the Freedom of Information Act, requested specific information from the PBC. We wanted to know the answers to our questions. How much of the income comes from governmental sources? How much from private? What was the separate income of the different stations held by the PBC?

Why is this information important?

The PBC claims that media pluralism is essential for Israel’s democracy and has blamed the prime minister for undermining it. Well, to open a new radio station, one needs a business model. If the pricing of the PBC is kept secret, it becomes virtually impossible to do this. It is not surprising that we do not have national private radio stations. The PBC refuses to divulge the information, claiming that this is a trade secret. Trade secret? The PBC is not a business, it is a publicly funded corporation. By refusing to be open, the PBC is undermining anyone who would try to compete.

Yet this is the same station that claims that it is the bastion of Israel’s democratic values and their protector and any attempt to really oversee its activities – or worse, close it down – they describe as a fatal danger to our democracy. The truth is that this is all hypocrisy. The major interest of the PBC is to increase its funding so that its “stars” can take home fatter paychecks. Israel’s Media Watch does not accepting that answer and will in the near future take the PBC to court.

This rather minor issue pales when compared to the big news: the merging of TV Channel 10 and the Reshet TV station. Our memory is not short; it was only a short while ago that the Israeli government contemplated closing down TV Channel 10 due to its various delinquencies. At that time, the pronouncements made by officials were scary.

For example, as reported in Haaretz on August 29, 2012, President Reuven Rivlin, who then was only a member of Knesset, said, “The channel is an existing fact. Its closure will endanger the freedom of speech in Israel. The fate of the channel is not only an economic issue but concerns the conduct of the media market in a democracy. I had the privilege of initiating the channel as Minister of Communications and already then felt that the conditions of the concession were impossible. It is true that one has to keep commitments, but the damage to the foundations of democracy and the Israeli media market take precedence.”

The present merging of the two TV channels, which is nothing less than the actual closing down of TV Channel 10, received no such powerful words from President Rivlin. He did not exhort the owners to prevent this serious danger to Israel’s democracy. Why? Because it really is not serious. It is high time that one of these channels disappears, since both have little to offer which is not offered by the Keshet TV station.

But what about the employees? At the time, when the government wanted to close TV 10 down, their hue and cry reached a crescendo. The union shut down the station’s broadcasting for a few hours to express their disapproval with the government’s initiative. Matan Chodorov, head of TV 10’s employee union, was explicit: “The exceptional step of blackening the screen is a result of the ongoing disregard of Benjamin Netanyahu from the most serious crisis in the history of commercial TV in Israel. We hope that the appropriate way will be found to preserve the freedom of the press in Israel and bring Channel 10 to its safe haven.” No more, no less.

Democracy and all its hallowed principles would have been violated had the government closed the channel down. And today? The channel is disappearing for commercial reasons, not political ones, and what happened to the hue and cry? It disappeared. That which is permitted to the rich and financially powerful is not permitted to the people and their public representatives. This is our media and its players. The hype against the closure of TV Channel 10 at the time had nothing to do with democracy and values, it was just another attempt to bring the Netanyahu government to its knees.

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June 11, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: There are tweets and there are twits

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:03 pm by yisraelmedad

MEDIA COMMENT: There are tweets and there are twits
By YISRAEL MEDAD, ELI POLLAK
06/11/2018
The public has a much more informed opinion as to the political and ideological identity of the media stars.
Being anonymous, the Benjamite who, according to I Samuel 4, ran from the Even HaEzer battlefield to Shiloh to inform Eli the High Priest at the Tabernacle of the results could have been even a war correspondent. As verse 17 has it, his task was to be a mevaser, one who brings the news. Verse 13 informs us that when he entered the town to report what had happened, “the whole town sent up a cry”. Could that mean people did not like the media, even then?

The bad news that Eli received a few moments later, causing his death, took hours to be relayed. Since then, we have had the Pony Express, telegraph, telephone… and now, via the Internet, news is conveyed within seconds.

Moreover, the purveying of news is no longer exclusively controlled by the media industry. If in the past, reporters complained that politicians were scheduling their appearances to force the networks to carry their words live at prime time, thereby talking over the heads of the press, we witness today a virtual sidelining of the press.

Wesley Yang, a New Yorker contributing editor, highlights in a piece in the Tablet on May 28 the example of Jordan Peterson, whom Yang informs us “does not rely on the gatekeepers of the progressive consensus for his livelihood; indeed he prospers precisely by flouting it.” Yang traces how a narrative is generated on social media, fed back into the mainstream press, which, in turn, is fed back into Twitter.

Along the way, those who disseminate the narrative can be rewarded as well as sanctioned by “mob-style attacks and ostracism.” What is also evident is “confirmation bias,” whereby our threshold to demand proof for claims is lowered and we tend to conform to what we are already primed by habit, familiarity, and the desire to believe.”

In other words, citizen A reads Haaretz, while citizen B reads Arutz 7. Each one becomes a resident of a separate foxhole, believing and disbelieving ‘facts’ she or he cannot independently confirm.

Yang calls the people who make up this new tweet-driven media phenomenon “digi-journalists and social-media mobs”. And we ask: are the tweeters twits or what?

Further, what is the role of professional, and paid, journalists in all this?

An academic article authored by Zhaoxi Liu of Trinity University in Texas and Dan Berkowitz of the University of Iowa appeared last month in the Journalism journal. They suggest that journalists have “contradicting views on whether or not to accept tweets [as] a legitimate journalism artifact, leading to the blurring” of boundaries of “the journalism craft and its core mission of informing the public.”

If they are uncertain, what of we the media consumers? Samantha Bee tweets, outrageous, apologizes and continues to appear on American television. Roseanne Barr does the same thing and is fired. Was there a “mob-style attack” on her?

Twitter, though, allows us, the media consumers also some room.

ON MAY 11, Haaretz published an item by Hilo Glazer asking coyly, “Did US Ambassador David Friedman indirectly support pro-Kahanist groups?” He named one such organization only, “Kommemiyut.” JTA picked it up incredibly fast, and Ron Kampeas’ report in the JTA went from there to the Times of Israel and further afield, spread by journalists via Twitter, from leftist colleague to leftist colleague.

The story was a case of misidentification that any involved political reporter could have, and should have, spotted. One of us (YM) began tweeting the problematic character of the “facts” and urged those with inside information to contact the journos involved. Eventually, the truth came out (there were two distinct groups with the same name, one Kahanist, one not). However, even with an addition of an “editor’s note,” the damage was done. An ignorant reporter with an anti-Friedman agenda, assisted by the same in a news agency, caused ripples that reached the top echelons of the State Department, Congress and the American Jewish establishment. By the way, a check this past Sunday shows the original article still at the Haaretz on-line website.

Before print and then going to Twitter, there was a failure all along the chain of distribution. The reporter, his editor, and the JTA failed. Twitter introduced not only speed but also extensive reach, crossing continents and languages (tweets carry their own translation capability).

Not only was there a lack of professional confirmation of the item, at play was also the frame of enforced “correct-think” that pervades the media as well as academia and the world of entertainment.
The media does play a magnifying role. It may take a tweet and turn it into “news.” This is the case with President Trump. His tweets are publicized and usually also mocked. The recent tweets from Roseanne Barr, Samantha Bee and Joy Reid in America fall into the same category. Somehow there are glaring exceptions. There are political leaders who tweet and yet their outrageous comments are ignored.

A.J. Caschetta highlighted one case in a Middle East Forum piece. The leader in questions is quite well known here in Israel. No, he is not Benjamin Netanyahu but another “belligerent world leader who uses social media to bully enemies and feed his narcissistic delusions of grandeur” – Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Caschetta convincingly illustrates that Khamenei “beats President Donald Trump any day.” In Iran, he has no rivals; most Iranians are barred from using Twitter’s social media platform.

Do journalists, news program hosts or even comedians pay attention to him? Of course not. It is not the intrinsic negative value of the tweeting politician but rather how the media decide to relate to him.  It is their biased outlook that leaves the public in the lurch.

Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the Hay literary festival in Wales Sunday that with invasive modern media, the public gets sick of politicians more quickly and, with the 24-hour news format, long political leaderships which usually have contributed to stable governments have come to an end!

The Liu and Berkowitz study mentioned above found that while some journalists saw tweets as a means to an end – marketing their own stories and driving traffic to their newspaper’s website – others just tweeted for the sake of tweeting, turning their tweets into a journalistic product in their own right.

Twitter can also be a battlefield. After Haaretz’s Uri Blau published on May 25 a story on a “confidential dossier” on the American Muslim activist Linda Sarsour compiled by a “secretive Israeli firm” for an “Adelson-funded US group,” Middle East Forum pushed back via tweets that the material originated with the MEF going back a decade, all collected from open sources. Blau’s story was “sloppy and false reporting.”

One consequence of the tweets is that today the public has a much more informed opinion as to the political and ideological identity of the media stars. Another is they can engage the journalist in real time. This is a very positive result, because these tweeters, more often than not, turn themselves into twits and the public knows.

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