January 31, 2019

MEDIA COMMENT: The end does not justify the means

Posted in Media tagged , , at 11:24 am by yisraelmedad

MEDIA COMMENT: The end does not justify the means
We can only presume that for Haaretz, Shaked is to be pilloried, shamed and despised in its pages, or what Galtung calls negative journalism.
Johan Galtung wrote the seminal 1965 paper, together with M.H. Ruge, about the way news media filtered events of the day, and the standards which determined what coverage was given to which stories in the news. He now thinks the media have become far too negative, sensational and adversarial. In a January 18 interview published in The Guardian, Galtung claimed, “If news continued to reflect the world in this antagonistic way, it would generate extreme negativity.”
Of course, negativity, raw emotions, confrontational situations and even violence are very often efficient ways to publicize the news. But is this positive? Not according to a recent academic study by Denise Baden of the University of Southampton titled “The Impact of Constructive News on Affective and Behavioral Responses.” Baden found that framing a story negatively “evoked [among media consumers] negative emotions, reduced intentions to take positive action to address issues, and resulted in negative affect.” In other words, audiences receiving sensational negative news feel helpless and less likely to engage in solving problems.
On January 17, a female politician appeared on a televised interview program. Her experience, she claimed, was one in which “a hostile atmosphere was whipped up, propped up by reports of inappropriate and sexist commentary in the audience warm-up session.” She then complained that “a public broadcaster… should be expected to be a model of impartiality and equality,” and that “the media must stop legitimizing mistreatment, bias and abuse against… a… woman in public life.” She was, she added, “jeered at and interrupted more times than any other panelist, including by the chair herself.”
The incident happened not in Israel but in Britain. And the aggrieved party was not Ayelet Shaked or Miri Regev, but Diane Abbott, a black woman and MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, the shadow home secretary for Labour. One need not be an Israeli right-winger to recognize media bias and complain about it. Not every media outlet or employee is a paragon of professional and ethical journalistic behavior.
These last two weeks in Israel, in the wake of the Effie Naveh story, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has been happily targeted by the media and portrayed as aiding and abetting criminal actions or, at the very least, facilitating unethical judicial appointments. The fact that sex was involved only seemed to drive some journalists’ emotions harder than their brains.
HAARETZ ONCE published an art work that portrayed Ms. Shaked naked. And on January 17, Amos Biderman’s caricature positioned her in her office, dressed, waiting for Naveh’s latest candidate. Only this time, it was the candidate who was drawn naked, wrapped in a sheet, arriving straight from Naveh’s bed to be appointed as a judge by Shaked, who smilingly approves of her. Why the other female member of the appointments committee, Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut, was not selected remains a mystery. We can only presume that for Haaretz, Shaked is to be pilloried, shamed and despised in its pages, or what Galtung calls negative journalism.
There is another female who most likely did commit a crime in this matter, but she is not an object of derision. That is Army Radio correspondent Hadas Shtaif. Her history is colored. She has been involved quite often in stories where sex was the central motif. In a Yediot Ahronot report dated November 18, 2017, she claimed not only that former prime minister Ehud Olmert sexually harassed her, but that during her career she was molested by 40 different men. However, it appears that despite her journalistic power, she did nothing to halt these unnamed persons. How many women could she have saved if she had used her position then to complain and prevent that molestation from happening again?
This time, she received stolen property – a cellphone. It belongs, still, to the above-mentioned Effie Naveh, who was the head of the Israel Bar Association. Ms. Shtaif’s retrievals from his phone’s memory led to his arrest. The entire system for appointing of judges in Israel is in greater disarray than the bedsheets at the locations for some of Naveh’s alleged interviews.
Whatever the political outcome of this affair, what particularly drew our attention was the simple fact that the cell phone was stolen property. In law, tainted evidence is information obtained by illegal means and is called “fruit of the poisonous tree.” Such evidence is not admissible in court. Shtaif could have handed over the phone to the police immediately, expressing suspicions. Indeed, her editors covered themselves by telling her to do just that, but they did not have the moral fortitude to prevent her from broadcasting the contents over the Army Radio network.
True, the police stated that their investigative work had followed proper procedures, and that “every step taken during the investigation was done so lawfully.” We will only really know after Naveh’s complaint is adjudicated. In a letter to Army Radio, Naveh threatened to sue its criminal affairs reporter and the station for the alleged invasion of his privacy. He also is demanding that Shtaif and the station apologize for their actions and compensate him in the amount of NIS 5 million, or he will consider filing a claim. On January 24, Shtaif tweeted, “Instead of Effie Naveh dealing with his truth, he should make an accounting and a mea culpa [but] he’s searching for other guilty parties.”
THERE IS another troubling aspect to this story. Allegedly, the Justice Department promised Shtaif immunity. This is the same department that day in and day out prevents people from putting themselves in situations involving conflicts of interest, real or imagined. But in this story there is no greater conflict of interest. The number of senior Justice Department officials who sit today on the bench of the Supreme Court is much too large. The officials there had an intense interest in getting rid of Naveh and smearing Shaked. They were clearly in a situation that involved a conflict of interest.
Another item that stirred up the media recently was a Likud election sign. Displaying the photographs of four anti-Netanyahu journalists – Amnon Abramovich, Ben Caspit, Raviv Drucker and Guy Peleg – the caption reads, “They won’t decide.” The cry of “incitement” was hurled at the Likud and its head by the Israel Press Council and opposition Knesset members. The message was, “This will end in murder.” Why incitement? Again, we can only presume it is because they are anti-Netanyahu. Indeed, it is true that only the voters decide.
In fact, Israel Prize winner Nahum Barnea agrees. In his Yediot Ahronot column on January 21, he wrote, “The text is not offensive or inciting. It sets a fact: It won’t be [they] who decide who will be the prime minister of Israel. It won’t be the media outlets they work for, either. That is the truth, and that is the desired and proper situation in a democracy.” In fact, he opined, “I imagine the four journalists who appear on the billboard are secretly pleased by the honor bestowed upon them.”
Thank you, Nahum Barnea. Indeed, the end does not justify the means.

January 16, 2019

MEDIA COMMENT: The true hackers

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:02 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The true hackers
This being Israel, the media attacked Netanyahu for exerting unethical and perhaps illegal pressure on the police and the attorney-general. Hackers interfering? No, the media, openly.

An issue that occupied the media last week was the warning by Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Nadav Argaman, concerning a threat of foreign interference in Israel’s election campaign. As this newspaper reported on January 8, Argaman said a “foreign country is trying to use cyber abilities to interfere in Israel’s upcoming elections.”

The press had a ball. Cyber experts, political experts and pundits discussed the appalling repercussions from such an intervention. Everyone wanted to know what should be done to prevent it. After hours of discussion, it became evident that the threat is not really significant. Israel’s elections are not electronic, we all vote with envelopes and so the foreign hackers cannot change that. What then?

The Associated Press on January 9 quoted Dr. Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler of the left-wing Israel Democracy Institute, who noted a view shared by many pundits that Israel “could still be vulnerable to other types of pre-election intervention, like hacking into party databases, spreading disinformation through social media and leaking personal and embarrassing material on the candidates.”

We just do not understand. Who are these foreign hackers? What differentiates them from our local media that for decades have been doing just that: creating disinformation, leaking private information to further their own goals and ideology and publishing unreliable polls? Altshuler should have reminded the AP that the real danger to the democratic process is the manipulation of news and views by the local media. The threat of foreign hackers pales in contrast.

We have witnessed these past few weeks many examples of the danger from Israel’s media establishment. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu notified the press on January 7 that he would be making an important announcement later in the evening, and then, in a follow-up social media tweet, notched that up as “dramatic.”

After his appearance, the denizens of the world of media commentators decided his charge – that the police refused his requests to confront the witnesses who reportedly testified against him saying, indeed, he was to be suspected of taking bribes – was not dramatic. Not even his demand that his comments be broadcast live was honored fully. One network, Channel 10, cut off the live broadcast before the end.

THE NEXT DAY, this being Israel, the media attacked Netanyahu for exerting unethical and perhaps illegal pressure on the police and the attorney-general. Hackers interfering? No, the media, openly. In fact, some thought Netanyahu was threatening them and, at the least, brow-beating them. That viewpoint was dramatic enough to deserve discussions over radio, on television, in newspapers and on news websites. The media were battering him to and fro. They were engaged in creating a drama that was non-existent.

This is how Gideon Levy in his last Thursday’s Haaretz described the events: “The prime minister says he will make a dramatic announcement that evening. Media outlets are free to ignore it, but choose to highlight it. Discussions, guesses, live broadcasts, sky-high ratings. Netanyahu appears and offers pointed arguments: not the drama he promised, but arguments he has a right to make, and the chorus erupts in anger. How dare he? Look how he deceived us… Media that never hesitate to inflate incidents into mega-news… are shocked when a prime minister does the same thing for the same purpose: ratings.”

But our media weren’t finished. Some suggested that next time Netanyahu should not be permitted a live broadcast to begin with. Others mused that it all depends on what he is saying. From reporting the news to managing the news, and now, to censoring the news, Israel’s media are descending into professional anarchy while fulminating over the apparent fact that Netanyahu, despite their attempts and machinations, is still in office and seems to be destined to win the upcoming elections.
Israel was always considered as lagging behind the United States, but not recently. President Donald Trump is suffering from the same elitist media attitude. There, Trump’s addresses, CNN’s Don Lemon said on his program, need to be countered by drastic measures, like a broadcast delay, to enable the media to edit out what they consider as his “propaganda.”

So what have we? Yet again, Israel’s media assume a holier-than-thou attitude considering it as their right not only to select which news the media consumer gets to see and hear through questionable editing procedures, but even when something gets through that they did not want, their duty is to prevent it from turning into a dramatic development. The policy is not guided by professional decision-making. In this case it is the personal animosity of central media figures to Netanyahu.

AS LEVY, quoted above, added in his column, “The righteous anger against Netanyahu contains blood lust and an odd desire for vengeance, disproportionate to the seriousness of the allegations.” Could hackers do a more thorough job of manipulating news and the election campaign?

A meeting took place prior to the public announcement of the “New Right Party” of Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked. Leading figures in the religious-Zionist media were invited to consult with them about the move. They included Haggai Segal, editor of Makor Rishon and Emmanuel Shiloh of the B’sheva weekly. Both came to the meeting knowing that it would be off the record, and both kept their commitment. Yet the general media, which of course were not in on the meeting, shouted “gevalt” when it became known.

Are we back to the days of political party newspapers where editors and politicians worked hand in hand? How could Shiloh and Segal do this? Segal was frightened and went into a winding explanation about how he was sorry and that he realized his error. Shiloh was different, noting that participating in off-the-record meetings is the bread and butter of the media, everyone does this, and rightly so. It helps the editor to present news and events in a more professional way.

This is but another example of how the media manipulate, exert pressure and distort a very innocent and positive event related to the coming elections. Public personalities – Shaked and Bennett – before acting, wanted to hear the response of supposedly serious editors, perhaps feeling that they are closer to the public and know its needs. Instead of respecting this, the media try to stop it. Segal is weak and accedes; Shiloh is proud and realizes the fallacy of the accusations.

In connection with Segal’s editorial decisions, last week his paper’s Shabbat supplement contained 11 pages, including the cover photograph, devoted to Amos Oz, not known for sympathy for the paper’s outlook nor for his intellectual honesty. This week, Segal’s political column contained 100 lines of text, half a page, discussing the legacy of the late Moshe Arens who, when he was an MK, turned down a ministerial appointment because he disagreed with Menachem Begin’s peace initiative. It would seem that the true hackers are our media “lights” who shape public opinion and try to mold it to conform to their personal needs. 

Israel does not have to worry about foreign hackers. It is the local ones who are the real danger.

January 2, 2019

MEDIA COMMENT: Elections are upon us

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:38 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Elections are upon us
The ongoing, close relationship between the political elite and the media is problematic to say the least.
If we may paraphrase Delilah’s words, as recorded in Judges 16 and thrice repeated, “The elections are upon you, Israel.” And we would add, “once again.”

In just over three months, for the 21st time, Israel’s citizens will go to the polls. They will vote after being presented with the candidates and the platforms of perhaps more than two dozen lists representing veteran, long-standing parties, new parties, particularistic parties, split-off parties, blocs and also lists simply seeking a bit of free publicity before they pull out.

The issues will be presented to the electorate in a variety of fashions. There will be rallies in city streets and town squares and we’ll see television clips. There will be face-to-face parlor meetings and we’ll be reading newspaper ads. There will be banner ads on social media platforms and there will be press releases handed out to reporters. There will be punditry columns and interviews and profiles.

In addition, there will be leaks, and also misinformation. There will be unattributed background material and there will be quotations from unidentified “senior advisers,” “staff,” “diplomatic” as well as “security” sources. We will hear from “IDF officers” but we will not know if they are actually serving, or serving in the reserves. We will not know how senior they really are and will not even be informed whether these “IDF officers” are per chance also politicians such as members of Knesset.

As we noted prior to previous election campaigns, the relatively short time period within which the elections are conducted places a special responsibility on the media. The importance of free and open elections which create the legislative 120 member Knesset and associated executive ministerial government is acknowledged by all. The elected bodies are, at least potentially, awarded a four-year term of office by our simple act of placing a slip of paper into an envelope and inserting it into a ballot box. Yet, this simple act is influenced by the flow of information that the voters receive, especially during the short election campaign period. Every non-professional and unethical act of journalistic bias is magnified. Past experience shows that sometimes, especially when dramatic changes occur very close to Election Day, media manipulation by the politicians as well as the media itself can dramatically affect the results of the election and thus the future of our state and even our personal fate.

The ongoing, close relationship between the political elite and the media is problematic to say the least. The voter who is also the media consumer becomes a very valuable commodity, subject to intense pressure to act based too often on uncertain information. It is the media’s task to gain the trust of the voter which is essential in enabling a fair election. Based on past performance, the media’s record is dismal.

The 2018 Israeli Democracy Index, for example, accentuates the challenge. To the question, asked of Jewish respondents only for some reason, “Which state institutions do Israelis trust?” out of a list of 10, the media was third from last with only 33% trust. Somewhat better than last year’s 30% among the Jewish population, but not something to be proud of. When asked to consider corruption in state institutions, the media was positioned at 58%. Clearly the media has a problem.

Our media has long rejected the demand for objectivity and fairness. The state-sponsored KAN network encourages personal opinion views of their staff. Even at KAN, infotainment has replaced serious news programming. This has created a blurring of the distinction between news and comment. The ability of media consumers to distinguish between them is impaired. There is “fake news” and it doesn’t always originate with politicians.

One of the central items used by political parties, as well as the various mainstream media channels, is public opinion polls. Over the years, these have deteriorated significantly, for many reasons. There are too many and the number of people willing to participate is at an all-time low. If only one out of 10 people polled actually respond, how can the results be meaningful?

Moreover, there is an inherent bias in that those who do answer, typically, they do so with an ax to grind. Yet, the media and the pollsters do not report this critical piece of information, of how many refuse to respond to the questions, which would reveal another aspect of the trustworthiness of their result. How are the questions posed and in what order? Are the pollsters male or female? It is well known that psychological factors influence the answers. The typical poll has 500 respondents and claims an accuracy of plus or minus 4%. Yet, when considering small parties, whose share of the total is borderline, the error is much larger, but this fact is not presented. Just this past week, the number of MKs predicted for the new Bennett-Shaked right-wing party, the New Right, went from six to 14! Shouldn’t the media stop this unreliable type of reporting?

What influences the citizens’ perception of trust? Reviewing our columns over the years here at The Jerusalem Post as well as academic literature, a list would include the character of the relationship between politicians and dominant media personalities. Unfortunately, Israel does not have a trustworthy organization which monitors media records and provides the public information on the veracity, fairness and unbiased reporting of our media “stars.” A record of press manipulations does not exist. The private citizens are left only with the option of trusting their instincts and intelligence.

A functioning democracy needs a media which provides the necessary information, the insight and, most importantly, the facts rather than rumors, inherent to an election campaign. We, the citizens, must demand fair and balanced reporting. We should receive the information needed to be aware of what researchers call “the systematic differential treatment of… one side of an issue over an extended period of time.”

Sadly, though, we should realize that although they claim to be journalists, most of our media is made up of just another group of purveyors of political ideas and influence. We probably could be better off listening directly to the politicians, posing them with questions and criticism directly rather than most of what we obtain in the papers.

In the past, televised debates were critical. These times are over. Debates, if they do occur, are moderated by biased journalists and are highly orchestrated by media advisers. The experience in the United States in this regard was quite blatant in the last presidential campaign. Our best bet is the written media, the Internet and the direct access through it to the candidates. Their responses will be available through search engines for posterity and will force them to be just a bit more reliable in fulfilling their promises.

One would hope that some of our more trustworthy politicians will use the electronic media to respond to voters queries directly and by doing so, force this methodology on all the candidates and parties. If done wisely, we will have a much better educated public and the results of the election will be much more democratic.