March 27, 2019

MEDIA COMMENT: Fangs bared, claws unsheathed

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:52 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Fangs bared, claws unsheathed
Netanyahu has made the media a target of withering criticism, and that is not new. He and they are now approaching a quarter-century of antagonism and mutual recriminations.
With the election campaign for the 20th Knesset entering its last two weeks, it appears that things are getting out of control. Not in the political arena but among the media branja, who supposedly are carefully researching issues, collecting facts, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates and their parties, informing us of concerns of which we need to be aware, and at the most elementary level, allowing us to use the facts to reach our own decisions for whom to vote.

This process, called reporting, seems to be in a pitch-and-roll maneuver, usually linked to a ship floundering in a storm. The media’s agenda and focus are less on the elections per se as they are on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They are less on his achievements and failures than on his personality, and that of his son.

Netanyahu has made the media a target of withering criticism, and that is not new. He and they are now approaching a quarter-century of antagonism and mutual recriminations. The more Netanyahu succeeds, the more intense the hostility. It permeates the commentary – and unfortunately, encourages the media consumer to make choices at the ballot box less dependent on facts than on feelings. This process has led Israel’s democracy to become less a rational system of government and civic action and more one of emotional involvement. Anyone listening, watching and reading Israel’s media is being drawn into a battlefield rather than being handed a scorecard. Whereas in the past much of the visceral hostility was beyond the reach of the public – discussed and pumped up largely in editorial offices, cafes along Dizengoff Avenue, or in TV and radio studios between breaks – today we have Twitter, and all is revealed.

A case in point: Saturday night, Dana Weiss, chief political analyst and anchor of Saturday Night with Dana Weiss on News Channel 12, was filming the prime minister and his entourage as they were boarding the his flight to Washington, where Netanyahu was to appear before AIPAC and meet US President Donald Trump at the White House. Netanyahu’s son Yair’s lateness delayed the flight briefly. Audible for all was Weiss’s over-the-tape comment describing Yair as “this complete zero… this crap.” And despite her denial, we also heard “the auti kid.”

She did apologize – but in February, when Likud MK David Amsalem used the word “autistic” in a pejorative fashion, he was raked over the coals by the media, which then treated his apology that followed with disdain. Either there is a double standard at work or some media people have short memories. And both options are non-professional.

Another example is the usage by Moshe Ya’alon, Blue and White’s #3, of the dreaded and denounced “traitor” term, banned by the media since 1995, and applied solely to right-wingers. Ya’alon commented on what he perceives as Netanyahu’s role in the so-called “Submarines Affair.” A week ago, on KAN’s Reshet Bet radio station, he claimed that, “the ‘Submarines Affair’ could reach a level of treason by Netanyahu.” Later, Ya’alon even denied having used the “banned” treason word. However, in this case, there was no outpouring of rage and no across-the-board denunciations by the media. The public is not stupid, and again the media reduced their self-assigned role as guardian of decency in public life.

WEISS’S REMARKS gave Netanyahu the opportunity to again hang out the media to dry when he tweeted: “Imagine if a right-wing journalist had spoken so of Gantz’s or Lapid’s child. The mask is off, and it is clear that the ‘objective media’ is nothing more than left-wing propaganda.” Here, too, the media allowed themselves to become the ball on the field, being kicked around, rather than sitting in the stands and observing.

To be clear, all is not negative in the media. That same evening, Channel 13 News had a scoop. And it wasn’t based on assumptions or presumptions. There was an audio tape that revealed that Blue and White party head Benny Gantz – who is to be prime minister for two-and-a-half years if that party forms the coalition – was heard informing a group of the faithful that Prime Minister Netanyahu would harm him physically. His exact words were: “If he had a way to have me hurt, to have me killed, he would have done so.” Gantz, perhaps borrowing a tactic from the American Democratic Party – the failed charge of “collusion” – was heard saying that the prime minister might have gotten Russia to hack Gantz’s cellphone in order to interfere in the election. And did the media demand his apology or just an explanation?

Yet, when another commentator, Amit Segal of Channel 12 News, displayed an independent line of thinking, his colleagues all but drew and quartered him. As we noted in our February 28 column, he was pilloried by Haaretz and other papers which devoted critical and nasty op-ed articles against him.

On Saturday night, on his way to the airport, Netanyahu dropped in to Channel 12’s studio for an interview. It was the first time in years that he had done so, and all appeared surprised. The interview was taut, tense and confrontational, on both sides. At times, Netanyahu had difficulty speaking, due to constant interruptions by host Keren Marciano. But indicative of the media’s attitude was that afterward, all her colleagues tweeted their congratulations on her performance. It was as if all had been caught up in some gladiatorial contest, and the cheering was deafening on the social media platforms.

Another recent media outburst of congratulations was directed at fashion model Rotem Sela, who wrote on Instagram that the government needs to be told “that Israel is a state of all its citizens and that all human beings are born equal, including the Arabs.” The Twitter accounts of media personalities went into overdrive, but when Sarah Zoabi, a Muslim Arab resident of Nazareth, declared: “I believe in the right of the Jewish people to have their own state… a Jewish nation-state,” and “with all due respect to Rotem Sela, I think she lives in a Tel Aviv bubble without being aware of what is happening [outside of it],” her words were shunted off to YouTube. She wasn’t pretty enough?

In an Olam-Katan interview on December 14, Amir Ivgi, formerly of IBA/KAN’s Channel 1 and now at Channel 20, noted that he has no problem with journalists holding personal and political beliefs, but “that the final product for the people at home needs be diversified, balanced and representative of Israeli society in a true fashion.” In other words, editors and producers are not doing their job. Without proper supervision or a modicum of regulation – without an insistence that rules and regulations be followed, especially those legislated by law – anarchy will reign.

If the media’s holier-than-thou spirit is not controlled – and if the incessant expressions of personal opinion which invade our news and interviews, whether directly or by indirect means, continues – the public’s trust in the media will continue to deteriorate, and it is our democratic values that will be hurt.


March 14, 2019

MEDIA COMMENT: Is it the media’s fault?

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:48 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Is it the media’s fault?
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu often blames the media for treating him differently.
The present election campaign is one of the most complex that Israel ever experienced. The political scene has undergone dramatic and major changes. If one trusts the polls, the Labor Party – the inheritor of the state-building Mapai hegemonic movement – is no longer a dominant force. Close to half of the electorate will be voting for parties that did not exist in recent elections. Splits and breakaways abound. In this situation, it is no wonder that the media, whose job it is to report events, play a central role.
We do not know, and there are no reliable research results that can assure us what the media’s influence on the election results really is. For example, let us assume that the media are pro-left wing and actively support the left-wing parties. Does that help the Left wing?
Perhaps yes, perhaps no. The Israeli electorate is typically involved and discerning. Clear bias in one direction can boomerang and cause many to vote for the other side.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu often blames the media for treating him differently. He is held under the microscope. His actions, whether true or only perceived, have received negative treatment when compared to those of other prime ministers like Ariel Sharon, Shimon Peres or Ehud Barak. We all can recall the request of commentator Amnon Abramovitz that the media wrap Sharon as if he were a vulnerable-to-damage etrog. In contrast, it is claimed that the actions of his competitor Benny Gantz receive little or no attention. Even if his notable lack of success in the one civilian job he held is mentioned, there is no in-depth follow-up. The upshot of all this would seem to be a warning to the electorate: Beware! The left-wing media are once again taking sides.
But are they really?
There is no question that Gantz and his Blue and White Party are less than open about their future actions. Mr. Gantz does not allow reporters to question him freely. His scripts are carefully prepared. Does the media accept this? Not exactly. It is general consensus that Gantz and his party are hiding their personal views and objectives, and this has been mentioned by almost all political commentators many times.
Chaim Levinson wrote on March 7 in Haaretz after the publication of Blue and White’s platform: “Whether deliberate or not, the Blue-White platform… confirms the party as an eclectic collection of good people without a real direction.”
Galatz’s Efi Trigger, on the morning news, repeatedly points out that Gantz does not answer questions from reporters. The media would love to question him, if for no other reason than that questioning him would enhance ratings.
At the same time and for the same reason, the media are also unhappy with Netanyahu. For the past 10 years, Netanyahu has rarely given interviews. Yet, the stress is more on Gantz’s refusal rather than Netanyahu, and perhaps justifiably so. Netanyahu’s views are well known. Those of Gantz are not and need clarification, or better, propagation. But it would not be justified on this issue to claim the media are anti-Netanyahu.
It is perhaps surprising that one of the most important sources of criticism against Gantz comes from the radical left-wing newspaper Haaretz. As reported by Dr. Aaron Lerner on March 6 on the Israel National News website: “Haaretz pulled no punches, starting with details of how Gantz screwed up on his year-long assignment to prepare for then-PM Ehud Barak’s chaotic retreat for Lebanon and concluding with his fiasco in failing to prepare the IDF, as chief of staff, to deal with the Hamas assault tunnels reaching across from the Gaza Strip.”
OF COURSE, Haaretz supports anyone who could threaten Netanyahu’s reelection, just as the Israel Hayom newspaper supports Netanyahu. There is nothing wrong with that. The point is that even Haaretz could voice criticism of Gantz. This is not unique. Amiram Barkat wrotes in Globes on February 25: “Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz’s party abounds in promises, but is unclear on how to implement and pay for them.” He then adds: “So far, no representative of Blue and White has put forward any serious suggestion how even a fraction of the welter of promises can be financed without busting the budget framework.”
And now back to Netanyahu. In many ways, he gets off the hook rather easily on certain issues. Hardly anyone in the mainstream media is attacking him for not removing the illegal Bedouin settlement of Khan al-Ahmar. His actions, or rather his lack thereof, concerning the forceful occupation of the Mercy Gate on the Temple Mount by the Wakf Islamic religious trust are mainly reported but not criticized. The facts are that the Wakf has illegally occupied the place, violated the status quo, created a new mosque, and the government is trying to “solve the problem by peaceful means.”
Again, they are giving the Jordanians a veto against Israel upholding the law by throwing out the Wakf. The situation is similar to the collapse of Netanyahu’s 2015 plan to place surveillance cameras at the Temple Mount compound.
Another complaint coming from the Likud has to do with Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit and the State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan. Here, too, the media are easy on the prime minister. He had 10 years in which to legislate a separation of powers that would safeguard against excesses of the Justice Ministry and the Supreme Court. He was presented a plan by the Kohelet think tank, and he had a right-wing minister of justice in place, but has done nothing.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has been roundly criticized for the latest budget deficits, which clearly will impact the next government. But Netanyahu is prime minister, and in the words of Harry Truman, “The buck stops here.” The excesses are partially a result of the present government decision to update the pensions of police officers. They are related to the unsuccessful and expensive Kahlon initiatives meant to significantly reduce apartment prices. Netanyahu, who understands economics, could have stopped the fiscal recklessness but did not. None of this comes through clearly in the media. One could argue, in all fairness, that the media are derelict in their job of criticizing the prime minister.
One problem the media have created for itself, which contributes to their lack of acceptance by major sections of the population, is its visceral and quite personal hatred of Netanyahu as a person. We have made this point in previous columns. Once the media’s approach is seen and perceived as hostile to Netanyahu for what he is rather than for what he does, as indeed it is, the public is easily, and mostly rightfully, persuaded, that the media are biased and unfair in their coverage of him and his government.
But the bottom line is that many of the complaints voiced by the prime minister are double-edged swords. If the media would really doing its job, he might have to pay a hefty price.