May 22, 2019

MEDIA COMMENT:A tale of three journalists

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:12 pm by yisraelmedad

A tale of three journalists
The media – even a state-sponsored public broadcasting authority – can make value judgments and decide when an employee has crossed a line.
On Shabbat, May 11, Lihi Lapid, the wife of Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid, wrote that she had been fired as a columnist by the Yediot Aharonot newspaper chain. In a post on Facebook, she claimed her firing was a result of her husband being a political figure whose politics were not to the owners’ or editors’ liking. On Saturday evening, Walla News responded by publishing a denial from a Yediot source that simply said, “A decision has not yet been taken.” Later in the week, we learned that Ms. Lapid would be invited to a hearing prior to any termination of employment. As of the writing of this article, as far as we know, her employment at Yediot has been terminated.

Some sources, trying to impugn her, claimed her salary was out of proportion. In response, Ms. Lapid publicized two salary stubs from the past two years showing that her salary was NIS 10,000 per month. Ms Lapid did not deny that she took a leave of absence during the three-month period prior to the elections, adding that she was proud of using this time to campaign on behalf of her husband. But once the three months were over, she thought it appropriate to return and write.

Lihi Lapid studied photography at Camera Obscura and Tel Aviv University, although without obtaining a bachelor’s degree. She was a photographer for the IDF weekly Bamahane during her army service. From 2003-2019, she had a column in the Yediot Tikshoret subsidiary of local weeklies. She also authored over 10 books, the latest one in 2018 titled Being a Mother of a Soldier.

Ms. Lapid was quite upset, not only because the notice came in a phone call. She raised a fundamental issue: “I see no problem in writing a personal women’s column in a newspaper even if my husband is a politician… I do not think that in the year 2019, in the State of Israel, it is possible to fire someone due to the profession of his spouse… I gave my soul when writing and was true only to my readership.”

A different media personality married to a senior politician is Ms. Geula Even-Sa’ar. Her IDF service was in Army Radio beginning in 1990. Since 1993, she worked for Israel’s public broadcaster. In 1997, she replaced Haim Yavin as the anchor of TV Channel 1’s central evening news program. In 2008, she left that position, continuing as an interviewer for the Israel Broadcasting Authority, later supplanted by KAN, the Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation, or IBC.

In May 2013, she married Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar, who was then interior minister. Only early in September 2014, seemingly as a result of a run-in she had with Ms. Ayala Hasson, her boss at that time, her programs were put on hold. But she returned quickly due to the fact that on September 17 of that year, Gideon Sa’ar took a leave of absence from politics. Even-Sa’ar continued working for the new IBC, but resigned as the evening news anchor on December 24, 2018, due to her husband’s decision to reenter politics. After the elections, she renewed her work at the IBC.

Even-Sa’ar and Lapid ceased their journalistic jobs during the election campaign, but there are differences between them. Lapid actively campaigned for her husband, while Even-Sa’ar did not. Even-Sa’ar’s job at the IBA and the IBC was senior to that of Lapid at Yediot. Both Even-Sa’ar and Lapid are identifiably left of center, so their political inclinations do not underlie the different attitude toward them in the IBC and Yediot respectively.

OUR THIRD media figure is Matti Golan, a 25-year veteran journalist at Globes and its former editor. He was fired at the age of 82 from Globes this past January. He is suing the paper for NIS 1.2 million, claiming the newspaper’s decision was frivolous and that he was not given a fair hearing. He, too, was notified by phone.

These three cases lead to the central question: When may a media organization fire someone? Is it right to dismiss a person due to the profession of his or her spouse? Or age? Is this outrageous?

Media employees can be disciplined or fired. Just two weeks ago, BBC radio host Danny Baker was fired. He tweeted a picture of a well-dressed couple next to a suited chimpanzee that was captioned, “Royal baby leaves hospital.” A BBC spokesperson announced, “This was a serious error of judgment and goes against the values we as a station aim to embody.” Baker was also fired in 1997 by the BBC for crossing “the line between being humorous and controversial and being insulting.”

Obviously, then, the media – even a state-sponsored public broadcasting authority – can make value judgments and decide when an employee has crossed a line. But this is not acceptable to some. MK Yair Lapid declared, “It is still difficult for me to believe that Yediot Aharonot fired Lihi just because she is my wife…. This is part of the attack on all the values that once appeared so clear to us… this is what happens when a newspaper starts being afraid of the government.” Other MKs from the Blue and White Party also entered the fray, attacking Yediot for its actions. Are these reactions justified?

Intellectual honesty seems to be a rare commodity. It is standard practice in academia to shy away from dual-career appointments, as they might conflict with the need of assuring a diverse faculty. Ethical problems arise when both members of a couple are employed. There are conflicts of interest, especially when one is senior to the other. In other words, Ms. Lapid, yes, even in the 21st century, unfortunately, the job of one part of a couple is affected by the actions of the other. Go ask Mr. and Mrs. Netanyahu about this.

While there are few people who remain employed until the age of 82, Golan was privileged. Due to legal considerations, it is dangerous to admit that a person is being sent home because of his age. Golan was a loyal servant of Globes, but like anyone else, there comes a day when it all ends. The termination of his work should have been amicable, but not necessarily unethical.

Firing need not be the immediate response to a conflict of interest or unethical actions. What is needed is that every media outlet should have a clear code of ethics and a detailed scale of retributions for various infractions, from warning to suspension to a fine or more.

At this point, we in Israel come to a problem. The media here have such codes. But in practice, there are no clear guidelines. Worse, the media ignore their obligation to punish malfeasance.

Why is it then that Yediot fired Ms. Lapid, Globes fired Golan, but KAN does not touch Ms. Even-Sa’ar? Is it political? Is KAN as a public broadcaster afraid to touch the spouses of politicians? Or is it that Ms. Even-Sa’ar is at this point much more valuable to the IBC than Ms. Lapid is to Yediot or Golan to Globes?


May 9, 2019

MEDIA COMMENT: Seeking genuine media independence

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:11 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Seeking genuine media independence
After 71 years, we deserve independence from biased, strident, expensive and failed media purveyors who also engage in negative misrepresentation.
George Orwell, writing on September 1, 1944, in the Tribune, a left-wing British magazine dominated by Communist Party officials, had “a message” for his fellow left-wing journalists and intellectuals: “Do remember that dishonesty and cowardice always have to be paid for. Don’t imagine that for years on end you can make yourself the boot-licking propagandist of the Soviet regime, or any other regime, and then suddenly return to mental decency. Once a whore, always a whore.”

That came to mind while reading Gideon Levy’s op-ed column this past Sunday in Haaretz. In between Passover – the Jewish holiday of freedom – Holocaust Remembrance Day, Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars, and Israel’s Independence Day, Levy, always the provocateur, wrote of the “Gaza Ghetto Uprising.” This is a phrase he first uttered the previous evening in a debate with Likud MK Yoav Kisch while on a panel of Channel 12’s Meet the Press program. He repeated it the following day on Kan TV 11.

Levy didn’t ignore the violence originating from Gaza but simply spun it this way: “You can make claims against Hamas but you can’t make any claims against Gaza. It’s fighting for its freedom and no struggle is more just than its struggle, and Hamas is its leader.” Israel, “with its own hands,” has built a large “ghetto.”

Levy is not just a columnist for Haaretz; he is a member of the newspaper’s editorial board, a former deputy editor, and sets out its editorial line.

In the Israel of 2019, assuredly there is a free press, and freedom of opinion is a staple of our democracy. Yet part of this freedom is the right and even the duty of the public to castigate those who exploit outrageous comparisons with Nazi-linked phraseology. Just as Meir Kahane was disinvited from the various media channels, so should Levy and his cohorts be. Levy can continue to make his self-hatred known but why do our television or radio consider it acceptable to provide him a stage for his extremism? Why not free our media from all extremism, from the Right and the Left.

In the United States, the media itself have raised the banner of a major pushback against a culture of rhetoric weaponized by politicians that they perceive is causing a rift in American society. Likewise, here in Israel, we should protest what has become an increasing effort by certain media sources to corrupt public discourse. These “media stars” seek to become extremists with a license, pushing the language and the themes not for their content value but for the “noise” they generate.

Levy is not alone. We have often noted in this column the Nazi rhetoric of Haaretz related to Education Minister Naftali Bennett. But it is not only such rhetoric which is bothersome. On Sunday, at 5:45 p.m. on the Kan TV Channel 11, Dov Gil-Har interviewed seven-year old Lihi Shenfaff and her mother. Lihi had written a letter to Gaza hoping to interest people there to halt their rocket fire and consider a more peaceful approach. Lihi was asked by Gil-Har if she knew what Hamas wanted. Without hesitation, Lihi replied, “They want from us the Land of Israel.”

QUITE POSSIBLY Gil-Har was taken aback by Lihi’s forthrightness but his reaction exposed his bias. “That could very well be,” he retorted. He found it necessary to reformulate the remark of a seven-year-old as if to suggest doubt that she could be right. Gil-Har knows that Lihi’s assertion is exactly what is written in the Hamas Covenant: All of “Palestine” must be emptied of its Jews. Gil-Har is not ignorant but he is rather prejudiced, finding it necessary to cast doubt on a child’s remark only to protect his liberal, anti-national agenda. His thoughts are his right, but why do we need to suffer them on a publicly-funded TV station?

During this past week many in the media took advantage of the last round of fighting against Hamas to emphasize how important it is for the government to realize the huge damage inflicted if, heaven forbid, the Eurovision were to be canceled as a result of the security situation. The state-owned Kan TV is not an innocent party, as it produces the Eurovision, and made sure that a special correspondent based at the Eurovision rehearsal hall, Shani Nahshoni, would ask everyone she could if they were frightened to be in Israel.

Somehow, though, the scare tactics did not work. Ya’akov Bardugo, for example, on last Sunday’s Army Radio 5 p.m. news program, excoriated this vile attempt to scare Israel from defending itself only for the purpose of holding the Eurovision contest. So Kan TV changed its strategy. Instead of calling for consideration of the Eurovision, they made sure on Sunday at 11 p.m., with the help of their European correspondent, to emphasize that no one in Europe was even mentioning the Eurovision in connection with the Gaza fighting. Perhaps they were hoping that by continuing to mention the contest in the context of the ongoing war that someone would “wake up.” For the state-run TV, the Eurovision Song Contest is more important than the safety and security of Israel’s citizens.

We also should note that no one has mentioned that the Eurovision is being held during Sefirat Ha’omer. The historical mourning period recalls the Bar-Kochba fighters who died in the revolt against Rome, as well as those Jews slaughtered in Western Europe due to the Crusades. Jews who preserve the tradition will not be able to “enjoy” this spectacle.

The truth is that the Eurovision is very expensive and is not bringing in the expected results. As we know, ticket sales have been rather slow and hotel room reservations mediocre. Had the Kan conglomerate been forced to finance the song contest, it would not have taken place as it is not a financially viable operation.

Let’s make this a bit clearer: The cost of Eurovision is expected to come to more than 100 million shekels. Consider the income that Kan makes from advertisements on Saturdays, the Jewish festivals and Independence Day. It is not more than 10 million shekels per annum. It is high time for Kan’s management and for us, the public, to be asked what is a better investment of public funds – a one-time Eurovision contest or a festive atmosphere every Shabbat and festival without advertisement income?

As part of its demands for entering the coalition, the National Union religious party has put up for negotiation the dissolution of Army Radio. We would like to see this as part of a process in which the Israeli public receives our independence from the media’s anti-democratic hold on our airwaves. Even better would be the disbanding of the failed Kan conglomerate.

After 71 years, we deserve independence from biased, strident, expensive and failed media purveyors who also engage in negative misrepresentation.