October 10, 2017

MEDIA COMMENT: Media self-hosannas

Posted in Media, Uncategorized at 2:10 pm by yisraelmedad

Media comment: Media self-hosannas
By YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK
10/09/2017
The media, now under a sustained attack, by US President Donald Trump and other politicians seeking salvation from entrenched media bias, seems to be resorting to self-hosannas.
A central feature of the Succot holiday is the celebration of Hoshana Rabba, this year falling on Wednesday. Multiple prayers are recited while circling the platform where the Torah is read and most of these use the Hebrew word, hoshana (please save).

In the Christian tradition, the term was altered to be a shout of praise or adoration. In the books of the Gospels, it was expressed in recognition of the perceived messiahship of Jesus upon his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

The media, now under a sustained attack, by US President Donald Trump and other politicians seeking salvation from entrenched media bias, seems to be resorting to self-hosannas. They repeat claims that they are the guardians of democracy, that they are fair and ethical and that any errors of theirs are unintentional. If the media is criticized, their response can be quite vicious.

For example, Lisa Ling, formerly of ABC and now CNN, admitted in a recent interview with Salon.com that “When a free press is being criticized from the highest levels and characterized as being fake and being muzzled, it screams fascism. That’s not to say that bona fide news sources might not make mistakes here and there, but… we’re reliant on our legitimate news sources to do what they can to tell the truth and report the facts.”

Of course, there may be a question over just what is a “legitimate” news source, just as some may doubt if all editorial procedures were followed, foremost, fact-checking and cross-referencing sources. In essence, that is just the point.

If mainstream media, the so-called ‘defenders of democracy,’ are seen to make too many errors, to constantly repeat the same errors and the same types of errors, to consistently show bias detrimental to, more often than not, one side of the political spectrum, shouldn’t that be considered to be fascism of a different order? The press has always prided itself on bringing down governments over the decades in many countries around the world. Why then, when it is attacked, does it need to play the victim? Is it so powerless?

The BBC’s former political editor Nick Robinson, currently The Today program presenter, has noted, “Alternative news sites are waging a ‘guerrilla war’ against the BBC in an attempt to promote their own editorial agenda.” These sites are both on the Left as well as on the Right and, to Robinson, their criticism of BBC journalists and others “was so persistent that it was negatively affecting public perceptions of mainstream media.”

While this may be the case, another angle is that, quite simply, mainstream media does not, and should not, hold a monopoly over the news.

Mainstream media needs to be diverse and pluralistic. It would seem to be quite logical that if the public feels that not to be the case, other media outlets will benefit.

Robinson, however, adds a sinister aspect to the problem, writing that the critics “need to convince people not to believe ‘the news’” and this is “part of a guerrilla war being fought on social media day after day and hour after hour.”

Probably the most outstanding incident highlighting this trend of criticism involved his successor as BBC political editor, Laura Kuenssberg.

She needed to be accompanied by a security guard at a Labour party conference after receiving threats. Moreover, a petition that accused her of being biased against the Labour Party was launched but later withdrawn as it turned into a “focal point for sexist and hateful abuse” against her.

Robinson also asserted that trust in the UK media was declining.

He blamed this on the “increased polarization of our society and the increased use – particularly by the most committed and most partisan – of social media and alternatives to what they call the MSM, the mainstream media.”

ROBINSON ALSO urges the broadcaster to promote and celebrate its impartiality, potentially by publishing the BBC’s so-called “producers’ guidelines” that outlines how its news coverage should be impartial, and by revealing discussions and decisions at editorial meetings.

His message was a bit undercut, to use British understatement, when it was revealed that the chief executive of Impress, the sole government- approved press watchdog, concluded in an internal report that he had brought the organization into disrepute. He had, it emerged, shared messages on Twitter that were critical of two newspapers, including posts comparing one’s editorial position with fascism, and content promoting a campaign to stop companies advertising in them.

Impress was designed to protect British journalism, while dealing “with the challenges of the digital age.” It promised to provide the public “with the reassurance that they can rely on the news sources that inform them, entertain them and represent their interests.”

Here in Israel, the media consuming public is woefully unsupported by regulators (as described for example in our Sept. 14 column “Keep Channel 20 on”). While adopting an overly strict approach toward that channel’s airing news rather than only cultural content, the same regulator acted quite differently when it came to television broadcasting on Yom Kippur.

As this paper’s Amy Spiro reported on September 27, the law, as per a Communications Ministry regulation, is that TV and radio broadcasts cannot be aired during Yom Kippur. However, Dr. Yifat Ben-Chai Segev, chairperson of the Cable and Satellite Commission, in a Haaretz newspaper interview, indicated that if the HOT or Yes cable networks were to request open VOD access on Yom Kippur, she would immediately convene the council to discuss the issue.

Communications Minister Ayoub Kara (Likud) felt that he must intervene.

In a statement three days before the fast was to be begin, Kara, a Druse we point out, declared, “Yom Kippur for us in the Communications Ministry is the holiest of holies, and – just like the country has been doing for 70 years – we will continue this year to keep the status quo.” He even spoke with Segev and relayed that “to my delight the council received my position and will act accordingly.”

It is true that today journalists are under intense pressures, foremost from their fellow guild members. The pummeling that self-declared right-winger Shimon Riklin of Channel 20 receives is enormous. The past experiences of a religious soldier serving in the Galatz radio studios were nigh horrendous. But there is pressure from within the political establishment as well.

In a YouTube clip, British Labour MP Dennis Skinner is seen berating – the clip calls it “schooling” – a journalist, browbeating the young man actually. We hear “why don’t you understand that you are part of society… It’s time that you understood that you’re not somebody outside the perimeter. You’re involved… But somehow, you people connected to the television [and] media, you think you’re above it all. You’re not! You’re more and more like Trump. You’re vain! Conceited!”

Indeed, too many journalists are vain and conceited. Yet even they do need at times to be protected from the wrath of politicians just as much as they need to accept criticism at face value rather than been indignant and self-aggrandizing.

When that day comes, we too will say Hosanna.

^

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September 28, 2017

MEDIA COMMENT: Some suggestions for media penitence

Posted in Media, Uncategorized tagged at 7:43 am by yisraelmedad

Some suggestions for media penitence
By YISRAEL MEDAD, ELI POLLAK
09/28/2017  


As Maimonides has taught us, the first phase of repentance is the realization that an error was made. Admitting error is acceptable in some media organs.

 

We in Israel, and in the Jewish world, are in the midst of that 10-day period known as the Days of Penitence that opened with Rosh Hashana (and was preceded by the recitation of the Selichot prayers) and will be sealed with the fast of Yom Kippur. There is no better time for all of us, including our media, to consider the past year and take upon ourselves to try and improve during the new one.

As Maimonides has taught us, the first phase of repentance is the realization that an error was made. Admitting error is acceptable in some media organs. Without any relation to Yom Kippur, in England this past week the BBC publicly reprimanded Adam Rutherford, the presenter of Radio 4’s Inside Science broadcast. He had used his Twitter account to call on his followers to write to their local MPs about the reappointment of Graham Stringer, a climate change skeptic, to a parliamentary committee.

The BBC’s editorial standards team stated that this “potentially compromised the BBC’s impartiality.”

Rutherford was informed that he was committed, as an employee, to certain responsibilities as to how to use social media. In his name, the corporation informed the public that Rutherford now regretted the tweets and “accepts that he needs to consider carefully how his other published views might impact on his BBC work, and if necessary take advice from his editor at the BBC.”

It is easy to go through our articles of the past year, which pointed out all too often media excesses, error or bias. But we are not naïve – in most issues our media will not really agree with or accept the accusations against it. So we will consider in this article some issues we believe all of us could agree on.

Consider something as simple as terminology.

Early on in his position as adviser to prime minister Menachem Begin, the late Shmuel Katz, sent a request to the Israel Broadcasting Authority regarding terminology. He asked them to assure that their news reports, except when quoting external sources, referred to “Judea and Samaria” rather than the “territories” (shtachim) or “West Bank.”

Judea and Samaria are the heart of the historic Land of Israel mentioned in the Bible. They were referred to as such even in the description of the United Nations’ 1947 Partition Plan boundaries.

The term “Judea and Samaria” appears on medieval European maps. Calling them “territories” is equivalent to negating a person’s name and referring to her or him as “it.” It is like referring to the Temple Mount as “Haram al-Sharif” or replacing Jerusalem with “al-Quds.”

The sources of erroneous terminology are many. Some have to do with ignorance. Unfortunately, too many Israelis have not been exposed in schools to our heritage and the biblical history of this land. They simply do not know better.

After all, the whole world relates to Judea and Samaria as “territories” or “occupied territories.”

Why should our young up-and-coming Israeli journalists, well versed in Western ways, even realize the error? For others, terminology is but another way to express ideology. Some journalists will not use the words “Judea and Samaria,” as part of an attempt to alter history.

Shmuel Katz’s request was not honored. In this context it is a pleasure to note that The Jerusalem Post has lately officially changed its style and the names Judea and Samaria appear frequently.

We would respectfully suggest that our media remain true to history and refer to Judea and Samaria in their historical context.

Wrong or misleading terminology is not limited to designation of land. Another, related term is “mekomi’im,” or locals. Somehow, Jews living in these localities, many of them for decades, are never considered “locals.” The term is reserved solely for Arabs.

A foreigner coming to Israel will quickly understand that Israel’s people are strangely distributed.

There are simply no leftists here. “Peace activists” abound but extreme leftists do not exist. Extremists here come only from the Right.

As Wendy Lu suggested in the Columbia Journalism Review September 5 issue, media people should get “rid of words that assume a negative relationship. Use neutral language.” The Reuters journalism handbook also requires that “our language should be neutral.” In the spirit of Yom Kippur, we suggest that the media discontinue using the term “extremist,” period. Name-calling does not contribute to positive dialogue. Identify an individual’s ideological position, if relevant, but nothing additional. Extremity is in the eyes of the beholder, it is not objective. There are no well-established criteria for when one is or is not an “extremist.”

A central source of mutual disrespect in journalism nowadays is social media. Once upon a time, there were bars where journalists gathered and talked to each other. Discussions were probably often heated, but did not become part of the public discourse. Nowadays, discussions take place via Twitter. There, the language, nature and nonsensicality of the discourse of journalists among themselves is astounding. In the spirit of Yom Kippur, we will not name names, but suggest that journalists use a modicum of self-restraint before lashing out on social media.

In Canada, CBC News recently had occasion to deal with the issue of journalists lashing out on Twitter. In March this year, Jennifer McGuire, head of CBC News, said that defining “the line between analysis and opinion, and who gets to express those views” was – as she put it – a “challenge.”

Confronting demands for impartiality on the issues of the day, the CBC code denies its journalists the right to “express their own personal opinion because it affects the perception of impartiality and could affect an open and honest exploration of an issue.”

However, McGuire then wriggled right out of this constraint by viewing “an observation based on the facts of the issue… as analysis, [which] isn’t the same as a view that comes out of left field without supporting arguments, or in other words, opinion.”

In October 2014, then New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet observed that “[o]ne of the biggest criticisms aimed at my generation of editors is that we created a priesthood, that we decided who was a journalist and who was not….

As I observe the criticism nowadays, you will forgive me for noting that it sounds like a new priesthood is being created, with new rules for entry.”

In Israel, the “priesthood” is called “the branja,” the elitist guild. Too often in our history, especially during the Second Temple period, our priests took to infighting instead of positive causes. We call upon our modern-day “priests”: use your position responsibly. Use terminology carefully. Our sages admonished us: “silence is a signature of wise people.” Please use your social media sparingly and in good taste. Perhaps these little things will help all of us have more trust in the media.

^

August 30, 2017

MEDIA COMMENT: It can be better

Posted in Media, Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 10:28 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: It can be better
By YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK
08/30/2017
If the result is that Netanyahu will then actually reconsider and keep his electoral promises, then we will know that the media has changed.
At the Edinburgh International Television festival on August 23, Jon Snow, England’s Channel 4 News presenter, delivered the 2017 James Mac-Taggart memorial lecture. Snow had recently been in a bit of trouble. He was caught shouting a profanity against the Tories this past June at another festival in Glastonbury, an act that compromised his professional ethical duty to maintain a semblance of objectivity.

Snow was rather forthright, saying in Edinburgh that media people have been taught these last two years that “we all know nothing.” The digital media has not “connected us any more effectively with those “left behind – the disadvantaged, the excluded.”

He explained, “The mostly London-based media pundits, pollsters and so-called experts, have got it wrong – the Brexit referendum… [US President Donald] Trump… [the UK] general election.” His conclusion was astonishing: “We in the media are comfortable with the elite, with little awareness, contact, or connection with those not of the elite.”

He illustrated the ignorance by noting that when he Googled “Grenfell Tower” – the British apartment tower that burned in June, killing close to 100 people – a blog post was found from eight months prior to the disaster, not penned by any journalist, that highlighted the dangers of the building.

“The echelons from which our media are drawn do not, for the most part, fully reflect the population among whom we live and to whom we seek to transmit information and ideas,” he declared.

Anyone who has been following our columns regularly knows that our criticism of Israel’s own media elite, the branja, pinpoints those very themes with one major addition of our own: the decidedly Left-leaning political bias and liberal cultural partisanship.

Another insight was provided by Conrad Black, writing in The National Review in mid-August, after viewing Copy, Jacob Bernstein’s documentary life of his mother, Nora Ephron. He came away with “a much clearer picture… of the force, attractiveness and danger of that talented cultural, media and entertainment world of which she was such a prominent figure.” It gave him “a clear view of their collective self-absorption… [They] believe[d] that their media and entertainment world is, in effect, the real world, a world of great power and influence and virtue – and much the most interesting world of any.”

That, too, resonates with Israel’s own branja. We maintain that they display, as Black said about North America’s media elite, “the vulgarity, vacuity, and reckless contempt for the public and for any notion of duty to reflect society with balance and integrity…” They demonstrate they can be “a group of anti-theistic, ultra-materialistic, narcissistic poseurs, hedonists of self-celebration.”

The question is: Is there an alternative?

In an August 20 BuzzFeed report called “The Rise of Israel’s Right-Wing Media,” Miriam Berger writes Channel 20’s TV program “The Patriots.” She sees it as “trying to model itself after Fox News.” In her perception, “more often than not, they argue over whether Israel’s politics are right-leaning enough.”

She is perceptive enough to know that “for years, Israel’s Hebrew-speaking media was dominated by a relatively centrist, liberal press,” but “now overtly rightwing media figures…are increasingly normal. They proudly air their politics – and broadcast a more religious nationalist and populist agenda for Israel.” Disparagingly, she adds that this is part of a “similar progression” to “the rise of so-called alt-right media” in US politics.

YET, ISRAELIS are also quick to point out that actually we here have been a harbinger for the US – and the anti-liberal, “strongman” wave that turbulently swept through much of the Middle East and Europe. Back in 2015, most of Israel’s feisty media predicted that Netanyahu would lose the general elections. He won and hasn’t stopped gleefully reminding journalists since. This coincided with a majority of Israelis feeling that the media was untrustworthy, with a leftist bias. Together with technological advances, it also led to a growth in more overtly partisan media outlets.

Unfortunately, instead of being a professional neutral observer, Berger writes that Israel’s “media is changing… reflecting tensions at the heart of the country’s politics and society” as if the assertion that for decades the media was slanted to the Left was the preferred situation. She quotes Oren Persico of The Seventh Eye that “the media is just another front for this confrontation between the old secular elites who are Center-Left and the new elites of religious Right.”

Persico disputes the claim that Israel’s media has a left-wing bias, making it clear to all that he is not exactly an objective observer of Israel’s media. Berger then quotes Erel Segal of Channel 20: “Nobody believes in objectivity anymore.” The bottom line of Berger is that Israel does have an alternative today.

We feel that the competition between the various news outlets need not be politicized and rooted in ideological outlooks. True, too often, we have seen the same type of journalist move from Galei Tzahal to Channel One and then on to Channels Two and Ten as well as into the print media. More often than not, they simply replicate the type of questions they will be asking (heavily anti-Netanyahu rather than anti-government) and the topics they’ll be covering (usually the “occupation”) over the reality that is the real news.

They will continue to oppress various minorities that will rarely be provided with platforms or afforded a sense of normalcy – such as women, immigrants, especially from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, Arabs and haredim. But they will staunchly defend the illegal immigrants living in southern Tel Aviv at the expense of the Israelis living there legally. After all, the illegals are mostly black and political correctness says that black is always right.

Too much attention is paid to fashion and food – all too expensive. The media will be sympathetic to the invalids who have been violating the law, obstructing traffic and getting away with it, all in an attempt to take more money out of the taxpayers. They will never seriously question the invalid’s morals and outright violations of the law as they did to the Gush Katif demonstrators who tried to do just the same – obstruct the traffic.

At this point, Channel 20 is the beginning of an alternative, but it is far from being sufficient. The blogs, tweets and various websites providing alternative news and opinion are part of the solution, but also not sufficient. We will know that Israel’s media had changed on the day that the prime minister is pressed with questions about his lack of faithfulness to his voters.

If the result is that Netanyahu will then actually reconsider and keep his electoral promises, then we will know that the media has changed.

Is this possible? Yes, but only if the public is sufficiently vociferous in its demand for such a change.

^

August 6, 2015

MEDIA COMMENT: A light unto the nations?

Posted in Media tagged at 12:24 pm by yisraelmedad

A light unto the nations?
by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 08/05/2015

The problems with modern-day TV in England are not limited to news but also to programming

One of the more intriguing, as well as potentially explosive issues when it comes to media ethics is the question of in-built bias among journalists. Is there a newsroom atmosphere? Is there a herd instinct that influences how the reporters and editors do their jobs, thereby creating a dominating discourse that all too often may punish those in the media who do not toe the line? Let’s look at the BBC, where there seems to be a problem.

A fortnight ago, we learned that members of the BBC Newsnight program were pressured to leave due to their actions in the Savile expose. This claim was made by Meirion Jones, the former head of the program’s investigations unit, who also had to leave. (Jimmy Savile, a top BBC star, was exposed as a serial child abuser.) Jones was quoted as saying, “We were told at the time that you won’t be sacked but over a year or two years you’ll realize you are being treated as an outsider, that you will never be trusted because you blew the whistle, and you will find yourself leaving.” He insisted that those who tried to expose the BBC’s handling of the case were seen as “traitors” while executives who tried to suppress the scandal had continued their careers unhindered.

The problems with modern-day TV in England are not limited to news but also to programming. Tim Hincks is president of the UK Endemol Shine Group, and is considered a leading British TV executive. His company is one of the world’s largest independent production companies. He produces low-quality but highly popular shows such as Big Brother and Master-Chef . In a lecture last week, he described England’s television industry as “hideously middle class” and even called for forced diversity in broadcasting and production. He further noted that “It’s not moral, it’s not political…There’s a weak spot that we have that hampers the program-makers and the broadcasters. It’s an industry-wide problem….”

On June 27, Christopher Booker published an op-ed in The UK Telegraph on the BBC. He was blunt, writing, “BBC’s senior executives are so lost in their corporate groupthink that they have no real idea just how biased it is” and provided examples of “how mindlessly the BBC falls into its party line.”

The BBC took another hit that same week when Brendan O’Neill, editor of the Spiked website, who describes himself as an atheistic libertarian, published this indictment: “For an institution that loves sneering at politicians, the BBC is remarkably thin-skinned when a politician fires back.” The BBC’s “irritation…shows how sacralised the Beeb has become, how much it fancies itself…a worship-worthy institution that none may blaspheme against.”

Here in Israel, many media people, feeling pressure from complaints, often defend themselves by comparing their standards to those of other countries. The employees of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, especially those in the news division, always point to the BBC as the paradigm of public broadcasting. We would suggest, especially in view of the evidence, that it is high time that the BBC no longer be considered an example and role model which should be emulated or revered.

Is mediocracy a characteristic only of British media? Is the failure of professional standards limited to England? In America they think not.

The 2015 State of the First Amendment Survey released two weeks ago indicated that nearly three-quarters of Americans believe the news media report with an intentional bias. Only 24% of American adults agree that “the news media tries to report the news without bias.” That is a drop of 17 points from the previous year.

Investigative reporting should be the media’s bread and butter, but it is most difficult to maintain. Typically, one reporter is insufficient. Even with leaks from within, as in the Watergate affair, a team is required. Money needs to be invested, while results are usually months away. A good and reliable investigative reporter must be of higher quality than the standard journalist who parrots press releases of interested parties.

In Scotland, for example, there has been a steady and substantial decline in investigative reporting by the country’s established media. As published last month in The Scotsman , it has been accompanied by sharp cuts in staffing, pagination and funding in many daily papers. In parallel though, a group of freelance journalists has launched a new subscription-based, crowd-funded investigations unit to make up for the failure of the traditional Scottish news media. The Ferret, as the web- based project has named itself, parallels investigative journalism collectives such as De Correspondent in the Netherlands and the Belfast-based The Detail.

Here in Israel, we have a large assortment of writers or programmers who consider themselves investigative reporters. These include TV star Dr. Ilana Dayan, whose program may be characterized more by sensationalism and money making than with the need to supply the consumer with well investigated facts. The same malaise may be found in the major news-papers; the investigative weekly page of Israel Hayom may be considered more of a gossip column.

The only truly independent and influential investigative reporting in Israel which is also unbiased, willing to deal with any topic irrespective of its ideological or personal implications, is the News1 website of Yoav Yitzchak. Yet Yitzchak is ostracized by the mainstream media, who all too often “steal” his scoops, belittle them or even worse, ignore them.

Claiming that the media is over-ponderously slanted to the Left and that editorial and newsrooms are staffed by those who consider themselves liberal is pooh-poohed by media insiders, at best. More typically such a charge will result in the critic being besmirched, lambasted and other – wise pilloried. We should know. Israel’s Media Watch is invariably described as “right wing” while other NGOs, markedly leftist, usually merit the description “working for peace and/or democracy.”

When right-wingers suggest that the media should be more pluralistic in terms of content and editorial personnel, that, too, is not encouraged in the name of liberalism and democracy, but roundly denounced. This was never more obvious than in a session of a Knesset committee’s deliberations this week on amendments to the new public broadcasting authority.

Minister Ofir Akunis, who adopted IMW’s suggestion to name the new body the Israel Public Broadcasting Authority, had to vigorously defend himself instead of being acclaimed for his Zionist stance.

It is high time that our media stops copying the worst in the media abroad and instead become a “light onto the nations” as befits our start-up Jewish state.

^

March 4, 2015

MEDIA COMMENT: Netanyahu’s speech and the media

Posted in Media at 11:19 pm by yisraelmedad

Media comment: Netanyahu’s speech and the media

by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 03/04/2015

Bias is unfair to the media consumer who by nature has limited sources of information.

In a normative reality, the media would be reporting on and following news stories, and columnists and pundits analyzing and commented on them from a variety of political and economic outlooks.

If the editors or publishers of a private or commercial media outlet have a specific policy they wish to promote or a candidate they seek to support, they are free to print or broadcast editorials. There is the news and there are the views. To mix them creates bias.

Bias is unfair to the media consumer who by nature has limited sources of information.

The consumer usually has no direct link to events, and thus blurring the line between news and opinion denies him or her the ability to make a reasoned judgment.

The responsibility of state-sponsored media networks to provide objective reporting as well as a plurality of opinion is even greater since, in essence, the public is the editorial board. The directors and editors have no right to unfairly influence the consumer through their broadcasts.

Two weeks ago, this critical observation was made regarding the media: “Nobody wants to associate with anybody who doesn’t agree with them politically… You can’t have a conversation, people won’t listen to each other, they listen to different media, and those different media [outlets] tell different stories about the very same thing… You cannot run a great country like that.”

Sound familiar? Probably it does. But this wasn’t said by an Israeli; those were the words of former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, spoken during the Conference for Women gathering in California last month. They do most certainly, however, touch on the problems media consumers here face in trying to be informed and to make their own decisions on what to do, how to vote and how to forge their own lives.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Washington to speak at the AIPAC convention and, at the invitation of the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, to address a joint session of Congress has been one of the main media narratives of these Knesset elections. Is our media reporting the story objectively, with full background and with no agenda but to provide news and balanced commentary? In the fallout from the NBC news anchor Brian “I was there” Williams debacle, Nicole Hemmer, a visiting assistant professor at the universities of Miami and Sydney, wrote in a recent issue of The New Republic of an “evolution in the media bias argument” promoted by the Right. She claims that according to conservatives, mistakes made by journalists and which editors fail to correct are due to a “liberal worldview” that “kept them from questioning assumptions and double-checking information.”

But is that not true? For example, one of the main arguments against the Netanyahu speech is the supposed damage it will do to American-Israeli relations. But the annual Gallup World Affairs poll, conducted February 8-11, indicates this may not be the case. As reported, Netanyahu’s favorable rating has improved in the US, and nearly twice as many Americans view Israel’s leader favorably (45 percent) as unfavorably (24%). Moreover, his favorable score is up from 35% in 2012.

In other words, the stories based on a threat that Netanyahu is doing damage are inadequately reflecting an issue considerably more complex and quite undecided. The support could potentially affect how Americans vote for their representatives in Congress and therefore affect how those politicians, seeking reelection, will be reacting to Netanyahu’s arguments.

A different media line is: “Netanyahu has a credible case to make. Any nuclear agreement that allows Iran to maintain a native uranium enrichment capability… an empire-building, Assad-sponsoring, Yemen-conquering, Israel-loathing, theocratic terror regime is a dicey proposition. The deal that seems to be taking shape right now does not fill me – or many others who support a diplomatic solution to this crisis – with confidence.”

Those lines were from pundit Jeffrey Goldberg, and appeared in The Atlantic this past Sunday. Goldberg is the columnist that first reported the “chickensh**” slander of Netanyahu by a high Obama administration official. Goldberg himself is not favorably inclined to Israel’s prime minister. Indeed, he has not suddenly become a Netanyahu devotee, and still does not approve the prime minister appearing before the joint session of Congress.

But he does attempt, as a professional, to include multiple angles in his writing.

Unfortunately, that cannot be said of too many Israeli journos and pundits, who allow their “anyone but Bibi” ideology to override their professional responsibilities.

Last October, Gershom Gorenberg, quite an opponent of Netanyahu’s, upset about a lack of fact-checking in the media wrote in The American Prospect about his concern over the commitment of journalism to pursue truth. For him, “Putting the truth inside the news report, right after the quote, is the only way to be unbiased.” But that requires an intelligent reporter, a wise editor and a system which assures that lies or misrepresentations are caught before publication. If a news outlet is already prejudiced against its subject, no system can be effective.

Netanyahu’s speech to Congress is a litmus test case for the professionalism of Israel’s media. Sad to say, the result is not heartwarming.

The radio broadcasts (whether the IBA or Army Radio) were interspersed with comments by the anchors. Yonit Levy of TV Channel 2 News, as usual, could not let Netanyahu talk without contributing her two bits of personal opinion. The idea that the consumer should be allowed to first hear the speech, free of any outside influence, did not even occur to the editors of these outlets.

As usual, too much of the ensuing discussion revolved around the silly questions, such as counting ovations, who sat and who stood, how does this influence elections in Israel. The really tough questions, on all sides, just did not come to the fore. Netanyahu has been talking about the Iranian problem for the past six years, but can he show any positive results? The Iranians are amassing on the Golan Heights, what is Israel’s reaction to this? Is Israel prepared for an Iranian-supported attack from the Golan? How does the Iranian threat impact Israel’s budget? Will the various politicians from all parties be able to responsibly divert funds from the defense budget to important social issues? One might argue in their favor that the TV stations have all put pressure on the prime minister to participate in a televised debate with his opponent, Isaac Herzog. But instead of just calling upon them to debate, they should present the public with the questions they intend to ask. But it would seem that the main aim of the networks is not really providing the electorate with important information, but rather with gaining a few more shekels from advertising.

Our recommendation to the electorate is to ignore the commentaries, and try to get the news only. The rest is not worth the effort.

^

January 15, 2015

MEDIA COMMENT: When satire is bullying

Posted in Media at 12:04 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: When satire is bullying

by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 01/14/2015

The post-Charlie Hebdo era has created a new difficulty in discussing satire.

Robert F. Darden, an associate professor of journalism and new media at Baylor University, is also a satirist who edited the now-defunct religious humor magazine The Wittenburg Door. He penned an op-ed titled “Why Satire Matters” in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. He noted that religious or political satire magazines have a unique business model in that success is evaluated by the number of subscriptions canceled with each issue, accompanied by the phrase “you have gone too far.”

His periodical’s motto was: “To use humor and satire to hold a mirror before the evangelical church.”

The post-Charlie Hebdo era has created a new difficulty in discussing satire. It has had a chilling affect, now being applied to any media criticism. The call raised is that all should be forcefully condemning the murderous attack as “an assault on the freedom of speech and the core tenets of democracy.”

Here in Israel, satire, especially that which was electronically broadcast, has a long and irreverent history. Motti Kirschenbaum was awarded an Israel Prize in the “art of radio, television and cinema” for his leadership of the television satire program Nikui Rosh (Head Flushing) in 1976. Over the years all three Israeli TV channels have provided a platform for many satirical programs. Some of the most outstanding, or more precisely outrageous ones include Chartzufim, Matzav HaUmmah, Eretz Nehederet and the current HaYehudim Ba’im (The Jews Are Coming) as well as the infamous Shai v’Dror radio show. All were heavily slanted to the Left, both in the political sense as well as their general cultural/artistic and religious content. The sole voice of Zionist-leaning satire, Latma, is supposed to go on air on TV Channel 1, but only after four years of stonewalling and managers taking all possible steps to prevent it from happening.

One might justify the bias by noting that historically, satire comes more naturally to the Left.

Its political philosophy and outlook on institutions of power are more confrontational as well as irreverent. The Left is most often outside of the power structure and denied access to it since the majority rejects its approach to social, economic and security issues.

Darden explains that “satire is an old and honorable response to the excesses of government and religion. When the people have no other voice, when the main media outlets are controlled by the state (or too fearful to challenge the state), satire flourishes. One of the few ways the citizen can hold the rich and powerful accountable is to employ humor and satire.” But from the perspective of a critical Israeli media consumer, here’s the rub: what if satire is used undemocratically to prop up certain elites, supressing the more genuine voices in a society? Satirist Efraim Sidon was quoted in The New York Times on November 8, 1996 saying, “We are the revenge of the silent majority.”

That attitude should be considered as a fulfillment of the academic analysis in Derek Penslar’s 1970 book Israel in History, in which he wrote, “Satirical literature attempts to subvert a cultural system through the manipulation of its foundational symbols.”

The question an Israeli media consumer need ask, especially when the programming is publicly funded or supervised by Knesset legislation, is what if those who use humor as a weapon when provided free airtime (and earn a living from it) are taking advantage of that airtime to present biased and largely one-dimensional material? True, satire’s blistering essence is mockery. It is and should be abrasive, annoying and acerbic.

But often, the reality, to quote Darden, is that if satire is making “fun of people less fortunate than you, even if it is for legitimate satiric effect, then it is not satire. It is bullying. Being a bully is never funny.”

An egregious example cheapshot propaganda posing as satire was one of the caricatures Haaretz included in its “salute” to the memory of the journalists and cartoonists slaughtered by two Islamist brothers last week in Paris.

Noa Olchovsky, one of several people invited to contribute their illustrations in Amos Schocken’s newspaper to commemorate the Charlie Hebdo dead, drew a black box and in its upper portion noted 10 crossed-out markings. In its lower portion she added marks for journalists who had been killed by Israeli fire during last summer’s Operation Protective Edge campaign against Hamas aggression.

In the middle she added not only “#JeSuisCharlie” but also ”#JeSuisGaza.”

In just a few pen strokes, Olchovsky maligned Israel. This wasn’t an exaggeration but a blatant lie.

She falsely and consciously accused Israel of carrying out a massacre.

On the one hand, two fanatics deliberately murdered a dozen people on the background of what they considered a blasphemous portrayal of the prophet Muhammad. On the other hand, Israel, with civilian targets being shelled and subjected to rocket-fire and attack after three teenagers were kidnapped and murdered, was responding to terrorism in self-defense, after having completely evacuated the territory of Gaza. Journalists were unintentionally killed, an event which occurs, regrettably, in many other conflicts around the world. But Olchovsky and Haaretz considered them to be equivalently outrageous acts.

In response, this past Sunday liberal left-wing Galatz anchor Razi Barkai brought the publisher of Haaretz Amos Schocken to task for this outrageous comparison.

Schocken’s response was tiresome, hiding behind freedom of speech.

Jewish humor is renowned, its satire a staple going back centuries. The Maskilim famously employed it against the Hassidim.

In this case, Haaretz’s satire was not intended to improve Israeli society and its politics but to undermine them. That is not at all funny.

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December 31, 2014

MEDIA COMMENT: A very dark screen, indeed

Posted in Media at 11:43 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: A very dark screen, indeed
by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 12/31/2014

Weinstein “saved the day” for Channel 10, but it is Israeli society which is sadly paying the price.

Without warning, Channel 10 stopped broadcasting this past Sunday evening. The normal screen disappeared, and all the television viewer could see was a poster, in black and white. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was portrayed using the manipulative low-angle shot, which distorts features and implants a negative image. The poster’s text, published by the station’s employees committee, read: “In three more days, Channel 10 will close.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who serves as Minister of Communications, refuses to find a solution. Due to this, the workers’ committee has decided to cease Channel 10’s broadcasting for the night. We will resume broadcasting at 6:00 a.m.”

On social media sites, another poster appeared, not linked to the workers, which carried another unfavorable pose of Netanyahu and the slogan, “Strong against Hamas, yet afraid of Raviv Drucker.” Drucker has been a particular bane of Netanyahu’s, airing many accusations of improprieties and failings, most of which are mere personal opinions disguised as political commentary. Drucker lost court cases in his battles with the prime minister over the years. Another of the channel’s popular programs, London & Kirschenbaum, carries a regular fare of anti-Right content, notably with Knesset affairs pundit Nadav Perry (not to be confused with another regular, Nadav Eyal) as well as Drucker.

The first frame of the prime minister was so appalling that Channel 10’s director, Yossi Varshavsky, had it changed, announcing that the campaign is not a personal one but aimed at the office of the minister in charge of media issues.

The finger-pointing at Netanyahu was in reality disconnected from the station’s true problems. For over a decade, the station has failed to repay incentives, loans and state-sponsored investment funds. In fact, Drucker himself uploaded a comment which, in part, read: “The station is not requesting an easing of conditions, a delay in loan repayments or a release from return liability, all that’s requested are guarantees that are justified.”

Before dealing with the network’s financial record, a subject we have related to in several of our columns, the timing element should be highlighted, as it constitutes a blatant attempt to blackmail the system during the election period. This is not new. In December of 2012, the Knesset held an emergency session a month before the elections for the 19th Knesset.

Almost around-the-clock deliberations were held in the Knesset Economics Committee.

In the end, Channel 10’s broadcasting franchise was extended for two years and a loan was authorized to cover its debts to the government. Two years later, the situation has not changed for the most part, with the current dispute revolving about NIS 36 million.

Channel 10 has been receiving almost unanimous support this past week from the media and the politicians who have an ax to grind with Netanyahu. On Monday morning, the Army Radio station, Galatz, hosted Matan Chodorov, head of the channel’s employees’ committee. He was not asked to explain why the public should trust any proclamation of the channel, which time and time again has proven to be – and this is putting it mildly – unreliable. The very supportive interview – by Niv Raskin, who himself works for Channel 10 – is characteristic of the media’s attitude when it comes to its own interests.

When Channel 1 TV’s workers’ committee a few months ago also employed the tactic of stealing air time and the resources of the (publicly funded) IBA for its own purposes, the criticism was also rather minor.

The timing of this latest move of Channel 10’s, with election fever high, has allowed politicians and candidates for office to fall all over themselves to comment, keeping the issue not only alive but confusing it for the uninvolved.

Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) said, “Channel 10 is not my biggest fan, but we must not allow it to close. We need to diversify it. Not close it. Not fire hundreds of employees.”

Meretz leader MK Zehava Gal-On said, “Like the last of thugs Netanyahu chooses…

to deal a fatal blow to freedom of speech.” Yair Lapid, lately the finance minister, chimed in, claiming that “Netanyahu is closing personal accounts… a democratic state requires a strong and free press.” There were reactions from the Labor Party, former minister Gideon Sa’ar and a slew of others.

Elections can indeed be a tremendous boon, as the station proved two years ago when the Knesset forgave it hundreds of millions of shekels of debts and commitments.

The pontificating politicos are not being pressed to explain why, if a free, pluralistic and strong press is necessary for democracy, they are at one and the same time supporting legislation to quash the free-distribution Israel Hayom daily. Nor are they being reminded that many of them, or their parties, took Arutz 7 off the air for far more minor misdeeds.

This past week has witnessed a major scandal, as yet unproven, of bribes and misappropriations of public funds. The central accusation is that politicians conditioned their support for certain causes upon kickbacks.

Channel 10 is doing, and has done, precisely the same thing: threatening politicians, especially the prime minister, to extort from them funding for its own coffers. Despite the obvious parallel, no advocate of Channel 10 is confronted with questions about the morality of the channel’s practices.

Three weeks ago, two Knesset committees exempted the channel from NIS 130m. which should have been spent on high-quality programming.

This came after the channel promised that it had a new investor and the reduction was to help the channel straighten out its finances and bring in new investors.

Promises are easy to make, but keeping them is another matter. Channel 10 made many promises and broke quite a few of them.

According to the present law, Channel 10 must receive a operating license from January 1 onwards. But obtaining such a license depends on its having met all its financial commitments. If the channel does not pay its present debt of NIS 36 million, there is no way that it can continue operations.

Too many in Israeli society claimed that closing down the channel implies a blow to media plurality in Israel. We beg to differ: It is the right thing to do. For too long the channel has disregarded its written commitments and promises. Letting it continue and operate makes a joke of the law.

There are two other channels who could take over the space left by Channel 10 if permitted to do so. In other words, closing the channel down would only lead to better TV: more pluralism, fresh voices and higher-quality programming. Might this be why the politicians so vociferously defend Channel 10? Yesterday, Yehudah Weinstein, Israel’s attorney general, himself displayed disrespect for the law in ordering a six-month extension of the channel’s operations, which includes freeing it from having repaying its debt. Weinstein “saved the day” for Channel 10, but it is Israeli society which is sadly paying the price.

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December 25, 2014

MEDIA COMMENT: Liberman – the new etrog?

Posted in Media tagged at 1:31 am by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Liberman – the new etrog?

by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 12/24/2014

Whatever the reason, our mainstream media has thus far made life rather easy for Liberman. Why?

Left-wing propagandist Amnon Abramowitz, a commentator for TV Channel 2, created the concept of the political “etrog.” Deciding that then-prime minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to evacuate the Gaza Strip needed to be promoted, Abramowitz urged his fellow journalists to do their utmost to safeguard Sharon from criticism and attack until he carried out the mission. Just as an etrog is cherished and protected for the eight days of Succot, so was Sharon of value – as long as he carried out left-wing policies. Have the past few months created a second political etrog? Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman was never the darling of our media. Over the years, he was at the receiving end of quite a few not so complimentary titles. These included: racist, peace obstacle, bully, the big dictator, fascist, and much more. Liberman, who for many years portrayed himself as belonging to the Israeli Right, promoted the idea of re-drawing Israel’s boundaries, creating an exchange of population. He was promptly accused by the media of supporting ethnic cleansing.

His appointment as foreign minister in 2009 came as a shock. How could this person, considered by many in Israel’s media to be the epitome of reactionary politics, be the person whose job it is to represent Israel to the world? Liberman was foreign minister for the past five years, except for a period from December 2012 to November 2013.

Due to his being prosecuted, he had to step down and serve as chairman of Israel’s Knesset defense and foreign affairs committee. He was acquitted and promptly returned to the ministry.

Liberman’s refusal to enter a coalition with the ultra-Orthodox parties was the final straw that led to the end of the tenure of Netanyahu’s government. Liberman, in the midst of Israel’s war with Hamas this past summer, dissolved his ties to the Likud. Now he is running on a separate ticket, portraying himself as a valid candidate for the premiership.

One might think that with this background Liberman would be at the receiving end of the media’s political pundits. Indeed, most leading politicians have not been spared sharp and biting criticism ever since new elections were announced. Last week, we listed some of the harsh words aimed at Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni. This past week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been repeatedly accused of playing politics with the economy in view of his support of zero VAT on fruits and vegetables and increasing the minimum wage of public sector employees. Even Moshe Kahlon was criticized on Army Radio for his performance as social affairs minister.

One person largely exempt from the media onslaught has been Liberman. Why should this be the case? Unfortunately, he has an inadequate record as foreign minister.

Israel’s standing in Europe is abysmal.

In the United States, Israel is at the receiving end of BDS campaigns, anti-Israel demonstrations, propaganda on campuses and much more. Our enemies are working hard to try to change the US attitude toward Israel.

Their strategy is to convince the young generation that Israel is the world’s pariah state. Has Liberman acted in an adequate fashion or even recognized the strategic threat? Liberman’s special status is perhaps best exemplified by Barak Ravid’s headline article in Haaretz yesterday, which read: “Netanyahu’s status quo approach has failed – Israel needs a peace deal.” The headline and article say it all. Liberman announced that Israel needs a regional peace agreement and Haaretz is delighted, viewing this as a real opportunity for unseating Netanyahu, and gives it prime attention.

Perhaps there is another possible reason for the media silence: Liberman is very harsh to his critics. Consider blogger Tal Schneider whose blog The Plog appears also on TV Channel 2’s Mako website. Schneider related to reported instances in which Liberman asserted that he was in contact with a very high-level personality in the Qatari government. Schneider claimed that this was part of an attempt by Liberman to convince the public that he had the ability to promote a regional peace agreement in cooperation with Arab states. This is the same Liberman who recently publicly condemned Qatar’s government for its funding of terrorism.

Schneider, claiming that her information was based on two independent, reliable sources, alleged that Liberman had not in fact met with any Qataris.

Liberman’s reaction was swift. He threatened Schneider with a libel suit and demanded that she retract her attack. Schneider, as of this writing, has not done so and it remains to be seen whether Liberman will go to court in the end. Israel’s journalist association stated that it would provide Schneider with legal assistance. But the true assistance she needs is for other journalists to confront Liberman an ask some tough questions, and such assistance has not been forthcoming.

Another journalist who dared criticize Liberman is Dr. Dror Eydar of Israel Hayom. The Seventh Eye media e-magazine also has taken up the issue.

Whatever the reason, our mainstream media has thus far made life rather easy for Liberman. Why? Is it because he severely criticized Netanyahu this past summer, or because his actions led to the present elections? Is it because he is considered to be someone who would support Herzog and Livni for the premiership as part of the “anyone but Bibi” campaign? Or is it because our media is merely lazy? We don’t know. We can only point out that Liberman seems to be our new etrog.

^

December 18, 2014

MEDIA COMMENT: Did the media single out Netanyahu?

Posted in Media at 12:17 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Did the media single out Netanyahu?

by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 12/17/2014

Our observations during the past 20 years support the conclusion that the Israeli media has a distinct preference for the left-wing camp.

The behavior of Israel’s media during election campaigns has historically been rather dismal. Our observations during the past 20 years support the conclusion that the Israeli media has a distinct preference for the left-wing camp. In 2012, Tzipi Livni was the media’s darling. In 2008, the media supported Livni as head of Kadima, in the aftermath of the resignation of Olmert. In 2006, the media was still operating under the euphoria of the expulsion from Gaza and Olmert, the crook, was king.

Traditionally, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been at the receiving end of the media’s antipathy both toward him personally and to the Likud’s right-wing platform. Perhaps the worst display of this was in 1996, when the media used all means at its disposal to present Netanyahu in a negative light. In 1999, Netanyahu publicly indicted the media for this type of behavior, with his famous slogan “they are afraid,” though it didn’t help him. He lost the elections and resigned as Likud head.

Tuesday a week ago, Channel 10 TV made big headlines with its public opinion poll which showed equality (22 percent each) between the public support for Netanyahu and Labor leader Isaac Herzog as prime ministerial candidates. This was, so the line went, a big blow to Netanyahu who just a week earlier, in a November 30 Haaretz poll, had the support of 35% of respondents. Likud minister Gilad Erdan was quick to point out that the Channel 10 poll also had Gideon Sa’ar as a candidate, taking 13%. The poll did not ask what the support would be without Sa’ar, and so could not be compared to the previous poll, Erdan said. Moreover, if one adds the support for Sa’ar to that for Netanyahu one finds that Netanyahu did not fare too badly at all.

But Channel 10’s headlines were that the poll was a blow to the prime minister. It is thus not surprising that the following Thursday Netanyahu publicly accused the media of wanting to overthrow him. Was this accusation justified? Did the media actually pick especially on Netanyahu, or was this simply Channel 10 attempting to create headlines to increase ratings, with Netanyahu happening to be the victim? TV Channel 1’s Ayala Hasson opened the channel’s Friday night Yoman news show with the headline: “Surveys are one thing and reality is another.” She warned that one should handle polls with care and certainly not give them undue importance. In fact, many people within the media noted that the Channel 10 poll itself predicted that Israel’s Right would continue to keep its hold on power, given the prediction that the Likud would get 20 seats, Bayit Yehudi 15, Kulanu 13, Israel Beytenu 11, Shas seven and United Torah Judaism seven – altogether 73 mandates.

The previous week saw the unification of the Labor party with Livni’s Hatnua party, with Labor’s Herzog agreeing to rotation deal with Livni for the premiership. In the aftermath, Herzog faced a rather critical media. Even far-left journalist Amnon Abramowitz did not give Herzog an easy time on Channel 2’s prime Friday night news magazine, making sarcastic comments and roundly criticizing the rotation agreement.

He was not the only one. Danny Kushmaru, on the same news show, pointedly asked Herzog: Why should Livni, whose party does not meet the election threshold, receive the premiership through a rotation agreement? Perhaps this demonstrates your lack of self-confidence? Dana Weiss added: “The public seemingly does not buy the premise that you can lead.” Nadav Haezni asked Herzog: “Where do you differ from Zehava Gal-On? And what are you, Livni or Gal-On?” Last Thursday, Ayala Hasson grilled Herzog on her weekly radio program on the IBA’s Reshet Bet, criticizing the Livni agreement. She also noted that his agreement with Livni could be interpreted as panic, given that Livni’s political base had evaporated. The next day, on the Yoman news program, she interviewed Livni, noting that, “Your merger [with Herzog] looks good. You, how should we put it, played him, with an empty hand: with between zero and four Knesset members you managed to bend him [Herzog].”

In response to Livni’ s assertion that had Netanyahu not fired her she would have continued serving as justice minister under him, Hasson noted: “It sounds a bit like an excuse. You sit in a government that you criticize and believe that it is extremist, yet you hold on to the Justice Ministry. In truth you hardly dedicated yourself to it, but were completely immersed in the negotiations [with the Palestinians], and rightly so….”

Livni appeared also on Reshet’s Channel 2 political humor program The State of the Union and had this to say about Prime Minister Netanyahu: “The truth is that Bibi said we are going to the electorate because of the Zero VAT law, and I thought, there is a zero in this story but it’s not the VAT law.” She continued: “Stop talking about this business called ‘right wing’: it is extreme right-wing, you have to learn to say ‘extreme’ right.” She ended the show by calling upon the electorate to know not to vote for those “busy only with themselves.”

The next day (Sunday) she was roundly criticized. On Army Radio, even Haaretz commentator Barak Ravid commented that Livni’s appearance on the show was embarrassing.

Army Radio’s political commentator Il’il Shachar quoted Minister Yuval Steinitz’s response to her appearance: “My recommendation to Ms. Livni is to stop using low language, even in jest.”

So what have we got? A series of commentators who aggressively attack the union between Herzog and Livni, and journalists who parrot the prime minister’s claim that the media is against him. Of course, Haaretz and Yediot Aharonot are not pro-Netanyahu, but Israel Hayom and Makor Rishon are. So can the prime minister truly assert that “the media” is out to get him? We believe not. At this point in time, the increasing pluralism in Israel’s media has created a situation whereby no one has a monopoly on public opinion. Professional journalism does call for asking the difficult questions of all, irrespective of their political affiliation.

If this past week is a harbinger of things to come, then it was a very positive one. Our media is finally showing signs of maturity. Will this welcome trend continue throughout the electoral campaign?

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December 10, 2014

MEDIA COMMENT: The Liebskind challenge

Posted in Media at 11:05 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The Liebskind challenge

by YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK, 12/10/2014

Too many people feel their vote is useless, that candidates do whatever they want once elected, campaign promises are not credible and that there is a lack of accountability.

The hallmark of democracy, any average citizen would invariably declare, is free elections. But free from what? Indeed, what are free elections? Clearly, they should be free from coercion, especially threats from state authorities or parties.

The voter must be free of any pressure to choose this or that candidate or party. Free elections are also predicated on a free flow of information. Candidates should have equal access to the electorate, who should be able to freely obtain information about them. Moreover, citizens should be free to be candidates and stand for elections.

Arguably though, one of the most fundamental aspects of the democratic system is that the electorate should feel that the elections were fair. When segments of the population and especially minority groups are under the impression that the electoral process discriminates against them, or that they are underrepresented, democratic society is in for trouble.

An electorate that feels cheated can lead to anarchy. Extremists feed on such feelings. It is precisely at this juncture where the media plays a crucial role.

An election campaign which is covered fairly by the media creates the necessary impression of equality; even the losers know that the game was fair.

If though, as in the past, the media distorts the campaign and favors one side or the other, the result may be disastrous.

In the past weeks, we were fed daily by the press with the brouhaha surrounding the “Jewish state law” and how it negates Israel’s democratic fiber.

The harm to democracy which results from an aggressive and one-sided media is much greater than that caused by any “Jewish state law.” The challenge to our media is whether they will curb themselves and make the effort to create a process which is perceived as fair by the populace.

It is no secret that the percentage of voters in Israel has declined to almost 60 percent.

This is a symptom of an election process that needs fixing.

Too many people feel their vote is useless, that candidates do whatever they want once elected, campaign promises are not credible and that there is a lack of accountability. Here too, the press can and should play a central role.

There is a debate in academic circles as to whether the media have a major influence on the electoral outcome. In our opinion, this is a secondary question and the raging discussion surrounding it cannot lead to a definitive result. Media adoration can perhaps convince some people but at the same time, can also lead to a backlash. The facts in Israel are that even though our media is mostly left-of-center, the majority usually votes right-of-center. The Israeli voter seems to know how to filter the information received from the media and is sufficiently independent and intelligent to reach his or her own conclusions.

Our thesis, though, is that an unfair media which has traditionally propped up left-of-center politicians also has helped to create apathy in the electorate which may become dangerous to our democracy. The media can correct this process by abiding by a few elementary principles.

Former Meretz minister Yossi Sarid recently published a column in Haaretz in which he wrote, “A journalist who is not ‘anti’ in his consciousness and temperament is an anti-journalist.”

He exhorted media people to assume that “the common politician [is]… guilty until proven innocent. He’s a liar until proven pure. Suspect him and suspect him… because these politicians are masters of deceit.”

Election time presents a good test of Sarid’s principle. Will the media present the populace with a record of previous electoral promises and compare them with reality? Will it do this fairly, with equal suspicious treatment to all? Will Israel’s media, for the first time in its history, demand accountability from the various parties, irrespective of their own personal agendas? Such accountability is not limited to the government, but should extend also to opposition parties. The media should question election promises, rather than parrot them, especially if the promises reflect the journalists’ own wishes.

Journalists and pundits are human beings, with their own views, and it is only natural that this is reflected in their work. It is for this reason that journalist Kalman Liebskind of Ma’ariv and the Galei Yisrael radio station presented his fellow professionals with a challenge – let the public know who you voted for in the past elections. This would give us, the electorate, a tool with which to filter the journalist’s opinion and would increase our trust in the information we receive. It would also help the journalists themselves to overcome their impulses and to try to be fair especially to those with whom they disagree politically. Unfortunately, thus far, most of Israel’s top media people, such as Yaron London and Motti Kirschenbaum, who interviewed him on their TV program, have not risen to Liebskind’s challenge.

Elections can bring out the best and the worst in the media.

The worst is already evident, as when Professor Moshe Negbi used his microphone to actively promote Tzipi Livni on his radio program this past week. Media executives must stop such improper use of the airwaves during the election campaign.

The Supreme Court previously asserted the principle that as election day nears, the democratic process becomes all-important and may even negate the freedom of expression of the media. Media celebrities should keep their opinions to themselves.

But there is another side to the media’s responsibility. Unfortunately, in the past few elections, there has been no open debate between the various party leaders.

The lack of willingness of candidates to present themselves to the public, unfiltered, and to face public scrutiny and criticism does not raise the level of trust. The challenge to our media is, this time, to actively promote a more open election campaign, in which those seeking election must face the public and answer the tough questions.

This past week provided ample evidence of the politicians’ fear of the media. Once more, in an act of desperation, the politicians are allowing TV Channel 10 to get away with its ongoing blatant violations of the very contracts it signed.

Instead of closing it down, they permitted it another chance to spit in the face of the law and continue to violate its commitments.

The politicians obviously expect that just as they do not demand accountability from the channel, so the channel will not demand it from them.

The bottom line is an additional blemish on Israel’s democratic process and the principle of equality before the law. The media is exempt from the law.

This kind of attitude puts fuel in the engines of those media personnel who believe that they are the only bearers of democracy. It contributes to the loss of trust of the population in the democratic process.

There is, though, one major source of relief – technology. The electronic media has changed many rules of the game. People obtain their information from an increasing variety of outlets. The mainstream media becomes increasingly irrelevant and the damage it does to the democratic process lessens. It is this which makes us hope that the present election campaign will be perceived by the public as being the fairest one in recent years.

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