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

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.


June 13, 2012

MEDIA COMMENT: The ‘New Order’ at Educational TV

Posted in Media tagged at 11:58 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: The ‘New Order’ at Educational TV


Opinionated anchors deal with social issues from their personal point of view, paying special attention to social, cultural topics.

The Educational TV (ETV) station is a governmental entity, funded by the Education Ministry, operating as an autonomous unit. It broadcasts a daily infotainment program, Ossim Seder Chadash (Implementing a New Order). The ETV website promotes the program as: “The headlines confuse you? You don’t find yourselves in the media sea of words and news? Ben Caspit and Gal Gabbai organize the important items for you on a daily basis. The opinionated anchors deal with social issues from their personal point of view, paying special attention to social and cultural topics within Israeli society.”

This seemingly innocuous description is rather heavily loaded. The program broadcasts interviews with many social activists.

Studying eight programs broadcast between April 10 and April 24, Elisheva Arnovitz and Ziv Maor of Israel’s Media Watch found that there is indeed a new social order – and it that of the program and its hosts.

Shmulik Zezik was one of the people appearing on the program during the review period. He was described for the viewers as “an educator and social activist.”

That he is a member of Meretz, a party political agent, was conveniently ignored.

Asma Agbariya was presented as “an activist in the Ma’an workers organization.”

It so happens that Agbariya also ran for elections on the ticket of the Arab Da’am political party.

Michal Rozin was interviewed on the issue of sexual attacks. She was described as “the executive director of a central organization that helps sexually molested women.” In fact, she is active in Meretz and was formerly a lobbyist for the New Israel’s Funds Shatil group.

There are additional examples and all seem to indicate that part of the “new order” is to hide the true identity of the people chosen to be interviewed, and so blindside the viewer and keep him confused, preventing him/her from discovering that “social order” would appear to be a code name for “left wing.”

HEADLINES ARE an important factor in creating an atmosphere and guiding the viewer. Arguably, they are even more important than the content which they presume to describe. Indeed, ETV itself relates to this aspect by noting that “in the headline industry, what we really need is moral interpretation, knowledgeable criticism and most importantly, a social aspect.

So, after 700 programs, New Order continues to do what is important – organizing the issues.”

It is then of interest to look at the headlines of the “New Order” program itself. In their research, Arnowitz and Maor presented the headlines of 32 items to two people; one who identifies with the right, the other with the left. The right-winger identified two headlines as right-wing oriented, 18 as left-wing oriented and 12 as neutral.

The left-winger identified four as serving the right wing, seven items as left-wing and 19 items as neutral.

Here are some nuggets: “The molesting colonel – the IDF carries out unwanted tasks”; “Sending Israeli youth to Poland causes emotional damage”; “The refugees in Israel have no place to return to,” and so on.

It would seem that Gabbai and Caspit and their editors take pains to paint the headlines with a distinct red color. This of course makes it easier for the viewer to finally understand the “right” order of things.

When analyzing the items themselves, one finds that approximately 30 percent were left-leaning and only 10% right-wing oriented.

Of the people interviewed 14 were left and only seven right. Quite a lopsided order.

GAL GABBAI does not hide her weltanschauung.

In February 2011, an item was headlined: “Trips to the West Bank, a love of the land or a provocation?” She then described Judea and Samaria as Palestine and had to apologize for the “error” a week later.

In an interview with Naftali Bennett, former executive director of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, she educated her confused viewers on the issues having to do with the Migron settlement: “The situation in Judea and Samaria is not a regular one. The ruler there is the army commander and every argument becomes loaded.”

This is not the first time IMW researched this program. In 2009, a similar study revealed a clear bias for preferential interviewing of Labor party representatives and that journalists from the Yediot Aharonot newspaper were “stars” as compared to other news outlets.

In the present study, it turns out that this aspect has been corrected. Only one MK was interviewed during the period – MK Zevulun Orlev from the Jewish Home party.

The journalists were much more distributed with no noticeable bias among the mainstream media. Haredi and Arab media outlets, however, were not not on the screen.

THIS SHOW is not the only infotainment program on ETV. The Media File is a weekly program that reviews the media with an emphasis on the local scene. Like the New Order, diversity and pluralism are not a major concern.

For years, B. Michael (Michael Brizon) and Yair Garboz have treated this program as their personal opinion column. Both are identified with the extreme left wing. A Garboz pearl is: “The right in Israel thinks it is patriotic but in reality it is simply racist.”

B. Michael’s wisdom is, for example: “Our trust in a Creator is the basis for all the wars that were and that will be.”

Yet ETV and the Media File program insist on giving both of them the right of expression and is not willing to provide its viewers with a modicum of balance.

Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar has shown in the past that he can wield influence on his TV station. Their daily news roundup has been changed and it is the only major news roundup program in Israel where the right wing has two – Sarah Beck and Erel Segal – out of four presenters. Yet the message of fairness, balance and pluralism has not yet filtered through.

Educational TV in Israel is an anomaly which should be banished. It has no ethical code, no public oversight and is no longer needed. Why should the taxpayer foot the bill? Isn’t the billion shekels of tax money the IBA receives annually not enough? Indeed, Israel needs its own “New Order” in its public media.


August 18, 2011

MEDIA COMMENT One-sided humor is not funny

Posted in Uncategorized tagged at 1:46 pm by yisraelmedad

One-sided humor is not funny
By Yisrael Medad and Eli Pollak

“Satire is tragedy plus time,” wrote Lenny Bruce. Within the Israeli context, that should be reworded as: “no matter how much time has passed, the tragedy is that satire is the privilege of the Left”.

Jewish humor, anthropologists have informed us, has always been accompanied by a strong social comment character. Israeli humor takes that one step further: it is intensely political. For the past four decades, the televised satire has been, predominantly left-of-center and directed too often against the nationalist and religious camps.

The defense of Israeli satire that has always been voiced is that the ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘freedom of artistic creativity’ are sacred. Another excuse is that satire always attacks the government in power. We note though, that good satire attacks all those in power including politicians of all stripes, business moguls, the cultural elites, the powerful media, the judiciary as well as society in general. Israeli television has a long tradition of satirical programs. From Nikui Rosh of the 1970s to the Chartzufim in the 1990s and to Eretz Nehederet which debuted in late 2003, media consumers have never been at a loss for laughs. The targets, though, have made those shows one-dimensional. It was Jonathan Swift who wrote an incisive truth so relevant to Israel, “Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own.”

A skit-by-skit review over the years highlights another disturbing element. The viciousness of the humor can reach shocking depths. The imagery, more often than not, goes beyond the expected biting style literally as when a Chartzufim skit had two Haredim dining on the head of a secularist or a Hebron housewife uses a bent-over Arab as an ironing board.

What is the current state of affairs?

Israel’s Media Watch reviewed the Eretz Nehederet satirical program for the period of December 2010-May 2011, a total of 15 programs. The main personalities in the program are Prime Minster Netanyahu (9 appearances), Foreign Minster Lieberman (4) and Interior Minister Yishai (4). Lieberman is portrayed as a fascist including a Nazi-like hand salute. The Yesha Council spokeswoman character, Roichel, is depicted as a lesbian and a sadist and is seen in 11 of the 15 programs. Opposition politicians are missing as objects of scorn but Jonathan Pollard appeared twice.

Funny or not, this reflects an ideologically-driven agenda from the far left, the assumed fiefdom of Israel’s cultural and literary elite.

But there is a solution in sight. It is balance. And it exists.
Over the past few years, inroads have been made by satirists coming from a different political and social worldview, Haggai Segal, Uri Orbach as well as Erel Segal (no relation) have been publishing satirical columns in the printed media and have even achieved radio status.
Yedidyah Meir’s Eppes page, which challenged readers with its very Jewish content frame of reference, eventually had to leave Haaretz. Even the Besheva weekly as well as Makor Rishon’s Friday edition carry satirical columns. Television, however, is still the ‘property’ of the leftist elite.

For the past two years, first as a website and then in a video format, Latma has emerged as a remarkable example of fresh satire, if only because it simply is different. Gone is the monopoly. And it is popular. Its classic “We Con The World” clip, commenting on the 2010 flotilla effort to Gaza, had as of Monday morning, over 2.5 million hits at one of its YouTube locations (and at least another million at other sites). Latma criticizes the media, mocks politicians across the spectrum and includes social comment in its barbed humor. It comes from an admitted right-wing perspective. By its very existence it exemplifies the lie pushed by the cultural leftist elite in Israel: that culture is left and the right is dry.

With a proven track-record, Latma has been in negotiations with the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s Channel One TV. At least one pilot was successfully produced. Caroline Glick, last April, had said, ”this will provide an opportunity for new talent to penetrate onto the national scene…our product is going to be introducing Israeli TV audiences to a lot of new faces.” Over 100 episodes of Latma’s “Tribal Update” are proof that the crew is professional. However, at present the IBA claims that it does not yet have the considerable funding necessary for going on air.

If any example were required to highlight the deep gap between left and right, one only need review last week’s sketches of Eretz Nehederet and of Latma vis a vis the tent protest camp at Rothschild Boulevard. The first attacks Benjamin Netanyahu, the tycoons and the settlers in Judea and Samaria. The last few minutes of the program were devoted to propaganda prepared by the tent protesters. Latma points to the unmistakable political socialist thrust of the leadership, with its New Israel Fund backing. Latma also dealt with the social terror exercised against anyone who does not toe the line of the demonstrators. They ridiculed the supposed deep concern of the left wing demonstrators for the well-being of the average Israeli citizen, noting that this concern was not evident during the disengagement from the Gaza strip. Two different views of the same events.

The Israeli public deserves variety, pluralism and balance. The laws that oversee the television networks lay down those very same principles. There is enough satire to go around for all. The creative effort can come from all sides.
Can we all not enjoy a good laugh?

Eli Pollak and Yisrael Medad are, respectively, Chairman and Vice-Chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (

October 2, 2007

Media Atonement?

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 11:04 pm by yisraelmedad

MEDIA COMMENT  BY  ELI POLLAK AND YISRAEL MEDAD  MEDIA ATONEMENT?  A year has passed, a year in which we wrote more than 50 columns, reporting on the media but also directly and indirectly voicing criticism. We touched a large variety of topics, ethics in advertising, public broadcasting, media regulatory agencies, media personalities, media ethics, accuracy and more. One of the central themes of Yom Kippur is the personal atonement. Among others, we ask for forgiveness for the sin of slander or gossip. Can one write a weekly media column without transgressing? And, if one cannot do so should one continue writing? Even if the answer to the last question is positive, and we believe so, we all should be continuously introspective and try to correct errors. We too were probably guilty of sins of omission and bias. On Yom Kippur we ask for atonement for sins that we are and are not aware of. But Yom Kippur does not atone for sins between fellow man. We ask forgiveness for those who felt hurt by our media comments and if pointed out to us, will make an effort to correct any error. In a similar vein, Israel’s media, both print and electronic, might also have a few things to reconsider.  TV commercials too often promote intrusive sex standards on an unwitting audience.  Reporters hide news from viewers, for example in their coverage of the single-parents campaign. Cross ownership is becoming a serious problem and recent legislation has exacerbated the issue. Too often, we hear our broadcasters using connotative language terms favorable to the PA without any sense of a modicum of objectivity.  And there are the regular repeats: ignoring news items such as a retrospect of the ten years that passed since the Oslo accords were signed or the demonstration of Women in Green against the Peres festival, unbalanced panels, sympathetic interviews awarded to Left wing personalities, too much opinion and too less facts and the inability to permit the right of reply. With this in mind, perhaps these days of atonement should be utilized by our media industry for a yearly conference entitled – where did we go wrong? An open discussion, which would include reporters, editors, TV and radio anchors, public officials and the public itself, could do wonders to reduce the credibility gap of our media. A high-light of such a conference would be the annual report of the various media ombudsmen.  To the credit of the Israeli media it should be said that they have already taken some tentative steps in this direction. In the bimonthly journal “The Seventh Eye” published by the Israel Democracy Institute one finds various journalists who openly talk about their errors. Last year, the Documedia media criticism program provided a stage for a number of media celebrities to discuss what they considered to be errors that they would have wanted to correct. But is this enough? Are the various “person of the year” programs really more important than an “error of the year” program? Isn’t the “media error of the year” agenda more in the Jewish spirit of the days surrounding the New Year, than a gala festive show in which one celebrates those who starred in the media?  Do our major newspapers provide the necessary forum for a serious discussion of media issues? The New Year is a period in which we find major interviews with our political leaders. Wouldn’t it be in place to have similar interviews with our major editors? Shouldn’t they too be called upon to reflect upon the previous year, consider their strengths but also their weaknesses? The media year of 5763 was a fascinating one. In many instances, social issues gained the forefront, coming even before security news. The inauguration of channel 10 TV and the “Hatchelet” cable TV channel and the increasingly pluralistic social background of TV reporters on TV Channels 2 and 10 have led to a greater plurality in our major news programs.  We are receiving more documentaries than ever before on our TV screens. The government is making a serious attempt to curtail public broadcasting expenses and reduce the bill paid by the ordinary citizen. Israel’s media audience has become ever more conscious of its rights, as evidenced by the growing number of complaints to the media ombudsmen. And yes, our Jerusalem Post has received a much needed face lift. The Israeli media has come a long way from its monolithic and narrow minded views prevalent ten years ago.  Let us hope and pray that this coming year be an uneventful media year, a year of increased personal, physical and economic security for all.