This week some news outlets, such as Israel Radio, tried to create a public
agenda based on the annual report of the Adva NGO. The report, authored by Dr.
Shlomo Svirsky and Etti Connor-Atias, is sensational. For example, the headline
at the NRG website was: “The Adva report reveals: An increase in the social gap
in Israel. According to the report, the income of the top 1 percent increased by
27% as compared to 8% only for the sixth decile, between the years 2003 and
The Walla and Srugim websites had similar headlines.
is the real news in the report? The authors claim that in 2011, the income of
the top 10% of households shrank by 7.4%. Most of the reduction was at the top
1% of income, where income shrank by 20%.
Good news? Not really. The
authors claim that the central reason for the reduction was losses in the
To prove their point that the gap is asocial they
regurgitate the statistics for the years 2003-2007, which one might have thought
is “old hat” and not really worth reporting.
Adva, though, has some
additional important insights.
For example, It claims that Israel’s
potential for stable growth over long periods of time is severely hampered due
to the lack of a political agreement with the Palestinians.
statement makes sense. Adva’s agenda is to further a “more decent division of
the resources of Israeli society.”
It is funded in part through the New
Dr. Shlomo Svirsky is described in Wikipedia as a “social
activist,” as one of the “leaders of the class related Neo Marxist sociology”
which has developed at Haifa University.
His main thesis is that the
Ashkenazim control the financial resources, while the Sephardi community is held
at arm’s length from the financial control centers.
Another leader of
Adva is Prof. Yossi Yona, who is number 20 in the Labor party’s Knesset
candidates list. Yona was also involved in the “social protest” of
Adva describes itself on its website as “a non-partisan policy
analysis institute whose mandate is to examine Israeli society from the
perspective of equality and social justice.”
This is probably as reliable
as its report. Yet even the IBA’s Israel Radio relates to its data seriously.
After reporting the “bad news” they interview MK Amir Peretz, who of course uses
the data to lambast the Likud and the present government.
The fact that
on the same day a November reduction of the unemployment rate to 6.7% was
reported by a reliable source – Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics – did not
really change the message.
PROFESSIONAL REPORTING is never easy, but
special care is called for in an election period.
For example, the
election law is very clear when it comes to publishing public opinion polls
during the 60-day period preceding election day. Any media outlet publishing a
poll must provide background data such as who ordered the poll, what the makeup
of the population polled is, and the percentage of people polled who refused to
answer. In this way, the public can decide for itself whether the pollsters are
professional or biased.
The left-wing media review NGO Keshev has
successfully petitioned the Central Elections Committee to take steps to
upholding this part of the law, noting that Yediot Aharonot and Ma’ariv violated
The same principle should be equally applicable to any organization
which publishes reports. It is quite clear that the Adva report was fodder for
left-wing politicians. But had our media been professional, the report would
have been a non-starter. In fact, even outside of the election period, the media
should be more careful in its handling of “research” by NGOs.
Latet is a
very different kind of NGO. Its goal is to fight poverty. Its work in the field
is exemplary and has helped many, many people. But even in this case, the media
should be much more circumspect.
As an opener to the annual Sderot social
conference, Latet publicized its annual “Alternative Poverty Report.”
Alternative, since it is meant to provide breadth and a complementary view as
compared to the one published by the National Insurance Institute.
headline was “2012 is turning out to be the worst ever year for poor children in
Israel,” a rather strong statement.
In its abstract they claim that 10%
of the children of supported families had to go out and beg during the past year
because of the financial crisis in their homes. This is a worrisome increase
compared to only 3% in 2011. Twenty-seven percent of the children had days in
which they had no food.
Such a report brings about headlines in the major
new outlets and an onslaught of bitter criticism against the “cruel” government
that allows such a situation not only to develop but also to sustain itself. Yet
the data and the conclusions seem to be flawed.
As reported by Eran
Bar-Tal from Makor Rishon, Latet’s report is quite problematic. It did not carry
out a thorough survey of the population but rather it asked families who are
supported through Latet to provide answers to a questionnaire.
not provide information as to the true makeup of the families. Do working
families who are under the poverty line work full-time or part-time? There is no
proof of Latet’s accusation that the poverty status in Israel is a direct result
of neoliberal government policies.
AT THE end of the day, Latet is an
organization with a mission, which is to combat poverty. Its mission does not
mean that its “research” is gospel and that the data it presents is
The media should certainly report Latet’s activities when
they are newsworthy, but its research should not be treated as if it were truth
that Moses brought forth on Mount Sinai. The same is true for any information
provided by NGO’s, including Israel’s Media Watch.
Latet’s interest in
putting poverty on the national agenda is not necessarily purely altruistic.
Latet has employees, salaries have to be met and donors have to be kept
satisfied. If poverty is reduced by the government, then NGOs targeting poverty
have less justification for asking for contributions from the
This is the essence of the concept of conflict of interests, of
which the media should always beware.
Unfortunately, our media seems to
be rather lazy. Bad headlines always sell well.
Finding out that they
don’t hold water makes the journalist’s life more difficult. But especially
during an election period, when poverty becomes an issue in the election
campaign, the media should be much more responsible. Sadly, too often they
aren’t and in some cases one wonders whether the negligence is not politically
The authors are, respectively, vice chairman and chairman of
Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il).