Criticism is one of the most basic and prevalent themes in so many of society’s activities. Literary critics are hailed for their incisive comments, even though they can destroy careers. Art critics can increase multifold the prices of paintings.
Movie and theater critics can assist actors to achieve fame with Oscars and Emmys. In the academic world, publishing a research article requires peer review, which is ideally “based on objectivity, balance and fairness, leading to measured, constructive, critical discourse” as Jo Brewis, a professor at the University of Leicester, wrote last July in the prestigious Times Higher Education magazine.
Criticism is an essential part of the media. This includes criticizing politics and politicians, government bureaucracy, industrial tycoons, sports players and their managers and many other areas of life and accomplishment.
It is considered legitimate to criticize not only public behavior but, in Israel, also the private lives of those concerned, including their spouses, children and relatives, even if not directly involved. Their dress, their relatives and friends are often included, if only to make the story more sensational and dramatic.
Nevertheless, the act of criticizing the media itself draws not only personal ire from the reporters or columnists directly involved, but a virtual closing-up of the ranks of colleagues.
Together, they proclaim that such criticism is not legitimate, since they perceive that it strikes at the very core of the democratic state and its institutions.
A very perverse reaction to media criticism was given on January 29 by Ilan Lukatz, culture correspondent for Channel 2 television.
As part of a discussion on the case of teacher Adam Verte (the extreme left-wing teacher) and his pupil Sapir Sabah (who rebelled against his brainwashing), he was asked on his Facebook page “how many right-wingers are there at your station?” His answer was “I won’t provide you with a list of names, obviously, but there are rightists.
There are, for sure, more leftists, but that’s because there’s a correlation between IQ and leftism and senior media people usually [possess] above-average [intelligence].”
After being roundly criticized by many, he attempted to backtrack, noting that there are right-wing geniuses such as the late Professor Yuval Neeman, but he remained true to his thesis claiming that the statistical evidence is that smart people tend to belong to the political Left. He was reprimanded by TV Channel 2’s management, but the evidence of his imperious, self-proclaimed superiority, and its reflection on his colleagues, cannot be ignored. This is elitism at work. Oded Ben- Ami, the former army spokesman turned TV moderator, concurred with Lukatz. Referring to the media he said: “We are three percent [of the people] but we are the high quality.”
The Haaretz caricaturist Amos Biderman displayed his own form of “intelligence.” He sketched the aforementioned high schooler Sapir Sabah for his paper on Tuesday. Sabah had entered her school’s teachers’ room to take a picture of those gathered to express support for her teacher Verte. Pushed out, she made headlines, again.
Biderman portrayed her with a sub-machine gun, spraying the building and humans with bullets. Intelligent? imaginative? creative? Is not media criticism necessary? Last Sunday evening, at Beit Sokolov, the headquarters of the Israeli Journalists Association, three media criticism prizes were awarded.
They were sponsored by Kenneth and Nira Abramowitz and organized by Israel’s Media Watch. On the podium were Dr. Meir Rosenne, Dr. Dalia Zelikovich, General (Res.) Oren Shachor, poet Erez Biton and Ambassador Zalman Shoval. The ceremony was moderated by one of us (Professor Eli Pollak).
Two of the awardees, Guy Bechor and Dror Eydar, possess doctorates. The intelligence quotient represented was, in our humble estimation, no less than that of the friends of Ilan Lukatz. In contrast though, the cultural breadth and pluralism to be found at this ceremony was much more than the standard fare provided by our media.
The keynote address was given by Communication Minister Gilad Erdan. He bemoaned the inability of the public to receive comprehensive, multi-faceted information. In his words: “in Israel, this reality does not come about.”
“We know well,” he continued, “that many sections of Israel’s society suffer exclusion within the media as well as insufficient coverage, stereotyping, biased reporting, and I intend to provide a response to the lack of media balance.” He also proclaimed: “We will go for a more relevant broadcasting... that will reflect all parts of Israel’s society.”
The winner of the prize for Quality Economic Journalism, Elia Tsipori, was introduced by a previous director-general of the Treasury, Shmuel Slavin, as a critical writer with no favoritism or fear of pressure.
Tsipori himself did the unthinkable, declaring that “I have learned that journalists are not holy nor messiahs and we even, at times, exaggerate and err.” Lukatz could learn something here. In his words of thanks, Guy Bechor, who shared this year’s Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism, described our reality as being “imagined,” continuing, “and the imagined becomes the reality and all this through the pretext of it being media. In Israel’s mainstream media the bad is over-emphasized whereas the good is underplayed.”
Bechor accused large sections of our media of engaging in spreading fear and manipulating the mindset of the public. The object of this campaign, he noted, is not to inform people but rather to control them. His examples included the link between Iran’s nuclear development and the need for a diplomatic arrangement; the supposed demographic threat from Arabs; that the boycott campaign is increasing; and that Israel is the main problem in the region.
He further charged that Israel’s media, in part, is creating and cooking up many of these supposed threats. They do this not only in what they report but in what they do not include in the news.
“In the Israeli media,” he exclaimed, “the bad is good, and the good is bad. The bad is always emphasized while the good is hidden or suppressed.” And he concluded with his vision of “the best pluralism than can possibly be... a deep media that inspires the media consumer, and develops his knowledge.”
Dror Eydar, who shared the prize with Bechor, revealed that he never had intended to become a media figure, preferring music composition and writing books. But, as he explained, “ever since I adopted a political stance, I have suffered from being silenced...
and despite the fact that the parties I voted for received a majority of the votes of the public, there was no commensurate expression for this in the media. We are not concerned with the press but are in the midst of a cultural war.”
Perhaps in sharp contrast to the cheap and self-denigrating Biderman of Haaretz, the ceremony was accompanied by cartoonist Shai Charka, of the Makor Rishon newspaper. His theme was dogs. After all, the media considers itself the watchdog of democracy. His cartoons of dogs were varied. There was the poodle, there was the dog leading the human and the human being led by the dog. The satire was sharp but in good taste.
Indeed, the ceremony exemplified the high quality and depth of some of the outstanding personalities within our media.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il).