Media Comment: Democracy in the hands of journalists
The law, which still states that it is forbidden to use the airwaves for
campaigning, is violated daily.
Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman Photo: Flash 90
Channel 1 TV has been running a self-congratulatory promotional clip in its
lead-up to election day which goes: “We don’t hug infants, we don’t kiss
grandmothers nor do we press the flesh in the markets. Our journalists have
chosen not to run for office, but have decided to be journalists.”
on that declaration, they expect and, to be fair, the other channels and radio
programs expect as well, that we the voting public and media consumers trust
that the various candidates and their lists running for a seat in the 19th
Knesset are all getting relatively fair exposure in our media.
the reporters, editors, interviewers and program hosts acting not only
professionally but, especially in this crucial period, with due consideration
for the needs of the voter? Is Israel’s democracy being served? This election
campaign is the sixth examined by Israel’s Media Watch (IMW).
distant past, Israel, at least judging from its laws, did not trust the
Politicians were barred from appearing or being heard for 60 days
prior to election day. Such drastic measures assured the media would not be able
to significantly affect the outcome. At the same time, it meant candidates did
not have much of a chance to really present their agenda to the
As the years passed, the media increased the pressure on
politicians to give them a free hand. The journalists claimed that especially
with the increase of media outlets, everyone would get a fair shake. The fact
that time and again we found that the media could not overcome its natural
inclinations, which tended to the Left, did not really convince politicians, who
preferred to have as much exposure as possible.
The upshot is that in
this year’s election there are hardly any restrictions on the media. The law,
which still states that it is forbidden to use the airwaves for campaigning, is
violated daily. Politicians try in every interview to call upon the public to
vote for them, the journalists tell them “no, no, no,” and the show goes
IN PRINCIPLE, in a society where fairness is considered of supreme
importance, one would not need any restrictions. Indeed, one should allow
politicians to advertise their wares and let the public
Unfortunately, Israel’s democratic values fall far short of that
At IMW we have monitored the appearances of the various
candidates on the central news programs of five media outlets – the evening news
magazines of TV Channels 1, 2 and 10, and the early-morning radio news programs
of Army Radio and the IBA’s Reshet Bet. The period covered is October 14 -
January 1. The bar chart tells almost the whole story.
appearances of the Likud Beytenu joint party vastly outnumber all the rest.
Perhaps understandably, as it is the largest party and the ruling one. Yet there
are some additional nuances.
Of the various party leaders, Likud’s
Binyamin Netanyahu had 195 appearances, Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman 101,
Labor’s Shelly Yacimovich 115, Hatnua’s Tzipi Livni 77, Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid
52, Shas’s Arye Deri and Eli Yishai 44 and 22 respectively, and Bayit Yehudi’s
Naftali Bennett 40.
The media consistently under-represents the
religious-oriented parties. Polls indicate Bayit Yehudi will be the
third-largest party in the next government, so why aren’t their representatives
being interviewed? Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet and Arye Golan provide perhaps an
extreme case. Meretz, which is much smaller than United Torah Judaism (UTJ),
appears no less than 25 times, but UTJ only once.
Consider just the past
week. The prime minister was interviewed on Reshet Bet for almost half an hour.
He is followed by Yacimovich and Livni, with less than 20 minutes
The next day, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz gets the royal
treatment and Labor’s Avishai Braverman is asked to respond. The next day,
Likud’s Silvan Shalom is the opener.
Shas and Bayit Yehudi presumably are
not expected to know anything about economics, even though this subject is
central to the election campaigns of both.
The excessive media focus in
the prime minister is also interesting. For the past four years, the prime
minister has consistently refused to be interviewed. He also refuses to
participate in a debate with the other candidates. One might think the media
would pressure on him to do so; isn’t this the essence of democracy? Instead, we
find the media fawning upon him, seemingly in awe of the fact that finally they
can interview the prime minister.
The media’s lack of interest in the
Arab sector is also striking. Balad and Ta’al together had 29 appearances. Our
media simply does not think the Israeli public needs to hear from the Arab
representatives, or be able to ask them difficult questions.
parties have hardly any chance in the mainstream media. There were a few beacons
of light, such as David Witzthum of Channel 1 TV who interviewed the outsiders
of the smaller lists, but other than that the total number of appearances for
parties with no MKs came to 15.
One may argue that Israel needs a
twoparty system and that its current plethora of small parties is too much, but
regardless, one should expect more openness to new ideas and new
ARE THESE unprofessional standards merely a reflection of the
liberal and political correctness bias of the media, or is there something more
insidious at work? Let’s not forget the extent to which Israel’s media is at the
mercy of the government.
We reported in a previous column how the Likud
caved in to the outrageous demands of channels 10 and 2. Could it be that these
channels are now returning the favor? The present government has spent hundreds
of millions of shekels on the IBA.
Is the IBA just expressing its
gratitude? Even Army Radio has received “goodies” in the form of added
Does media bias seriously affect the outcomes of
elections in Israel? The experts differ; there is no real “proof” that the
media’s efforts really change things. Too much exposure can also be
The real losers in this whole story are the journalists. It
is precisely their lack of judgment, fairness and ability to think out of the
box which creates the broad dissatisfaction of the public with the
The writers are respectively vice chairman and chairman of
Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il). They thank IMW’s Nili Ben-Gigi, Chaya
Grossman and Sarit Moskowitz for their extensive research.