Media Comment: The consumer first?
Many in Israel’s media prided themselves on their support of the social unrest of last summer. Could it have been that their very activism was motivated by self-interest?
Israeli consumer Photo: REUTERS
Many in Israel’s media prided themselves on their support of the social unrest
of last summer. They were even dejected when the “social justice” movement lost
momentum and became irrelevant this past summer. Could it have been that their
very activism was motivated by self-interest? True, all journalists thrive on
and seek out good headlines and pulsating stories, especially so during summer’s
doldrum days. However, was their obvious excitement an expression of a
deep-rooted subjective feeling among many journalists that Israel’s consumer is
mistreated and that consumer rights are trampled upon by industry tycoons and
As we are in the Jewish high holiday period, we should be aware
that we are not able to know the inner thoughts and feeling of others, nor
should we judge them, as this is the realm of the metaphysical. However, this is
perhaps a good time to review what is actually done to defend the consumer in
Israel’s media, and whether this reflects a really concerned, consumer-oriented
Israel Hayom has been bashed lately by Israel Prize laureate
Nachum Barnea who publishes in Yediot Aharonot. His attack was stronger than the
regular incessant onslaught between competitors. With tongue in cheek, he
claimed that Israel Hayom was a political missionary tract and violated Israeli
law. Barnea and his bosses do not consider competition a sign of a healthy
society nor can they admit that Israel Hayom provides the consumer with useful
information such as a daily comparison of a product sold in Israel with its
price abroad. Nor do they appreciate that what started in their paper as
an important weekly discourse on governmental and industrial misdeeds by
Mordechai Gilat is now carried by Israel Hayom.
All major Israeli
newspapers report extensively on Israeli economics, and there are three business
dailies, but their main emphasis is on information for the investor and
businessperson. They have weekly columns, for example, on cars but these are
more advertising for the manufacturers and sales offices than in-depth research
which provide the Israeli consumer with dependable information concerning
safety, price range and reliability.
Israel’s media does not deem it
important to let us know which cars, trucks or buses are more, or less, involved
in traffic accidents. We don’t receive a weekly or monthly statistic on
the number of cars stolen and where. Reporting on the excitement of a trial
drive is much more “sexy” and perhaps sells more papers than providing hard
facts concerning the materials used to construct the vehicle, their reliability
Israel’s mainstream TV vendors also have consumer oriented
programs. You Came Out a Tzaddik is TV Channel 10’s consumer program,
hosted by Chaim Hecht, who invites individuals and shops to carry out a job and
then checks whether they use the materials they committed themselves to, whether
the job was at all needed, etc. Vendors who turned out to be responsible workmen
are called Tzaddikim – righteous. Those that do not, such as, in one episode,
dentists who recommend a certain treatment which is unnecessary, come out
Channel 10 also presents the program called Economic Evening
anchored by Sharon Gal. The program attempts to deal with economic issues on a
practical level, useful for the consumer. Kolbotek, which began at the IBA’s
Channel 1 and then taken over to Channel 2, has Rafi Ginat exposing misdeeds,
whether political, such as his most recent program dealing with the state
witness in the Holyland case against former prime minister Olmert or lesser
fish, such as cosmetics purveyors or safety doors and the like.
consumer-oriented program is Worth Checking on TV Channel 2, where reporter
Menachem Horowitz provides information on where one can obtain lower prices on
various items. Channel 10 has also started airing a program called Where’s the
money? It is rather ridiculously advertised as “Guy Maroz invests NIS 100,000 of
his personal savings... and will try to double his investment in 100
All of these programs have one primary purpose, which supersedes
all others, namely to make money for the channel. They have had very little
impact on the Israeli consumer, on her/his education and consumer habits. Mr.
Hecht does not give his “victims” a true right of response, he controls the
cameras and assures that the picture is painted his way.
From the outset,
the Maroz program sets the wrong theme. Statistical research has shown time and
again that there is no way to make easy money on the market in the long term.
But the discerning consumer should know whose professional advice can be
trusted, what are the various investment channels available, which banks are
willing to negotiate business terms and what are their true rates for conversion
of foreign currency, investment, etc.
Yet all of this and much more,
which would be essential and very helpful to the average family, is nonexistent.
In fact, Israel has nothing that comes close to the “Consumer Reports” in the US
which pioneered consumer journalism. Israel does have a government-funded
unit, the Israel Consumer Council, whose NIS 4 million annual budget is paid via
the Trade Ministry.
In 2011, they dealt with approximately 35,000
consumer complaints. The council’s website (http://www.consumers.org.il/)
provides the Israeli consumer with valuable information on varied topics,
ranging from flight tickets, cellular vendors, the impact of VAT on the consumer
and more. The council has been active in pursuing legislation on issues such as
price controls, and guarantees supplied by vendors.
One wonders why the
media does not ask why this agency does not do more to help Israel’s middle
class. The council does not provide an archive of complaints nor a list of
companies (or government agencies) against whom complaints were found to be
The consumer council does not have an “app,” readily available
for any smartphone, which would provide the consumer with information on prices
in various stores and services within her or his community, as for example
supplied by WAZE for anyone who wants to find the lowest price vendor of
gasoline in his vicinity. Our media does not take the council seriously despite
multiple interviews of its director, Ehud Peleg. Our media has not set in motion
a movement which would demand transparency in consumerism, the type of
transparency which would prevent the major outlets from pulling wool over our
eyes, inviting us to their chain to buy one item which is relatively cheap and
then pay for it by purchasing others which are outrageously expensive.
it possible to create such change? Yes. Let us recall that it was one person and
a Facebook page that ignited the cottage cheese protest.
Why then is our
media apathetic about consumer rights, yet so involved when people demonstrate
for social justice?
Perhaps because it is easier to demonstrate than to exert
oneself. Or perhaps it is easier to complain about something nebulous
instead of providing information to the consumer which would harm the very
advertisers which fund the media’s activities. Or it may be a reflection of lack
of imagination and innovation in our media.
It is also possible that the
interest in the protest was simply a means to the media’s real end: Israel’s
government, and more specifically Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu; that the
needs of the consumer were far from their true objective.
days of atonement, we would hope that our column has contributed something
toward improving Israel’s media and its consumers. We apologize to those who we
may have inadvertently misrepresented or wrongly criticized.
are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch