All who read our columns know that there is much to criticize when it comes to
Israel’s media; too many infractions of ethical codes; to many laws regularly
ignored; ineffective regulatory bodies; inadequate financial oversight. Its
interference in politics, economics and societal issues can be deleterious to
the media consumer, who is all too often misinformed and misled.
these and more have demonstrably harmed Israel’s democratic fabric.
none of these factors were the reason Reporters without Borders, in its ranking
of freedom of the press, dropped Israel this year to the 112th place, down from
92, out of 179 countries.
No, the organization gave Israel bad marks
based on actions carried out during “Operation Pillar of Cloud” in the Gaza
Strip. The group claimed the IDF “launched a deliberate assault on journalists
and media buildings associated with Hamas, in addition to Israel’s continuous
arrests of Palestinian reporters.”
Reporters without Borders has a rather
strange approach towards measuring freedom of speech when it comes to Israel. It
differentiates between “Israel within the Green Line,” where Israel was ranked
40, and Judea and Samaria, where it was ranked 150. The final number is then
obtained by some adjusted measure of the two.
The organization admitted
that Israel’s journalists “have full freedom of expression; however military
censorship still poses a structural problem.”
This is not the first time
that this advocacy group has attacked Israel based not only on its own political
bias but on a seemingly naïve outlook on the unfolding of events between Israel
and its neighbors. Nor is this the only international media organ to demean
Israel’s press standards.
We wish to make it quite clear: Israel’s media
is very free, perhaps even too free. This is documented in many
Israel has a system of ombudsmen appointed to supervise the
broadcast media, whether the state-sponsored Israel Broadcasting Authority’s
television channels and multiple radio stations, the IDF’s Galatz radio, the
Second Radio and Television Authority’s two commercial television stations
(Channel 2 and Channel 10), 16 regional radio outlets and Educational Television
However, complaints are poorly handled; no fixed system of
punishment exists. Israel’s press council, a voluntary oversight body, is also
Program hosts offer the public their personal opinions
unchecked. They can label one politician or social activist an “extremist,”
while ignoring the extremism of another. The ultra- Orthodox can be
discriminated against and termed “parasites.”
Sexist remarks can be
uttered with no more than a finger-wagging from a supervisory forum.
Foulmouthing is rampant. An Army Radio editor, Golan Yochpaz, is free to become
an editor, for two years, of Yair Lapid’s Channel 2 show while continuing to
edit the army station’s news.
There is a lot of freedom in Israel’s
Our printed press, which originated over 150 years ago (HaLevanon
was founded in 1863), is robust and hard-hitting. Haaretz has been so
consistently anti-government in its positions that Menachem Begin famously
quipped: “The last time a Haaretz editorial was published that was
pro-government was during the Mandate period, when the British
Indeed, complaints about anti- Semitic caricatures appearing in
newspapers abroad seem quite ludicrous when considering some of the cartoons
appearing in Haaretz.
Consider the following: Yediot Aharonot, following
the announcement that Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer intended to
resign, headlined its report, “No confidence in Netanyahu.” The reporter, Sever
Plocker, formerly of the Marxist Al-Hamishmar daily, wrote that Fischer’s
departure was “a vote of no confidence... even if Fischer himself denies
Although reporters are supposed to have the inside track on their
beats, the liberties he – and his editors – took with the facts here is
problematic. After all, Fischer stated that all is mostly fine with Israel’s
economy, and that he had full confidence in the policies of the prime minister
(indeed, other reporters even speculated that Fischer might become foreign
But in Israel’s too-free press fact and fantasy may
intermingle – as long as it serves the interests of editors and
Israel’s media is much too free to browbeat and intimidate
They do not hesitate to use threatening language in the
Knesset’s committee sessions, with the aim of assuring continued public funding
and financial support for their failure.
A failing television outlet
(Channel 10), whose owners have repeatedly, for nearly a decade, played the
scoundrel with respect to their legal commitments regarding fees and repayment
of debt are free to continue their flaunting of law and order, with hardly any
ARGUABLY, HOWEVER, the best evidence of the exaggerated
freedom of our journalists is the phenomenon of journalists going into politics
– there will be nine in the 19th Knesset.
Journalists have become used to
using their position to create political facts on the ground.
forget that Shelly Yacimovich, together with Carmela Menashe, almost
single-handedly caused Israel’s rout in South Lebanon by their subversion of the
public discourse? Or the fact that Yacimovich not only used her journalistic
freedom to support MK Amir Peretz in 2006, but a few weeks later joined his
party? Yair Lapid, whose main claim to professional fame is as a columnist and
interview show host, is another one of those who realized the power of politics.
Indeed, he may become one of the most senior cabinet members.
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz first became a member of Knesset and sought to
pass legislation that would limit the ability of a media outlet to remain a
virtual monopoly, he had to face a boycott by the Yediot Aharonot news
Our media has little respect for the free speech of
Nor does Israel’s media does not limit itself to attacking
The wealthy have also become targets.
Sheldon and Dr.
Miriam Adelson are always knock-worthy – especially since they believe that
Israel should have true freedom of speech and plurality in its media.
fact that the publisher of Israel’s largest paid-circulation newspaper, Arnon
(Noni) Mozes of Yediot Aharonot, is very much a tycoon himself, with extensive
holdings in the media market and outside of it is not of great interest. Perhaps
because he also holds what the media conceive to be “politically correct”
attitudes toward Israel’s relations with the Arab world.
In contrast to
the media, Israel’s public is far more open-minded. Last week’s TGI readership
survey indicates that while Mozes’ flagship paper (there are also local
weeklies) is read by 37.4 percent of the Israeli public , the free daily owned
by Sheldon Adelson, Israel HaYom, has overtaken it and has 39.9 percent of the
readership on weekdays.
Mozes also maintains a premier online news site
and portal, Ynet, and a former editor of his paper, Rafi Ginat, has now been
selected to be the head of Channel 10.
As we noted in our column of last
December 19 (and also of November 16, 2011), the continued outlandish financial
support for Channel 10 from state bodies, through various exemptions and
benefits, reported to be over $400 million, was obtained via blatant violation
of the democratic process.
As Israel HaYom’s Gonen Ginat phrased it, the
channel’s directorate succeeded by “waving the flag of ‘freedom of the press’
and making false accusations of ‘stifling free speech.’” This past Monday
evening, Channel 10’s Raviv Drucker broadcast a piece of investigative
journalism on Israel HaYom – which had been held back until Channel 10’s
extension arrangement with the government had been finalized – which Israel
HaYom’s editor, Amos Regev, dismissed as a hatchet job.
are far from being as astute as the Israeli public.
They do not
understand the importance of media pluralism, nor of their duty to refrain from
pouring public funds into failing media outlets.
Israel’s broadcast media
networks feel themselves quite free to circumvent the laws that obligate
pluralism. Too many elements within Israeli society are
Political opinions, cultural views, religious outlooks,
ethnic uniqueness which do not fit in to the stereotype of our “liberal,”
“educated” and “open” media personnel are usually ignored.
without Borders document was outrageous in its mendacious portrayal of what
happened in Gaza during the latest anti-terror campaign, ignoring international
law in its protection of Hamas and al-Qaida “media personnel.”
without Borders could contribute positively to our media if it undertook a
politically unbiased and open look at it.
In our opinion, our media
indeed does not deserve to be at the top of the list of countries in which
freedom of the speech is respected – because it is much too free to do as it
The authors are, respectively, vice chairman and chairman of
Israel’s Media Watch, www.imw.org.il