Even today, broadcasting in Israel is restricted. The government has yet to
institute a free media market in which anyone is allowed to broadcast, via
radio, TV, the Internet and whatnot. But even in a free market, there has
to be regulation of some sort. Just as a restaurant has to be supervised to make
sure it maintains elementary sanitary conditions, the media market has to be
regulated to assure its compliance with basic ethics rules. This is even more
the case in a media market which is limited, providing the viewing public with
only a few local television and radio stations.
The regulatory system is
two-tiered. In Israel, the first tier is the regulatory bodies such as the
Second Authority for Television and Radio (SATR). Its mandate is to award
concessions, regulate and authorize programming, assure a fair amount of local
programming and that quality standards are met, and to take punitive measures
Yet this in itself is deemed insufficient, not only in
Israel, but also for example in Britain. The second tier is a complaints
commissioner or ombudsman as the job is known in Israel (many US newspapers now
have in-house public representatives). The SATR governing body is appointed by
the government. The ombudsman is appointed by the minister responsible, in our
case Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon. The ombudsman reports to the
minister, not to the SATR. This provides checks and balances, preventing the
rather independent Authority from abusing its powers.
Not less important
is that by law, the ombudsman provides the public a venue for expressing its
viewpoints, complaints and comments on all issues pertaining to the broadcasts.
Media criticism from the public is crucial for upholding the standards of a free
media. It is the job of the ombudsman to represent the public, and to pay
attention to public sentiment and complaints on both technical and material
The public might not be receiving high-level transmission, as
provided by law and contract. Or, the broadcasters might be using too much
airtime for advertising, rather than for quality broadcasts. The public may also
express frustration with low quality programming, biased and unprofessional
behavior and in extreme cases, violations of the law.
A public which
feels that the press abuses its power in order to promote agendas will have
little respect for the press’ importance in a free and democratic society, and
even worse, will lose its respect for the democratic process itself. It is the
ombudsman’s job to assure that the public is represented and heard and that its
needs are treated seriously. The job also serves as an interface between the
journalists, producers and editors and the public, providing them with
much-needed information regarding what the public really cares about.
laws recognize these sensitivities and provide the SATR ombudsman with some real
power. He can demand answers from any employee. Refusal is liable to punishment
by law. If he deems that a complaint was justified, he can enforce correction.
He can demand that any SATR-regulated station broadcast apologies or
corrections. The ombudsman is also obligated to bring to the attention of the
responsible minister any violation and especially lack of respect for his
Giora Rozen was the SATR ombudsman for over 10 years. He
carried a big carrot, but only a small stick, which was rarely used. Rozen
almost never imposed anything, firmly believing that nice words and finger
wagging would do the job.
His abysmal failure was cited by none other
than Supreme Court Justice Noam Solberg, who had this to say about him: “The
SATR law was an attempt at creating an independent and efficient review process.
However, it turned out that it was not used... the viewing audience is under the
illusion that there is an address to which they can turn, as if they have an
independent representative in the SATR which represents them.... The Ombudsman
should have worked harder, viewed the unedited material, compared it to the
final product, studied the issue in depth and only then provided his opinion...
a proper answer [by the ombudsman] might have prevented the need for legal steps
and prevented the need of the court to involve itself in them.”
add that it is not surprising that the Israeli public does not have a high
degree respect for the journalistic standards of the SATR broadcast
It took over a year, but finally Minister Kahlon appointed a new
ombudsman – David Regev, who has been in the hot seat since January 1 of this
year. Regev was employed for 23 years by the Yediot Aharonot
newspaper. In his
last job there he was the social welfare reporter. In less than three months,
Regev used his authority more than Rozen did in a decade.
who moderates Channel 2 program “What Do You Say,” called Im Tirzu leader Ronen
Shoval a “racist” and “monster,” comparing some of his statements with Nazi-era
pronouncements. The public complained, Regev forced Uchovsky to
apologize. Although Uchovsky’s “apology” was used to further attack
Shoval, the message was clear: the new ombudsman would not tolerate such
unprofessional and unethical behavior.
Nathan Zehavi has a foul mouth and
is proud of it. He has a program on the 103FM regional radio station. In an
interview with a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) listener, Zehavi, feeling provoked,
lashed out: “Your God should hit you with the tenth plague brought upon Egypt,
10 foreign workers should rape you, you are a stinking Jew,” and more such
drivel. Due to Regev, the SATR has initiated proceedings against Zehavi.
Foul language seems to be disconnected to politics.
Sheftel, on the same radio station, relates to some left-wing organizations and
people as “anti-Semites” and “Judeo-Quislings.” Media outlets he dislikes are
referred to as “media terrorists.” Here, too, Regev had the SATR initiate
Regev should be complimented for his decisiveness. Had his
predecessor acted similarly perhaps Regev would not have had to deal with Zehavi
and Sheftel. Regev also initiated proceedings aimed at curbing implicit
advertisement on TV programs, offensive advertising and more.
One of the
most important aspects of the operation of the ombudsman is that the public is
aware of his actions. For this purpose, Israel’s Media Watch has for years
opened its website to public complaints which are submitted to the ombudsman,
whose answers are publicized on the website. Rozen did not like this and
tried to stop it, but MK Zevulun Orlev, chairman of the Knesset’s State Control
committee at the time, forced him to accept our procedure, noting that it is in
the public interest.
Certain people within the SATR administration have
also been trying to stop such public efforts – after all, no one likes to be
criticized in public. It remains to be seen whether Regev also understands the
importance of assuring that his actions are open to public scrutiny.The
authors are, respectively, vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch,