Walter Lippman noted in his 1922 book Public Opinion that the media helps its consumers understand the links between news events and why they could be critical. In 1963, Bernard Cohen famously observed that the press “may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about.”

Cohen viewed writers, editors and publishers as drawing maps for their consumers, and the danger was in getting lost. Drs. McCombs and Shaw added the agenda-setting concept – the more frequently an item is repeated and the more prominent the coverage it receives, the more important audiences will regard the issue to be regardless of its true value.

There is another important concept, especially prominent in Israel’s media; the use of language. Society is influenced not only by the language used by the media, but more so by the language it isn’t “authorized” to use.

For example, on June 17, Ynet carried the headline, “Youngsters [na’arim in the Hebrew] ignited a blaze, 14 soldiers injured at an Army base.”

Are these “youngsters” kids? Or perhaps teenagers, or even young men? Could they be Jewish? If so, were they haredim, or crocheted- skullcap wearers, or secular? Or maybe they were Christian? Journalistic ethics dictates that ethnic labeling is to be avoided, and Ynet justifiably did not use an ethnic headline.

On the other hand, the story continues, we learn from the firefighting unit’s spokesperson that between June 1 and June 16, 284 fires had been deliberately set in periphery neighborhoods such as Har Homa, Arnona and Armon HaNatziv.

What could be behind these torchings? Is it pyromaniacs or anti-state elements? Why does Ynet does not find it necessary to consider the possible motivations for such crimes? Did the Ynet reporter ignore his investigative training and simply not ask the spokesman? Or perhaps the perpetrators are not “price tag” activists, so that it would be embarrassing to actually disclose what really motivates such acts? Or did he ask the question and his editor spiked that portion? Why exclude the possibility of a nationalist-inspired crime? And now we have experienced fires set near Lifta and Motza near Jerusalem.

THE BLOGGER “Elder of Zion” posted a critique of what he thought was a similar language manipulation on June 15, but by foreign media. It had been reported in Haaretz that after altercations broke out between Sudanese migrants living in the town of Kfar Manda and the local population, that a hundred of the migrants agreed to move elsewhere.

In fact, 15 persons were injured in the fracas when noise, coming from an adjacent apartment, caused violent altercations to break out between dozens of locals and the African migrants. The townsfolk reportedly even chanted “clear out the foreigners” according to Ynet news.

Language-primed media consumers would assume the location was another center like the south Tel Aviv area where riots had broken out a few days previously. After all, that is the agenda item. That is the box of comprehension to which we have been sensitized.

In this case, however, the incident occurred in Kfar Manda, an Arab village in the north of the country. In reviewing the mainstream media abroad, EOZ couldn’t find any news about it and surmised that due to the identity of the “locals,” the media preferred to simply ignore the story. The frame of “Jews being racist” and “Jews versus blacks” was not to be disturbed and language self-censorship was to be the tool. To his mind, that actually represented media bigotry.

Another aspect, more purposefully unethical, is the media language bias when a news outlet that produces material both in English and Hebrew, as does Haaretz, alters the information between the two sites. This phenomenon is well-known in the Middle East but was usually the domain of Arab leaders like Nasser and Arafat, who said one thing to their own people while providing the West with a much more palliative version.

It has been adopted now in Israel.

One example is the doubt that has arisen over how Haaretz selectively translated Interior Minister Eli Yishai’s words in a Ma’ariv interview to make him sound racist. The story’s sub-headline reads: “Interior Minister says migrants do not recognize that Israel ‘belongs to the white man.’” However, the quotation is partial. As the original Hebrew has it, the quote really is: “Most of the people coming here are Muslims who think the land doesn’t belong to us at all, to the white man. A number of them have said that openly on television.”

Yishai was quoting what the illegal immigrants had said, claiming that this was their opinion, that Israel doesn’t belong to the “white man,” but Haaretz in English implanted a racist spin to his words.

The first to note, over a decade ago, the serious discrepancies between the versions of Haaretz was the late Dr. Joseph Lerner. At the time, he initiated Israel’s Media Watch’s first review of this phenomenon. Today, Israel’s Media Watch is completing yet another report on Haaretz and its English edition.

The findings indicate simple errors or typos (sloppy editing), the usage of progressive, post-modernist nomenclature such as “peace activists” for left-wingers and “militants” for those engaged in terror, mislabeling, such as “House of Dissension” rather than its official name, or such as “administrative prisoners” rather than “detainees,” leaving out relevant information that provides proper context, among others.

Presspectiva, the Israeli arm of CAMERA, has also been focusing on Haaretz, as well as on Ynet. Their findings are similar. They noted mistranslation, ignoring of facts, such as “an injured man” rather than “an injured Palestine Authority security officer.”

They have even succeeded in gaining a judgment from the Ethics Court of the Israel Press Council against Ynet and reporter Elior Levi. The court’s decision declared that in a video clip that was uploaded to the Ynet web site “there is a complete contradiction between what is written in the article and the pictures seen in the video clip. It is a substantive contradiction.”

The paper claimed that a mother had not been allowed to accompany her child who had been arrested. The video showed that in fact the mother was request to accompany her son eight times – but refused.

Has media literacy become a difficult task rather than a celebration of democracy and freedom of expression?

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