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 the government?

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 media.

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 and safety.

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 badly.

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.

Another 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 days.”

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 justified.

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.

Is 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.

During these 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.

The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch www.imw.org.il.

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