Media outlets report the news. They also serve as a platform for public debate
and the exchange of views. Many critics see the media as also managing the news
and setting agendas.
“The news” then morphs from being a collection of
facts into an opinion-driven manipulation of events. A reporter and his/her
editor, if biased, can alter reality.
The academic literature has long
recognized that mass media possesses codes and conventions that shape its
messages and so construct a sense of the world and how it works. This creativity
is employed not only for politics and economics but culture as well. “Media
creates culture,” it has been claimed.
In today’s media-saturated world,
there really is no “blank canvas” anymore. Through the use of media tools, the
public is told who it should appreciate, who to admire and who it can ignore in
cultural activities such as art, literature and music. The media creates the
icons – the people we are taught to recognize, who last in our collective memory
and who we are persuaded have meaning as humans and as citizens of our
Last week, two famous authors died. One of them was a novelist
and the other wrote religious tracts.
Both sold a large number of their
books over a period of decades. Both were household names, albeit in their
One of them, Yoram Kaniuk, was born in Tel Aviv,
joined the Palmah, was a crew member of a clandestine immigrant ship, studied
painting, left Israel in 1951 for Paris, became a sailor, resided in America for
a decade, adventured in Mexico, Guatemala and Las Vegas and was twice married.
The mother of his children is non-Jewish.
Two years ago, he succeeded in
a legal move to change the religion clause on his Israeli identity card from
“Jewish” to “no religion” out of solidarity with his non-Jewish grandson. Many
of his novels were made into films.
The other was Rabbi Yehoshua
Neuwirth. Born in Germany, he fled to Holland during World War II and stayed
hidden with his family for three years. During that time he managed to conduct
an Orthodox lifestyle despite the Nazi conquest.
He then immigrated to
Mandatory Palestine clandestinely by boat.
Rabbi Neuwirth was a Torah
scholar, taught in a leading Jerusalem yeshiva and became one of the foremost
authorities on the complex laws of Shabbat. His three-volume opus can be found
in the libraries of the vast majority of Orthodox Jews across the world
irrespective of their religious identity as haredi, national Orthodox or modern
He was also very highly regarded as an expert in medical
ethics. He was sought out as a consultant on the design of modern electronic
appliances, with an aim to assuring their strict compliance with Jewish law, and
many of which assisted the sick. Rabbi Neuwirth was a renowned leader in
adapting modern technology for the practice of Torah Judaism.
of people attending Rabbi Neuwirth’s funeral vastly outnumbered the number of
those attending the funeral of Kaniuk, attesting to the depth of his influence
on his appreciative public.
Similarly, in the days following their
deaths, the media’s treatment of the two convincingly demonstrated that the
media had its cultural favorite.
Israel’s Media Watch reviewed the media
during the 24-hour period following Rabbi Neuwirth’s death.
included the June 11 radio programs, covering the headlines and four news
programs on Galei Tzahal and five central programs on Reshet Bet. No mention was
made of his death. Neither the Mabat Channel 1 TV program nor Channel 10 news
included an item on him.
The Internet was a bit broader in its coverage.
Ma’ariv, Ynet, INN and various religiously-oriented sites mentioned the deaths
of both Kaniuk and Neuwirth. To be fair, several of the sites included withering
criticism of Kaniuk’s anti-religious attitude as the justification for noting
his passing. Sites that ignored Neuwirth but reported on Kaniuk included
Haaretz, Globes, Walla, Reshet Bet, Galatz and Calcalist.
of too many of Israel’s media outlets to deal with topics not immediately
connected to their own private world is not new. Much criticism has been voiced
in studies and at conferences over what is perceived to be the blindness of the
media to anything happening outside of Tel Aviv – and some even draw the line
from Shenkin Street in north Tel Aviv to Yehudah HaYammit Street, where the
Galatz station resides, in the south.
In the past, funerals and for that
matter the lives of outstanding Orthodox personalities were completely ignored
by mainstream media, as were, until recently, traditional Jewish musicians. Too
often, only if a rabbi was involved in a sharp dispute with the secular public
did that rabbi “merit” coverage.
Scores of left-wing demonstrators were
assured coverage for the most trivial of issues, but tens of thousands visiting
the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron are ignored or at most perfunctorily
The problem is even more serious when some of the media
stations are publicly funded as state-sponsored broadcasters who, by law, are
obligated to faithfully represent the pluralism of Israel’s society. They should
be providing programming that reflects Israel’s heritage, which does include
In this connection, we are happy to learn that Galatz has made
steps to change built-in prejudice.
Galatz’s chief, Yaron Dekel, speaking
at the Yesha Council Conference on Public Diplomacy this week, announced that
his instruction to alter the test on cultural recognition led to significant
change in the social makeup of the incoming cadets. Of 30 recruits to the
station, nine, that is, almost one-third, are from the religious sector of the
As policies of affirmative action are very much preferred by
the liberal camp, we presume that this development will be welcomed by
Last year, on March 28, we pointed out that there are too many
elements within Israel’s media that suffer from what we termed “cultural
autism.” Their general knowledge and education is rather limited, their
appreciation of others could use improvement. Rabbi Neuwirth was not only a
courageous intellectual, he was a moral example to all.
It is sad that
our media does not understand how important it is, especially for our youth, to
be exposed to such people. Sadly, we all will pay for this ignorance.
authors are, respectively, vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch
Please note: In last week’s column, we wrote that a
possible reason for the early retirement of senior Haaretz columnists was fear
of not receiving pension funds. Ehud Ein-Gil of the Haaretz staff committee has
informed us that Haaretz employees have an arrangement whereby their pension
payments are held by an outside company, and that their money is fully insured
for them upon their retirement, even if they voluntarily retire, in which case
the law does permit the employer to seek the return of those payments, although
Haaretz management never has done so.