The New York Times is searching for a new public editor, what used to be called
Dan Gilmour of The Guardian had been asked to be considered
and he has published what his ideas were for the job. He is no longer on the
short list. He termed his suggestions a “manifesto in the social media
As he noted, the paper’s first public editor, itself a title that
sought to distance the paper from the concept of criticism and errors, was to
“work outside of the reporting and editing structure of the Times and receive
and answer questions or comments from readers and the public.” He was also
expected to publish “periodic commentaries in the paper about the Times’s
journalistic practices and current journalistic issues in general.”
was how things were viewed in 2003.
In an piece he wrote earlier this
year, Gilmour presented a new approach, predicated on the idea that news
organizations should not be afraid of their own shadows and should demonstrate
that criticism is welcomed rather than dreading it.
This approach is
based on the simple but undeniable fact that today, in the Internet world, with
bloggers and online commentators ever present and ever publishing, “the best
media criticism of every news organization is being done outside its
Gilmour’s nigh-revolutionary program includes having the public
editor aggregate what he calls “every responsible critique” of the news outlet
to be found; thank those who are right and show when critics are wrong;
cross-post the best criticism and encourage newsroom staff to participate in
THIS WHOLE discussion was generated by the Arthur Brisbane
imbroglio this past January. Brisbane, the Times
’ public editor at the time, had
asked in a column “whether and when New York Times
news reporters should
challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.”
Abramson, the paper’s executive editor, was forced to admit that “some facts are
legitimately in dispute, and many assertions, especially in the political arena,
are open to debate. We have to be careful that fact-checking is fair and
impartial, and doesn’t veer into tendentiousness.”
To be fair, the Times
on page two of every day’s edition, carries a correction column, and its online
edition constantly appends all corrections to the relevant stories.
Nevertheless, as Gilmour observes, the paper buries Brisbane’s work on its
website and the reality is that “the editorial staffers wish ombudsmen would
just go away.”
His goal, though, is to “be a host and moderator of a
civil conversation,” for after all, the media consumers are and actually should
be the most important critics.
In Israel, we are light years away from
Let us recall that the first ombudsman of the Israel
Broadcasting Authority was the late Victor Grayevsky. He was appointed in 1995
but at the time his job had not yet been fully defined nor was his authority
clarified. The new ombudsman regulations of the IBA specified that the exact
operating procedures were to be formulated by the executive board of the IBA and
submitted for ratification to the Knesset Education Committee, which at the time
was the overseer of the IBA.
And it is now time to reveal a
In 1996, after the elections, the two of us were invited to a
meeting with Grayevsky which he termed completely “off the record.” He handed
over to us the draft of the principles formulated by the IBA executive, which
Essentially, they limited the public’s access to the
ombudsman only to those cases in which the complainant felt that the IBA
personally acted against her or him. This formulation stood in stark contrast to
the principles guiding the work of the ombudsman of the Second Authority for
Television and Radio (SATR) where any person could put in a complaint to the
ombudsman on any issue.
At SATR, which oversees the commercial radio
stations, the public was given the authority to provide some checks and balances
to the vast powers of the media. It was unthinkable that at the public
broadcasting authority, the public would be so restricted.
When the issue
came up for deliberation in the Education Committee, we demanded that the
suggested principles be thoroughly changed, making them roughly equal to those
of the SATR. Remarkably, and to our pleasant surprise, Prof. Rina Shapira, who
at the time was the chairman of the IBA, agreed to these demands and the
necessary changes were introduced and adopted.
INDEED, SINCE then, the
law, which is still valid today, provides the IBA ombudsman with the power to
deal with any complaint, as she or he sees fit. As a result, the IBA truly
became a media consumer-oriented organ and the beginnings of a dialogue with the
With this power, the second ombudsman, Amos Goren, was
able, on the basis of the complaints he received, to issue annual reports in
which he provided examples of complaints.
He also publicized decisions he
took to either dismiss or, in a growing number of cases, to justify
Due to his criticism, two “stars” of the IBA, Amnon
Abramovitch and Gabi Gazit, were, for all intents and purposes, forced to leave
Elisha Shpiegelman followed, but no major advances or
improvements were recorded. That all three were former employees of the IBA,
with friends in the system as well as a pension fund, certainly inhibits the
full independence an ombudsman should possess.
The IBA Public Executive
Committee has also been lax in refusing to create a scale of punishment, from
reprimand to suspension, for example, and has not provided for even a weekly
program that would increase the public’s knowledge of the ombudsman’s work. The
IBA did not take the necessary steps to invest the ombudsman with a standing
with which he could “take on” the high and mighty.
Since last month, the
IBA now has a new, fourth ombudsman – Deddi Markowitz, 39. He has a MA in
Communications Studies, was a reporter at Ma’ariv for 14 years and moved up to
an editor’s position at their local edition’s network.
But he has already
been criticized, in leaks to media correspondents, as not having enough
television experience – the unfortunate traditional attempts to stifle him by
subversive forces from within the IBA.
Will Markowitz have the inner
strength and moral fortitude needed to deal with some of the pressing ethical
issues facing the IBA? Will he do something about Moshe Negbi’s exclusive role
as the IBA’s legal commentator? Will he assure that Geula Even’s personal
opinion columns at her new HaMussaf program will be balanced by other,
dissenting opinion? Will he attempt to control the unprofessional interviewing
habits of Even as well as Oded Shachar, who barely permit their interviewees to
finish a sentence? Most important, too, is how will he fare in comparison with
the advances being achieved in other countries? The authors are, respectively,
vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il).