Emcees with epaulets

To call our television news too biased these days is about as novel an observation as calling Israeli wedding music too loud.

By MARK L. LEVINSON
December 6, 2005 23:19
Emcees with epaulets

idf phone 88. (photo credit: )

Suppose you turn on your TV one evening and the announcer is wearing a military uniform. Yipes! Are the tanks in the streets yet? Is the airport still open? You drum the remote, and channel after channel looks as usual: friendly quizmasters challenging handsome young people to remember long-retired soccer stars, friendly interviewers talking young comedians through their practiced witticisms. You realize that seeing a uniformed announcer meant merely that you were tuned to that new TV channel run by the IDF. Was that so bad? The army has been printing Bamahane magazine since 1948, having inherited it from the Hagana. The army has been in the radio business since 1950. The availability of army media hasn't turned us into a nation of heel-clicking musketeers. But when it found out that the army wants some time of its own on television, Channel 10 news the other day reported the item as if the request were a direct assault on democracy. Actually the newsmen we see on TV are already in uniform, but their uniform is the dark suit and neat necktie of a prosperous Western businessman. Visually it puts them in a class apart from the general public. I work most of the week at a multi-billion-dollar hi-tech corporation, and I can walk half a kilometer of corridors without seeing anyone dressed up in a suit and tie. Before the newscaster says a word, he's already sent the implicit message: "I am no common Israeli. I represent Western-style wealth, success, and power, and my people determine the agenda here." And then, along with the news, he tells you the agenda. Last Thursday's Channel 2 news, for example, prominently featured an item about retirees whose employer, a hospital, could not afford to pay their pensions. Lest we react incorrectly, the announcer, Gadi Sukenik, introduced the item by saying, "The politicians who are campaigning should watch this report." At the end, he returned to the point: "Food for thought, for the politicians." In other words, as the campaign proceeds pay attention to the social issues, where the Likud is considered vulnerable. Don't pay attention to security issues, where Labor and, arguably, Kadima are vulnerable. Right after the story about the unpaid pensions, the news broadcast made a bitter point of mentioning a $525-million government grant to Intel for a new factory in Kiryat Gat. The contrast is a legitimate one, but the newscast could as easily have contrasted the hospital's bankruptcy against the third-quarter profit of Israel Electric Corporation, NIS 1.34 billion. The Electric Corporation, of course, is the source of notoriously high salaries for the core constituency of Amir Peretz. Its jump in profits did make the news, but only as a bland sentence or two near the end. TO CALL the TV news too biased these days, though - with Shelly Yehimovich still freshly outed as a political animal - is about as novel an observation as calling Israeli wedding music too loud. Despite some attempts to fit Yehimovich into the journalist-turned-politician pattern of Tommy Lapid and even Menachem Begin, she is different because, unlike a Lapid or a Begin, she owed her highest visibility to a job that is supposed to be apolitical - the job of news anchor, where journalistic talents and political conscience matter less than the knack of reading fluently, keeping your voice at a constant volume, and not fidgeting. Still she managed to style herself a crusader and to kick mightily at the applecart of objectivity: "I was never an objective journalist. I have an agenda and I want to have influence," she told a radio interviewer. THE MILITARY has an agenda too, in addressing the public, and it's backed by a broader-based legitimacy than the agenda of an individual reporter is. In seeking some regular TV time the military spokesperson hastened to clarify that the army would not be browbeating the public with tightly-controlled propaganda. She sounded as if our TV services had a pristine balance to preserve, when already they're piping Al-Jazeera to us. I think we should be grateful to the army if they bring us helpful and interesting information. We may not all be reservists into our fifties as we once were, but there are those who like to remain militarily informed. More important, there are thousands of young immigrants who haven't learned about the army by osmosis the way the native-born do, and they could use some preparation and acculturation. The days are past when, for the sake of broadcasting an uninterrupted message of its own, the government had to appropriate the only existing TV station for several minutes - as finance minister Yoram Aridor did 20-plus years ago, to everyone's consternation. Today the army, or any other government agency, should be able to enter its programming into the couch potato's already generous pool of TV options. You want to watch, watch. You don't, don't. The writer works primarily in technical writing, translation and copywriting.


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