Media Comment: Fake news, Israel-style

By ELI POLLAK
February 15, 2017 20:50

The media, from the editors down, presume that they know much better than average Israelis what they should be hearing or reading.




WHAT’S REAL and what’s fake?

WHAT’S REAL and what’s fake?. (photo credit:REUTERS)

‘Fake news’ has been anointed by at least one dictionary as the “word of the year” and most assuredly it is one of the linguistic highlights for others who promote vocabulary inventiveness.

To our mind, fake news is the lesser problem. Most of it turns out be fake and the public knows. A much more difficult issue is when real news is made fake by journalists who have no respect for their own profession and its code of ethics.

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A fact can easily be misrepresented.

Imbalance of coverage or the makeup of a discussion panel will divert attention from unpleasant matters. A wink, shrug or raised eyebrow will mislead the viewer. A tagged-on comment from a supposedly impartial anchor can persuade a listener to believe what is not actually true.

Amanda Taub, writing in the January 11, 2017, edition of The New York Times, asserted that the problem could lie with the media consumers who are becoming more insular and resistant to a pluralistic review of news and views.

She had it that “Partisan tribalism makes people more inclined to seek out and believe stories that justify their pre-existing partisan biases, whether or not they are true.” We would point out that there is a corollary to this: journalists are more inclined to publish and air stories that play up to their own political and social peer groups. If violations of the professional journalism rules becomes a regular feature of some media personalities, outlets and programs, the result is quite fake.

American columnist David Zurawik of The Baltimore Sun expressed related concerns when he admitted in a CNN interview that he is upset with “over-the top rhetoric, historical ignorance, an utter lack of proportion and, in some cases, just plain bias.” He has issued a “call for calmer, more centrist media” instead of the “feeding frenzy” that too often dominates reporting. He urged “real reporting – not alleg[ing] it with over-the-top rhetoric.”

“Credibility,” he wrote, “remains the highest prize of all.”

Of course, there is always the comic approach of Ron Burgundy (the Anchorman character): “Why do we have to tell the people what they need to hear? Why can’t we just tell them what they want to hear?” Even that approach, in Israel, is impossible.

The media, from the editors down, presume that they know much better than average Israelis what they should be hearing or reading. One cannot find a single public poll which attempts to understand the media needs of Israelis. Even the public broadcasters do not give a hoot for the public’s interests as they know it all.

For example, shortly after the recent Amona evacuation, Judge Miriam Lipschitz-Previs of the Jerusalem District Court handed down a spectacular decision. Four years after the previous Migron expulsion, she declared that Arab ownership of the lands in question was unproven. She issued an order that the plaintiffs who had sought damages themselves would pay the residents of the former Migron location for the discomfort they had caused. She also prohibited the Arabs from attempting any future court challenges connected to land upon which the original Migron was built.

This decision merited headline treatment and studio debate. But hardly anyone knows about it. Our media, which is so good at exposing political misdeeds and at deifying “investigative reporters” such as Ilana Dayan, did not, as far as we know, devote an investigative report to the fate of the families evacuated from Migron. Where are they today? What are their conditions? Has anything been learned from the catastrophic Gaza and North Samaria expulsion of 2005? And what of the conditions of the current Amona evacuees? Even the Left should be interested in such facts, given that it promotes further expulsions of Jews from their homeland.

Another item has been the ongoing media treatment of police investigations into actions taken or not taken by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. One concern was Netanyahu’s rumored involvement in the process of contracting for the purchase of German submarines.

Some media outlets indicated that bribes were involved.

Last week, as if in a “still, small voice,” it became apparent that Netanyahu was not a suspect. Almost daily, several times a day, Israelis, almost obsessive consumers of news, were primed by the media to think “Netanyahu” and “bribery” as if in a Pavlovian experiment. And then, within a day, we learn the matter never really existed. Headlines? An apology? Only additional “news” about the alleged misdeeds of the prime minister and his wife.

A recent media study, based on a content analysis of articles by Johannes Kaiser and Katharina Kleinen-von Konigslow about the EU crisis in German and Spanish online newspapers and published in Journalism’s December 2016 issue, found that ideology-guided framing is present in nearly half of all articles. This type of self-injected involvement has long been a negative factor in Israel’s media establishment elite.

A charge of agenda-driven journalism was made last week in Maariv by Kalman Liebskind against Rino Tzror, who broadcasts over Galatz Army Radio (which will not be transferred to the Defense Ministry as we had urged in our previous column, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman having backtracked on his own suggestion).

Liebskind expressed outrage at Tzror’s characterization of a film clip Liebskind and others employed as satire. It showed snakes chasing an iguana, to highlight how Netanyahu is being hounded by the media, and was depicted by Tzror as “incitement.” He searched Tzror’s Facebook page and found that back in 2011, complaining about what Tzror considered to be a Netanyahu- led anti-media campaign, Tzror himself used an image of a snake.

What is prohibited for the Right is, Liebskind indicated, quite a permissible tool for the Left.

Prime Minister Netanyahu left Israel earlier this week for his first meeting with US President Donald Trump. Over the past weekend, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Bayit Yehudi party, warned that Netanyahu should not continue to push for the “two-state solution.” This warning was the media’s introduction to the trip. Only Israel Hayom mentioned that the prime minister would raise the Pollard issue with Trump, a news-worthy item.

Although everyone knows that the Oslo process which was initiated 25 years ago was a total failure, one will never find the mainstream media considering the consequences.

Perhaps a strong joint US-Israel stand, supporting the recognition of unified Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, promotion of settlement activity and legitimization of Israel’s claims to Judea and Samaria would bring the PLO to its senses and the negotiating table?

Perhaps Israel’s housing crisis is directly related to the prime minister’s acquiescence to Obama in prohibiting construction in Judea and Samaria? The atmosphere in Israel’s mainstream media is one of denial and misrepresentation of the issues facing Israel. If this were not so serious, as the destiny of our small state depends so much on the decisions of weak politicians who let themselves be guided by a fake media, it could be considered ludicrous.

The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch. (www.imediaw.org.il)

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