David Regev, the Second Authority for TV and Radio (SATR ) public complaints commissioner, finally provided the public with his annual report for 2013. His Introduction is a wonderful example of what the duties and responsibilities are of a public complaints commissioner.
Under the headline, “What bothered the public,” Regev notes that the public was very concerned about various aspects of reality shows. They were unhappy with the coarse language, verbal and physical violence as well as racist slurs. Regev writes that the complaints raised such questions as whether reality shows should be limited, or does freedom of speech and expression protect them, and whether regulators are at all involved in these shows. He reports that the SATR decided to carefully review the reality shows, issued fines for extreme violations and demanded more openness with regard to the choice of the participants and their auditions.
A second topic in Regev’s report is the ongoing saga of marketing content within programs, in violation of the limitations placed on advertisement time. Regev claims that he believes this issue should be resolved by legislation. Commercial content would have to be designated as such letting the consumer know that the material is an advertisement, and the minutes used would be part of the advertising content allowed the concessionaire.
Regev is proud of the fact that “again this year the complaints commission continued a series of professional initiatives and increased in 2013 its cooperation with social organizations and consumers making the commission more accessible to the public at large.”
Regev, though, has quite a bit which he could improve. For example, in his whole long report, not one name of a media personality found to have violated media ethics is mentioned. A politician is named, but no journalists. Why? Do they have immunity? Regev habitually defends one of the most egregious violations of the ethics code, namely the mixing of news with views. A case we have mentioned in this column many times is Yonit Levi, the star anchor of the Channel 2 TV evening news program.
Levi makes a habit of mixing her views in with the items she reports on.
January 2013 was election time in Israel.
Levi does not like the extreme right wing in Israel. On January 15, 2013, she describes the “Strength for Israel” party, headed by former MKs Professor Arye Eldad and Dr.
Michael Ben-Ari, as “the most extreme party in Israel.” The factuality of this assertion may be questioned, but it isn’t the facts that are the main issue here. Rather, the real problem was Regev’s answer to the complaint submitted by Avi Komash.
Regev replied that, “As for the question of giving her personal views, according to the definition of her job Yonit Levi is not a narrator and presenter of the news, but a journalist. Her journalistic work, under the auspices of the freedom of speech and creativity, grant Yonit Levi as well as other journalists the right to express their opinions, as in this case.”
Levi aired one item detailing the harsh situation a 92-year-old person found himself in when he refused to move out of his own home and accept alternate housing from a certain company. She included the company’s response – but ended the report with her personal judgment against the company. One of us (YM) noted this to Regev, but the latter’s answer was the same: this is part of her profession. Regev apparently does not understand that Levi is paid to be a journalist, not a judge.
He will go to great lengths to defend his fellow journalists. Levi is not small fry. She is, arguably, a model for other Israeli journalists.
Regev should have used his position to clarify that news and views should not be mixed and that by doing so Levi is not only giving her profession a bad name, she is working against the interests of her own job, which is to present reliable news to the public. Biased news is no news at all.
Another one of Regev’s bad habits is his tendency to defend SATR . During April 2013, a large supermarket chain ran an advertisement with the slogan, “To Be an Israeli.” The Keshet TV concessionaire simultaneously ran a series of reports in the program People under the headline – you guessed it, “To Be an Israeli.” In one of the People segments a store manager was asked to talk about what being an Israeli meant to her. In the background was a supermarket, with the logo plainly visible. It took Regev four months to answer the very reasoned complaint of Nili Ben-Gigi, the former executive director of IMW. The eventual answer? Defense of the concessionaire and full denial that there was any commercial content purposely included in the People segment.
Regev is proud of his increasing outreach to NGOs. This is rather interesting; he is so proud that he does not mention even once in his report the hard work of Israel’s Media Watch in pointing out the violations of the concessionaires and the Channel 2 news company when it comes to covert advertisement.
The SATR , on the other hand, did pick this up. On October 27, 2013, SATR ’s director general wrote that this practice is unacceptable as it is against the law, which clearly states that the concessionaire is not permitted to use the airwaves to further his own goals. Regev, who was repeatedly asked to intervene, did not.
Regev also did not mention his ongoing attempt to put us down by preventing the public from placing its complaints through our website. In 2012, IMW received 242 complaints regarding the SATR from the public. Regev answered 159 of them. In 2013, only 151 complaints were submitted and Regev answered only 50. Regev repeatedly stated that he will respond only to complainants and is not willing to accept anything sent to him by a third party. This practice breaks an explicit promise given by his predecessor in the Knesset, but Regev does not care and he has the backing of SATR ’s legal adviser.
Is Regev really open to the public as he claims? Complaints sent through IMW get publicized, along with the names of the people involved as well as the sometimes ludicrous answers of Regev and his associates.
Instead of realizing that publicity and openness is at the heart of his job, Regev seems to be fearful of valid and embarrassing complaints directed at his journalist friends. His colleagues, the complaints commissioners of the IBA and the army radio station differ with him, and are open.
Perhaps Regev can be made really accountable to the public?
The authors are vice chairman and chairman respectively of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il).