Media comment: Media self-hosannas

By ELI POLLAK
October 9, 2017 21:35

The media, now under a sustained attack, by US President Donald Trump and other politicians seeking salvation from entrenched media bias, seems to be resorting to self-hosannas.




Media comment: Media self-hosannas

MEDIA MEMBERS are seen outside British Labour Party Headquarters in June. (photo credit:REUTERS)

A central feature of the Succot holiday is the celebration of Hoshana Rabba, this year falling on Wednesday. Multiple prayers are recited while circling the platform where the Torah is read and most of these use the Hebrew word, hoshana (please save).

In the Christian tradition, the term was altered to be a shout of praise or adoration. In the books of the Gospels, it was expressed in recognition of the perceived messiahship of Jesus upon his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

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The media, now under a sustained attack, by US President Donald Trump and other politicians seeking salvation from entrenched media bias, seems to be resorting to self-hosannas. They repeat claims that they are the guardians of democracy, that they are fair and ethical and that any errors of theirs are unintentional. If the media is criticized, their response can be quite vicious.

For example, Lisa Ling, formerly of ABC and now CNN, admitted in a recent interview with Salon.com that “When a free press is being criticized from the highest levels and characterized as being fake and being muzzled, it screams fascism. That’s not to say that bona fide news sources might not make mistakes here and there, but... we’re reliant on our legitimate news sources to do what they can to tell the truth and report the facts.”

Of course, there may be a question over just what is a “legitimate” news source, just as some may doubt if all editorial procedures were followed, foremost, fact-checking and cross-referencing sources. In essence, that is just the point.

If mainstream media, the so-called ‘defenders of democracy,’ are seen to make too many errors, to constantly repeat the same errors and the same types of errors, to consistently show bias detrimental to, more often than not, one side of the political spectrum, shouldn’t that be considered to be fascism of a different order? The press has always prided itself on bringing down governments over the decades in many countries around the world. Why then, when it is attacked, does it need to play the victim? Is it so powerless? The BBC’s former political editor Nick Robinson, currently The Today program presenter, has noted, “Alternative news sites are waging a ‘guerrilla war’ against the BBC in an attempt to promote their own editorial agenda.” These sites are both on the Left as well as on the Right and, to Robinson, their criticism of BBC journalists and others “was so persistent that it was negatively affecting public perceptions of mainstream media.”

While this may be the case, another angle is that, quite simply, mainstream media does not, and should not, hold a monopoly over the news.

Mainstream media needs to be diverse and pluralistic. It would seem to be quite logical that if the public feels that not to be the case, other media outlets will benefit.

Robinson, however, adds a sinister aspect to the problem, writing that the critics “need to convince people not to believe ‘the news’” and this is “part of a guerrilla war being fought on social media day after day and hour after hour.”

Probably the most outstanding incident highlighting this trend of criticism involved his successor as BBC political editor, Laura Kuenssberg.

She needed to be accompanied by a security guard at a Labour party conference after receiving threats. Moreover, a petition that accused her of being biased against the Labour Party was launched but later withdrawn as it turned into a “focal point for sexist and hateful abuse” against her.

Robinson also asserted that trust in the UK media was declining.

He blamed this on the “increased polarization of our society and the increased use – particularly by the most committed and most partisan – of social media and alternatives to what they call the MSM, the mainstream media.”

ROBINSON ALSO urges the broadcaster to promote and celebrate its impartiality, potentially by publishing the BBC’s so-called “producers’ guidelines” that outlines how its news coverage should be impartial, and by revealing discussions and decisions at editorial meetings.

His message was a bit undercut, to use British understatement, when it was revealed that the chief executive of Impress, the sole government- approved press watchdog, concluded in an internal report that he had brought the organization into disrepute. He had, it emerged, shared messages on Twitter that were critical of two newspapers, including posts comparing one’s editorial position with fascism, and content promoting a campaign to stop companies advertising in them.

Impress was designed to protect British journalism, while dealing “with the challenges of the digital age.” It promised to provide the public “with the reassurance that they can rely on the news sources that inform them, entertain them and represent their interests.”

Here in Israel, the media consuming public is woefully unsupported by regulators (as described for example in our Sept. 14 column “Keep Channel 20 on”). While adopting an overly strict approach toward that channel’s airing news rather than only cultural content, the same regulator acted quite differently when it came to television broadcasting on Yom Kippur.

As this paper’s Amy Spiro reported on September 27, the law, as per a Communications Ministry regulation, is that TV and radio broadcasts cannot be aired during Yom Kippur. However, Dr. Yifat Ben-Chai Segev, chairperson of the Cable and Satellite Commission, in a Haaretz newspaper interview, indicated that if the HOT or Yes cable networks were to request open VOD access on Yom Kippur, she would immediately convene the council to discuss the issue.

Communications Minister Ayoub Kara (Likud) felt that he must intervene.

In a statement three days before the fast was to be begin, Kara, a Druse we point out, declared, “Yom Kippur for us in the Communications Ministry is the holiest of holies, and – just like the country has been doing for 70 years – we will continue this year to keep the status quo.” He even spoke with Segev and relayed that “to my delight the council received my position and will act accordingly.”

It is true that today journalists are under intense pressures, foremost from their fellow guild members. The pummeling that self-declared right-winger Shimon Riklin of Channel 20 receives is enormous. The past experiences of a religious soldier serving in the Galatz radio studios were nigh horrendous. But there is pressure from within the political establishment as well.

In a YouTube clip, British Labour MP Dennis Skinner is seen berating – the clip calls it “schooling” – a journalist, browbeating the young man actually. We hear “why don’t you understand that you are part of society… It’s time that you understood that you’re not somebody outside the perimeter. You’re involved… But somehow, you people connected to the television [and] media, you think you’re above it all. You’re not! You’re more and more like Trump. You’re vain! Conceited!” Indeed, too many journalists are vain and conceited. Yet even they do need at times to be protected from the wrath of politicians just as much as they need to accept criticism at face value rather than been indignant and self-aggrandizing.

When that day comes, we too will say Hosanna.

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

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