Media Comment: Media ethics lessons from abroad
Media standards are deteriorating to the point where confidence in the news is weak.
The New York times building Photo: REUTERS
As we have pointed out in previous articles, there are multiple methods
available to assure professional and ethical media activity, especially with
regard to public broadcast networks.
In the Fiji Islands, for example,
there has been debate on a proposal to establish an content oversight and media
ownership authority; a media tribunal to hear complaints from the public; a code
of ethics for journalists; and laws governing media ownership. The authority’s
job would be to ensure the media does not publish material not in the interest
of the public or order; against the national interest; that offends good taste
and decency; or which creates communal discord.
Very draconian methods,
and unacceptable in a democracy.
A free private press underlies the
democratic fabric of a country. It must be allowed to operate freely, with
little governmental interference.
On the other hand, media standards are
deteriorating to the point where confidence in the news is weak, existing
regulatory bodies almost meaningless and the media-money-politics axis
increasingly dominant – to such an extent that the media consumer’s rights are
not only often ignored, but actually violated. This state of affairs, too, does
not bode well for democracy.
So how to on the one hand assure a free
press but at the same time protect the rights of the media consumer? We will
consider six complementary components.
1. Critiques being published by
media forums dedicated to the principle of a truly free press, one willing to
accept and deal with criticism. In the Hebrew-language press, there exist
outstanding media critics, such as Ben-Dror Yemini and Kalman
2. The media, no matter how dominating it seeks to be, still
needs people to read it, listen to it and watch it. To buy it or fund it through
purchasing products it advertises. A public that takes its rights seriously and
protests against unethical media is a necessary requirement for a democratically
healthy society. Lethargy and indifference are a large part of the
3. Public editors willing to challenge management and defend the
public’s right to an ethical and pluralistic media.
recently, outgoing New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane dropped a bomb
in his last column.
(If only our local public editors would adapt the
American standard of providing reports on what is wrong on a regular basis,
rather than their bland and almost meaningless annual reports.) He accused the
prestigious paper as promoting a liberal bias, both in its editorials and its
hard news stories.
The paper’s staffers, he asserted, “share a kind of
political and cultural progressivism” that “virtually bleeds through the fabric
of the Times.” Certain high-profile liberal issues, like gay marriage and the
Occupy movement, he wrote, were promoted by reporters “more like causes than
The new public editor, former Buffalo News editor
Margaret Sullivan, certainly has a new baseline to protect, as the paper will be
shifting its focus toward more online and social media reader engagement. Is it
too imaginative to suppose that one day Yediot Aharonot, Haaretz and Israel
HaYom will do the same? Brisbane’s appraisal resonates here in the sorry reality
of Israel’s media bias. Substitute issues like the Rothschild Boulevard’s summer
sit-in, the excessive focus on the haredi community and the under-reporting on
the Arab populace, Jews residing in Judea and Samaria and, of course, our own
gay parades, and the basic problem is the same.
Even another issue that
irked Brisbane – the insufficient transparency of his former employer – is
reflected in what happens in Israel, for example the budget of Galei
4. Reliable independent studies of media
Israel’s Media Watch has been monitoring and researching the
media both qualitatively and quantitatively for over 15 years. There have been
some more recent additions such as the Tadmit group, which was followed by the
US based CAMERA organization’s Presspectiva website.
In other countries,
public broadcasting bodies conduct internal reviews and even request public
feedback. There are citizens’ Press Councils in many locations. Have we ever
received from the Israel Broadcasting Authority an in-depth review of their
activities and the public’s level of satisfaction with their programming? Two
weeks ago, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism in the
United States released a study which claimed that “different media skew campaign
coverage differently” but that the most balanced are the newspapers. They also
noted that “portrayal in the news media of the character and records of the two
presidential contenders in 2012 has been as negative as any campaign in recent
times.” However, “neither candidate has enjoyed an advantage over the
Can we ever hope for a similarly open and verifiable system? Will
those who own and manage media outlets here submit to a more constructive
relationship with their audiences?
There should at least be a
transparent system of scaled internal measures applicable to media personnel
found to have been negligent or who have engaged in unethical behavior.
media personality could be reprimanded, his personal file would have a note
added, he could be suspended, an ad could be published about his case, or,
perhaps, as is acceptable in the field of sports, even fines could be applied to
6. A government-appointed commission of inquiry.
England, Lord Justice Brian H. Leveson sent out late last week, after his
hearings opened last November, an almost 100-page long notice, warning various
media groups that he anticipates making rulings against them.
covered include self-regulation, invasion of privacy, prior notification of
publication, accuracy and public interest. Even the Press Complaints Commission
is expected to be severely criticized.
Would an Israeli prime minister
follow in David Cameron’s footsteps and take such a drastic step as the creation
of a commission of inquiry into the publicly funded media’s activities? Would he
have the courage to face down the resulting press onslaught in the name of
democracy and the need for a free press?
The authors are, respectively, vice
chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch.