Media Matters: Peripheral vision - one Acre and half a dunam

All it takes to push an otherwise ignored area of the country into the public eye is casualties; and all it takes to rekindle our rage at the prime minister is to publish pieces about his wife's house-hunting ventures.

As soon as the break-fast ended last Thursday night, the phone rang. "Should we call it Acre or Akko?" a colleague in English broadcasting asked, with a touch of urgency - the kind that often accompanies the adrenaline rush following a hot-news flash. Though I suggested the former, he settled on the latter, claiming that otherwise no one would be able to put the name to the place. He may have been right, but for the wrong reason. After all, why should this particular biblical town get lost in translation any more than Jerusalem (Yerushalayim), Jaffa (Yaffo), Tiberias (Tveriya) or - the least similar-sounding of all - the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret)? The answer lies not in how the mixed Jewish-Arab Israeli city is spelled or pronounced, nor in where it is situated - north of Haifa - but rather in its being part of what we have come to refer to as "the periphery." This is the accepted euphemism for socioeconomically disadvantaged areas, where unemployment is higher than median matriculation scores, and where it is shwarma, not sushi, that constitutes pricy fast-food. Ironically, "peripheral" is an adjective that could be used to describe the level of media attention such areas generally generate. Even when the Central Bureau of Statistics releases its annual poverty report, it is to the poor neighborhoods of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that the camera crews flock to provide footage of empty fridges. Ditto for the location of the standard items on soup kitchens prior to every holiday, or of the kids whose parents are unable to afford basic supplies with which to send them off to school in September. In defense of my peers in the press, this practice has more to do with logistics at best, and laziness at worst, than with a lack of interest in or compassion for what goes on outside the confines of our cosmopolis. Staying close to home cuts down on travel time that otherwise cuts into writing and editing time - a fact of life in our profession that dictates our ability to meet daily deadlines, whether in print or on screen. The only consistent exception is when an acute situation arises that involves casualties. At that moment, all the rules of routine are immediately discarded, and resources reallocated to enable full zoom-in focus on the afflicted zone. It is thus that Sderot - and Kiryat Shmona before it - were catapulted (by Kassam and Katyusha fire respectively) into the international limelight in one fell swoop, when they had both been places a resident of the "center" would have been hard put to pinpoint on a map, let alone seek out as a site to frequent. At the beginning of the week, it looked like Acre was about to enter that category, as the riots sparked by an Arab driving through a Jewish neighborhood during Yom Kippur appeared to be escalating rather than subsiding. It remains to be seen what will emerge from the strife-torn town - which, unlike the others mentioned, was at least known among center-of-the-country circles for its yearly arts festival, which has been cancelled as a result of the tumult. But it definitely has been placed firmly on the reportage radar. So much so, in fact, that Yediot Aharonot's Succot edition had a photo-sidebar - accompanying an article called "Eight-story abyss"- showing the tenement inhabited, among others, by family members of taxi driver Jamal Taufik, the instigator (unwittingly, he claims) of the violent clashes. He was supposedly on his way to their home when all hell broke loose. The item reads like a spoof of Lea Goldberg's famous children's story, "Dira Lehaskir" (An Apartment to Rent), replete with a picture and CV of every tenant in order of the floor on which he or she lives. The purpose: to illustrate what Yediot was emphasizing in the article as the lack of coexistence between Arabs and Jews at 12 Rehov Alkalai (asserting that the Jewish families in the building do not like their Arab neighbors, and the three Arab families in the building have fled since the outbreak of the violence). The result: Acre and its residents have been granted household-name status. Move over, Sderot. WHILE ON the subject of Yom Kippur, there is another reason that Acre nearly knocked Wall Street and the coalition negotiations down a notch, news-wise. The "holidays" - as we in this country refer to the three weeks between Rosh Hashana and Simhat Torah - present far more of a challenge for the press than the public may realize. This is not merely due to our having twice as much to do in half the time - fewer work days and double the special supplements - but because we have to come up with original material, based on the same old themes. And merely dusting off previously published honey-cake recipes simply won't do. Then there is the added difficulty of what to have on hand at the close of each holiday, since news travels slowly when members of the media, like their audience, are off partaking of mom's chicken soup. The "best" we thought we could hope to have at the end of Yom Kippur, thus, was the usual bicycle-accident-statistic story, and maybe an incident of haredi rock-throwing at an ambulance. Acre came along, and suddenly solved that particular problem. AS FOR the current holiday: Since the period before disengagement in 2005, it has become impossible to talk about Succot without slipping in something about "etrog journalism." When Channel 2 political pundit Amnon Abramovich said that prime minister Ariel Sharon had to be coddled by the media like a citron (etrog) - the ritual fruit of the current festival - to enable him to execute a withdrawal from Gaza without the impediment of police investigations and journalistic critique, both the metaphor and the practice of "etrogging" found a prominent place in the local press. It was the most blatant case of the cat's being let out of the bag where a lack of professional ethics was concerned. In defense of such inappropriate behavior on the part of a supposedly impartial sector, former Haaretz editor David Landau publicly acknowledged that his paper was engaging in it, as well - and that it should be. Interestingly, Ehud Olmert has not been given a comparable break, in spite of his having pushed for further withdrawals. Even his explosive Rosh Hashana interview in Yediot - in which he came out and said that Israel would have no choice but to leave all the territories - did not award him immunity from the wrath and ridicule of reporters. Not even those who work at that very paper. In a short piece headlined "Olmert wants to live on Rehov Barak," (October 13), Ofer Petersburg gave readers yet another glimpse into the real-estate interests of the outgoing prime minister and his wife, Aliza. According to the report, the couple has been eyeing a NIS 10 million villa - on a half-dunam plot - in the upscale North Tel Aviv neighborhood of Tzahala, though they'll be looking at other properties before making up their minds where they will settle after leaving the prime minister's residence. And just so we should all be clear - and disapproving - Petersburg reminded us that the Olmerts already own an apartment in Tel Aviv, as well as the house on Rehov Cremieux in Jerusalem... you know, the one he's under investigation for. Why Olmert has not enjoyed the "etrogization" of his predecessor was explained recently to me by a former Likud minister. "The media don't need to coddle him like a citron," he quipped. "They've got a citron-ette to cuddle."