Israeli journalists reported fairly on last year's war in Lebanon, despite charges they had acted as a fifth column by revealing information that helped the enemy, according to retired Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner.
"No journalist wants to harm our forces in times of war," she said Wednesday as the guest of honor at the Israel's Media Watch annual awards ceremony in Tel Aviv's Beit Sokolov.
Dorner, president of the Israel Press Council, said the role of the media in a democracy was vital, as was its right to freedom of expression. "But for every right," she added, "there are also legal and ethical limitations," such as the division between subjective and objective journalism.
After the war, Dorner established a committee to examine journalistic conduct during war and other emergency situations. She met with IDF officers and concluded that the IDF should not have allowed journalists into war zones, but had had its own reasons for doing so. She said she believed Israeli reporters had been patriotic, had exercised self-censorship and had not done anything to aid the enemy.
Not everyone in the packed hall was convinced of that, including one of the prize winners, veteran journalist Ya'acov Ahimeir, who was one of the first to criticize his colleagues for their wartime reports. He was selected, along with anticorruption journalist Aryeh Avneri, for this year's Abramowitz Prize for Media Criticism.
Ahimeir said no prize could compensate for some of the reporting of the Lebanon war, "because it cannot be erased." He criticized radio and television reports in which "the interviewer has become more important than the interviewee."
Ahimeir also expressed disdain for what he termed "court reporters," saying they were part of the fawning retinue of certain public figures. But he said one had to be careful when criticizing media, and not throw the baby out with the bath water.
Ahimeir said if the media had the right to criticize every state institution in the country, it was absurd for it not to accept and respond to the criticism of the public. If the public had complained so strongly about the media's coverage of the war, then there must have been something wrong with it, he said.
Ahimeir said the Press Council must examine the work of journalists more frequently and more thoroughly, adding: "It is not right for journalists to be so arrogant."
Former IDF Intelligence officer Oren Shahor, a member of the IMW presidium, said when journalists reported military information, it had an effect on the home front's morale, while it also had an effect on the enemy.
"When you're reporting a war, you must not reveal anything that will help the enemy," he said. "You have to muzzle yourself. Any information that will confuse the enemy is valuable, and the army should be working together with journalists to achieve this."
Avneri said it was not easy to attack colleagues, who instead of serving the public, served the interests of capitalists. "I think we're one of the most corrupt countries in the world," he said. "There's hardly a public institution that doesn't suffer from one form of corruption or another."
Avneri is a veteran investigative reporter who has been in the forefront of the struggle to expose public servants' corruption. He is the director of Ometz, an organization dedicated to fighting corruption.
Dorner disagreed, saying: "While there is corruption, I disagree that we're the most corrupt country." In other countries, she said, presidents and prime ministers had amended the law to avoid being charged with crimes. That could not happen in Israel.
Avneri criticized publishers and editors who bow to the influence of public figures, and either censor or prevent the publication of investigative reports that reveal their corruption.
When he wrote his book about Ehud Olmert, Avneri said, no publisher would touch it and he had to publish it himself. He praised investigative journalist Yoav Yitzhak's Web site, saying he doubted he would have received the prize without it.
Daniel Doron received the inaugural Singer Prize, donated by Paul Singer of New York, for economics reporting.
A posthumous prize was awarded to journalist Uri Dan.
There was a tribute to Uri Porat, who died Tuesday. He was twice director-general of the Israel Broadcasting Authority and supportive of the IMW.