Privacy after years of publicity

Media debates how to cover the release of Gilad Schalit; Israel Radio to set up mobile station at Mitzpe Hila.

By
October 17, 2011 04:57
Noam, Aviva Schalit at tent

Noam, Aviva Schalit at tent. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

While it’s true that the Schalit family appreciated the unflagging interest of the media during their five-year campaign to secure Gilad’s release, what they want now, is to more or less be left alone.

They are facing hordes of reporters, photographers and radio and television crews – not to mention the hundreds of voyeurs who in the last couple of days have found their way to Mitzpe Hila to ogle the Schalit home and be photographed in front of it, or next to a member of the Schalit family.

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Of course there are countless numbers of people who have been, or want to be there, not for the voyeurism, but because they genuinely want to share in the Schalit’s joy.

These are the people who plastered Schalit bumper stickers over their cars, wore Gilad Schalit t-shirts and yellow ribbons which they also attached to their backpacks and to their two and four-wheeled vehicles.

These are the people who showed up at demonstrations, held up placards and did whatever campaign leaders asked of them.

Even though logic tells them that the Schalits – and especially Gilad – need a respite, the urge to see him, to get to the happy ending of what has been a long nightmare is just too strong.

Likewise, the journalists who have been keeping the story alive for more than five years now feel that it’s payback time.

They want to see Gilad, to talk to him and to capture him on camera. They want to get his reaction on being reunited with his family. They want to hear what went through his head during the years of incarceration.

And each and every one of them wants to be the first to bring the story to the public.

In an interview with Israel Radio’s Shai Zilber, Shimshon Liebman, who headed the campaign to free Schalit, urged both the public and the media to respect the Schalit family’s privacy in the days ahead.

Even the residents of Mitzpe Hila and the campaign faithful had agreed to stay away and give the family the time it needs for itself, he said.

In his daily current affairs program on Reshet Bet, veteran broadcaster Yaron Dekel on Sunday morning looked into this national hysteria, questioned whether it wasn’t exaggerated and whether there was an alternative form of media coverage given the nature of the story.

In exploring the situation he brought four other journalists onto the program: Maariv Editor Nir Hefetz; military reporter Carmella Menashe; Shalom Kittal and Arye Golan, who are both veteran national and international reporters and anchormen.

Dekel suggested that given the delicacy and sensitivity of the situation – especially because no one knows in what mental and physical condition Gilad will arrive – that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak desist from going to the Air Force base where the released soldier will meet his family.

He said he doubted whether Netanyahu and Barak were the first people that Gilad wants to see when he gets to Israel. But he was realistic enough to know that the first photographs to be released after Gilad comes home will not be of the soldier being embraced by his mother.

Other than photographers from the Government Press Office and the Army Spokesman’s unit, no photographers will be present to record this historic and emotional meeting for posterity.

Because the Prime Minister’s office can dictate to the GPO, it is obvious that the first photographs to be released by the GPO will be the welcome by the prime minister.

The Schalits have asked that all ceremonial events related to their son be kept to a minimum.

Hefetz, a former communications adviser to Netanyahu had an explanation for why the PM wanted to be there. He said any political leader who had taken the risk that Netanyahu has taken wants to stand in the public eye with person for whom he took the risk.

Golan said that while it was understood that the family needs peace and quiet and Gilad needs to rest at home, Israel Radio will nonetheless set up a mobile station at Mitzpe Hila on Monday and will broadcast non-stop.

Kittal said that there was nothing wrong with broadcasting and trying to get a story, but the effort had to be within limitations and without coercion.

“We don’t need to shove a microphone in Noam Schalit’s face when he has nothing to say,” said Kittal.

The allusion was to Channel 10’s Eli Levy, who on Friday night persisted in trying to get Noam Schalit to make some kind of a statement when he made it clear that he didn’t want to be interviewed.

Because Schalit is a very polite person, he said something to the effect that the family was happy to be back home and would be still happier when Gilad was home and they could close the circle. But Levy kept pushing what was a essentially a non-starter.

Someone with a shorter fuse than Schalit’s would have simply turned his back and walked off.

Competition is all very well, said Kittal, “but when you realize after the first question that Noam Schalit has nothing new to say, leave him alone.”

Menashe, who has known Kittal since he was her boss at Israel Radio before becoming head of the Channel 2 News Division, said that there are very few editors like him. Kittal always had red lines, she said, and could accept the fact that there was no story. He didn’t demand that reporters do the impossible.

When Dekel asked Hefetz what instructions he had given to Maariv photographers, Hefetz replied that he was sure that reporters and photographers knew their limits and had learned the lesson from the terrible episode with Rona Roman, who learned not from the Air Force but from the media swarming outside her home that her son Assaf had been killed in a plane crash.

Even if the media gives Gilad his space right now, they’ll hound him for years warned Hefetz. They’ll be there the first time he goes out on a date, when he gets married and when he becomes a father. At the same time, Hefetz foresaw the Schalit family gradually distancing itself from the media for the welfare of their son.

Channel 10 Vice President Uri Rosen, was also quoted on the program as having said that it would be illogical for Gilad Schalit to have to isolate himself at home after five years in prison, simply to avoid the paparazzi.

There are people in the media business who do understand these things, even if others are vultures.

Addressing Golan, Dekel said: “Imagine if you could use a Schalit ground line at 6 a.m. on Wednesday morning and Gilad picks up the phone and you have the chance to interview him. Would you do it?” For all his sensitivity, Golan unhesitatingly replied in the affirmative, noting that he had a similar experience with Menachem Begin when the latter secluded himself in his home.

Golan had telephoned, Begin had answered the phone, and Golan proceeded to interview him. He would do the same with Gilad Schalit he said, but he would be very careful about how he spoke to him and what he asked.

The easiest solution to the problem of Gilad’s privacy and the best way to prevent any damage, said Golan, was for Gilad to hold a press conference to be attended by any journalist who wanted to be there.

That way, everyone would get the story at the same time, hearing Gilad tell it in his own voice.

After that, everyone would leave him alone and the whole matter would dissipate.

Hefetz was not entirely sure.

The real moment of truth he warned, will be when the first of the released prisoners engages in an act of terrorism.

Then everyone will remember the conditions under which he was released and Gilad Schalit will be held responsible. He will lose his privacy and he will always be responsible because of the price paid for his release.

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