A tale of three journalists

The media – even a state-sponsored public broadcasting authority – can make value judgments and decide when an employee has crossed a line.

By ELI POLLAK
May 22, 2019 22:05
COPIES OF ‘Israel Hayom’ and ‘Yediot Aharonot’ are displayed in Ashkelon l

COPIES OF ‘Israel Hayom’ and ‘Yediot Aharonot’ are displayed in Ashkelon l. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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On Shabbat, May 11, Lihi Lapid, the wife of Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid, wrote that she had been fired as a columnist by the Yediot Aharonot newspaper chain. In a post on Facebook, she claimed her firing was a result of her husband being a political figure whose politics were not to the owners’ or editors’ liking. On Saturday evening, Walla News responded by publishing a denial from a Yediot source that simply said, “A decision has not yet been taken.” Later in the week, we learned that Ms. Lapid would be invited to a hearing prior to any termination of employment. As of the writing of this article, as far as we know, her employment at Yediot has been terminated.

Some sources, trying to impugn her, claimed her salary was out of proportion. In response, Ms. Lapid publicized two salary stubs from the past two years showing that her salary was NIS 10,000 per month. Ms Lapid did not deny that she took a leave of absence during the three-month period prior to the elections, adding that she was proud of using this time to campaign on behalf of her husband. But once the three months were over, she thought it appropriate to return and write.

Lihi Lapid studied photography at Camera Obscura and Tel Aviv University, although without obtaining a bachelor’s degree. She was a photographer for the IDF weekly Bamahane during her army service. From 2003-2019, she had a column in the Yediot Tikshoret subsidiary of local weeklies. She also authored over 10 books, the latest one in 2018 titled Being a Mother of a Soldier.

Ms. Lapid was quite upset, not only because the notice came in a phone call. She raised a fundamental issue: “I see no problem in writing a personal women’s column in a newspaper even if my husband is a politician... I do not think that in the year 2019, in the State of Israel, it is possible to fire someone due to the profession of his spouse... I gave my soul when writing and was true only to my readership.”

A different media personality married to a senior politician is Ms. Geula Even-Sa’ar. Her IDF service was in Army Radio beginning in 1990. Since 1993, she worked for Israel’s public broadcaster. In 1997, she replaced Haim Yavin as the anchor of TV Channel 1’s central evening news program. In 2008, she left that position, continuing as an interviewer for the Israel Broadcasting Authority, later supplanted by KAN, the Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation, or IBC.

In May 2013, she married Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar, who was then interior minister. Only early in September 2014, seemingly as a result of a run-in she had with Ms. Ayala Hasson, her boss at that time, her programs were put on hold. But she returned quickly due to the fact that on September 17 of that year, Gideon Sa’ar took a leave of absence from politics. Even-Sa’ar continued working for the new IBC, but resigned as the evening news anchor on December 24, 2018, due to her husband’s decision to reenter politics. After the elections, she renewed her work at the IBC. 

Even-Sa’ar and Lapid ceased their journalistic jobs during the election campaign, but there are differences between them. Lapid actively campaigned for her husband, while Even-Sa’ar did not. Even-Sa’ar’s job at the IBA and the IBC was senior to that of Lapid at Yediot. Both Even-Sa’ar and Lapid are identifiably left of center, so their political inclinations do not underlie the different attitude toward them in the IBC and Yediot respectively.

OUR THIRD media figure is Matti Golan, a 25-year veteran journalist at Globes and its former editor. He was fired at the age of 82 from Globes this past January. He is suing the paper for NIS 1.2 million, claiming the newspaper’s decision was frivolous and that he was not given a fair hearing. He, too, was notified by phone.


These three cases lead to the central question: When may a media organization fire someone? Is it right to dismiss a person due to the profession of his or her spouse? Or age? Is this outrageous?

Media employees can be disciplined or fired. Just two weeks ago, BBC radio host Danny Baker was fired. He tweeted a picture of a well-dressed couple next to a suited chimpanzee that was captioned, “Royal baby leaves hospital.” A BBC spokesperson announced, “This was a serious error of judgment and goes against the values we as a station aim to embody.” Baker was also fired in 1997 by the BBC for crossing “the line between being humorous and controversial and being insulting.”

Obviously, then, the media – even a state-sponsored public broadcasting authority – can make value judgments and decide when an employee has crossed a line. But this is not acceptable to some. MK Yair Lapid declared, “It is still difficult for me to believe that Yediot Aharonot fired Lihi just because she is my wife.... This is part of the attack on all the values that once appeared so clear to us... this is what happens when a newspaper starts being afraid of the government.” Other MKs from the Blue and White Party also entered the fray, attacking Yediot for its actions. Are these reactions justified?

Intellectual honesty seems to be a rare commodity. It is standard practice in academia to shy away from dual-career appointments, as they might conflict with the need of assuring a diverse faculty. Ethical problems arise when both members of a couple are employed. There are conflicts of interest, especially when one is senior to the other. In other words, Ms. Lapid, yes, even in the 21st century, unfortunately, the job of one part of a couple is affected by the actions of the other. Go ask Mr. and Mrs. Netanyahu about this.

While there are few people who remain employed until the age of 82, Golan was privileged. Due to legal considerations, it is dangerous to admit that a person is being sent home because of his age. Golan was a loyal servant of Globes, but like anyone else, there comes a day when it all ends. The termination of his work should have been amicable, but not necessarily unethical. 

Firing need not be the immediate response to a conflict of interest or unethical actions. What is needed is that every media outlet should have a clear code of ethics and a detailed scale of retributions for various infractions, from warning to suspension to a fine or more.
At this point, we in Israel come to a problem. The media here have such codes. But in practice, there are no clear guidelines. Worse, the media ignore their obligation to punish malfeasance. 

Why is it then that Yediot fired Ms. Lapid, Globes fired Golan, but KAN does not touch Ms. Even-Sa’ar? Is it political? Is KAN as a public broadcaster afraid to touch the spouses of politicians? Or is it that Ms. Even-Sa’ar is at this point much more valuable to the IBC than Ms. Lapid is to Yediot or Golan to Globes?

The writers are members of Israel’s Media Watch, Imediaw.org.il.

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