Hysterical headlines and none-too-coincidentally-promoted causes célèbre are
more often than not revealed as having been much ado about nothing. But there
are different sorts of superfluous fusses.
Some are grounded in crass
sensationalism, motivated by pompous publicity-hounding, ratings-boosting and
irrepressible rampant shallowness. The results can be dire even without
Inevitably, however, the loudest screamers in
any given media campaign are acutely aware of the underlying sham of their pose.
They fabricate the fake with forethought aplenty. They intentionally orchestrate
uproars against nonexistent provocations. Their much-ado-about-nothing isn’t
born of vulgarity but by deliberate design.
The current case of the
roundly reviled libel law is so blatant that it cannot but be ascribed to
premeditation. It’d take gross ignorance not to realize that the recently
enacted amendment changes nothing, that the 1998 amendment to the 1965
Defamation Law was in itself ludicrous, that the original amendment and its
updated version both matter little. The very portrayal of the latest
legislative adjustment as a freedom-suppressant is so wildly disproportionate
that it reeks of manipulation and ill-will.
The 1998 and current
revisions were both authored by MK Meir Sheetrit, then of the Likud and now of
Kadima. His good intentions evolved into a bad joke. Thirteen years ago
he fixed a NIS 50,000 ceiling on libel awards where no damage is proven (NIS
100,000 where damage has been established). Prior to that, no monetary
limitations existed. Carelessly, Sheetrit stymied judges with a maximum.
All he did now (with the aid of Likud MK Yariv Levin) was to raise said maximum
to NIS 300,000 (double if damage is confirmed).
Would this truly put the
frighteners on the media? Give us a break.
Newspapers on a clear
advocacy-journalism track weren’t intimidated by the NIS 50,000 penalty and can
well afford to risk the increased fine. The law always obliged them to tell the
truth and not to spread lies, certainly not knowingly. That’s basic,
though it hardly curbed the enthusiasm to smear.
The very commotion and
clamor engendered by a largely inconsequential bill attest stridently to our
media’s persistent lack of elementary professionalism and even a semblance of
impartiality. Sheetrit’s repeat initiative hardly merits attention.
Nevertheless, our news outlets don’t react haphazardly.
They cheered the
closing of Arutz 7 as democracy’s triumph but they weep piteously over the Voice
of Peace broadcasting from enemy territory.
In alarming Pravda
unison they loathed all anti-disengagement dissenters but they cuddled and
coddled the past summer’s “social justice” tent protesters.
abuse on Channel 10 when they feared at its inception that it might resemble an
Israeli version of Fox News. But now – Channel 10 having vindicated itself as
yet another left-leaning outfit – they demand in the name of democracy that
taxpayers prop up the operation bankrupted by its own spendthrift
Where our scribblers and talking heads choose to hurl their
invective and where they choose to make nice or keep mum tells all. It’s
invariably very discriminating and very consistent.
Netanyahu was always
their bête noir. He was prime minister when Sheetrit’s first Defamation
Law Amendment passed. That amendment is now pointed to as the laudable status
quo ante, but then it was de rigueur to vehemently decry it as a muzzle on
Like any disciplined canine, these watchdogs
intimidate anyone against whom they’ve been predisposed with a horrific display
of hostility, replete with ear-splitting barks, menacing growls and snapping at
the unfortunate intruder’s heels.
But the identical terror-striking
pooches will jump for joy and lick the faces of “their people” – owners or
trusted allies. Individual targets may vary depending on their allegiances.
Right now the media’s watchdogs bay for Ehud Barak’s blood. Yet they once
groveled in abject submissiveness and unquestioned loyalty before Barak, when he
aggressively rivaled Netanyahu.
Just a couple of years after the shrill
hullabaloo that greeted the 1998 anti-libel amendment, our bow-wows failed to
react to Barak’s attempts to crown himself the nation’s unassailable media czar.
The watchdogs went temporarily off duty, leaving the public barely aware of
All the while Barak postured maddeningly as
democracy’s protector and guardian of its sacred freedoms – out to defuse
societal tensions, prevent violence, promote pluralism, ease access to the
airwaves and reduce overt media politicization.
In that ostensible
spirit, the then-PM’s office drafted legislation to grant the Israel
Broadcasting Authority greater independence – as per Big Brother’s doublethink
To ensure the appearance of equal time and a modicum of fairness
toward all points of view, the IBA executive council traditionally comprised
representatives of all parties – Left and Right, religious and secular. Prime
ministers frequently found that arrangement troublesome. Barak decided to do
something about it, while couching his arguments in positive associations and
He thus set out to replace IBA’s executive with
a board of directors consisting of nominees from artistic, academic and public
circles, all apparently apolitical. Moreover the directors were to be
appointed by a nine-member panel of electors hand-picked by none other than
The first three electors were to hail from the Film
Directors Association, where right-wingers are quite absent, and the next trio
from the Council for Higher Education, where leftist professors abound. Then
Barak proposed two of his own government’s ministry directors- general and a
retired judge he’d name himself. Needless to stress, the facilitated molding of
public opinion was to perpetuate leftist hegemony far down the
Moreover, the bill ostensibly blueprinted to allow the IBA greater
autonomy gave Barak the power to dismiss any board-member, the IBA
director-general or radio and TV directors, at any time and without explanation.
That was yesteryear’s Orwellian plot to depoliticize the IBA.
electoral defeat not interfered, the IBA would have retained no scope for any
sort of freedom – not that there would have been much call for it, assuming that
its challenges to a leftwing coalition would have been minimal.
could at all be passed off as a liberal reform was entirely due to the training
of democracy’s watchdogs. They knew when not to howl. Were Netanyahu,
though, to sponsor Barak’s identical scheme he’d have been mercilessly hounded
and the indignant pandemonium would be deafening.
linked to Netanyahu is anathema and Barak’s personal standing is no exception.
Everything depends on the degree of one’s ardor for the Left’s agenda and
usefulness in implementing it.
That’s why democracy’s watchdogs failed to
bristle their hair, bare their teeth, ominously prick up their ears, bulge their
eyes and loudly alert the whole neighborhood to the plot to hijack the IBA even
further to the left of its habitual perch.
This is still how things are.
As any media mutt worth its chow learns, letting down its guard or raising a
racket isn’t about press freedom but about political/economic
The establishment’s entrenched anti- Netanyahu interests and
big money are at stake. Sometimes it pays to selectively make much ado about
nothing. Hired dogs won’t ever object because they never bite the hand that
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