Next week, the Eilat Journalists Conference will convene once again.
three days, the country’s best-known media stars and politicians, as well as a
line-up of guests from abroad and others connected to the media will discuss and
debate their profession in panel and general plenum sessions. The gathering is
considered the top media conclave of the year.
Like last year, one of the
bodies with “cooperative” status is an NGO named Agenda – the Israeli Center for
Strategic Communication. The organization’s main outreach efforts are aimed at
mutual engagement of the media industry with minority groups and the theme of
Its expenditure for these activities came to almost NIS 1.25
million in 2010.
Its nine-member staff works hard, with five individuals
earning a combined salary of NIS 712,000, not excessive by any
Information which is readily available on the internet reveals
that Agenda is financed in part by the European Union – 206,262 Euros were
granted during 2010- 11. Other sources are the Moriah Fund, part of the New
Israel Fund, which provided some $150,000 during 2006-2010. At one point, the
Ford Foundation was also providing Agenda with funding.
But what is
Agenda’s agenda? According to the website, Agenda works “to reprioritize and
reframe social change issues within the Israeli public debate and media.” This
is to be achieved through “a strategic shift in the media’s approach to key
social change issues, while providing strategic tools and consultation services
to social change organizations to improve their work with the media.” Its
overarching goal is to “shape public opinion and lead to social and conceptual
change through the media, through full cooperation with the organizations for
Tikkun, the North American progressive journal, described
Agenda as an organization that was “founded in 2003... to establish a new public
discourse where voices outside of the established mainstream are heard and a
central place is given within the media to issues of peace and social
The executive director of Agenda, Ms. Anat Saragusti, is
an experienced media personality. She was an active journalist and documentary
film director who previously worked for Israel’s Channel 2 news as a senior
correspondent and as a producer/editor for its weekly magazine, “Ulpan Shishi.”
She was a correspondent in Gaza and began her career at the Ha’olam Hazeh weekly
magazine, founded and edited by radical anti-Zionist former MK Uri
AGENDA’S LEFT-wing agenda is not hidden.
It is part of the
radical progressive forum Shutafut-Sharakah, made up of groups from the extreme
Left including the Arab-Jewish Community Center in Jaffa, The Citizens’ Accord
Forum between Jews and Arabs in Israel, Keshev, Shatil and Sikkuy, among others,
which petitioned to fire Army Radio personality Avri Gilad who they accused of
Why is Agenda on the agenda of the journalists’ Eilat conference?
Agenda’s presence at last year’s Eilat Conference was controversial. Its
financial support for the conference was sufficient to have its logo appear
prominently on the conference program. Yet several journalists charged that
Agenda had, with malice aforethought, organized an attack on reporters who are
identified with the political Right during panel discussions. The ruckus raised
from the floor simply prevented them fromvoicing their opinion
The topic of one of the panels was on how language is used to
inject politics into journalism. Members of the panel agreed that Israel’s media
did tend to the Left, selecting terms and buzz words to influence the discourse.
Arutz 7 Executive Director Uzi Baruch attempted to comment from the floor but he
was prevented from doing so, allegedly by journalists affiliated with
In response, Baruch threatened to discontinue his membership in
the Tel Aviv journalists’ association. It was claimed that members of the
audience affiliated with Agenda directed insults of a political tone towards Ms.
Emily Amrousi and Uzi Baruch accusing them of living in “occupied territory” and
being “war criminals.”
Baruch even suggested that the Agenda
representative on the panel had misleadingly quoted findings from a survey
critical of Israel.
In response, Mr. Yossi Bar-Mocha, the executive
director of the journalists’ organization and the main force behind the Eilat
Conferences promised that this year right-wing journalists would be placed in
the various panels of the Eilat conference.
This year’s conference, again
sponsored partially by Agenda, will be held at Herod’s Palace Hotel from
Shalom Kittal, formerly a media consultant for the Labor
Party and executive director of Channel 2 news, is chairman of the Program
Committee. There will be 1,500 guests from Israel and abroad with 30 panel
sessions. The new social media will be a central subject, a spin-off of this
past spring and summer’s events in Israel and Arab countries. Peter Barron of
Google Europe will be a guest of honor.
The conference isn’t cheap. For
someone not a member of the journalists’ association, a room for the three
nights at the conference hotel is between NIS 3,000 and NIS 4,000. At the
Itonaim blog on December 2 last year, Yair Tarchitsky, who had worked at Haaretz
and NRG, expressed unease at the hand-in-glove financial phenomenon behind the
Conference of “you pay, you get your say.”
He felt that that the system
permitted those with cash to muscle their way into the conference and on to the
Dozens of participants though, had their expenses covered by
Agenda and, as noted above, have been accused of silencing views that diverged
from the Agenda agenda.
Over all, the conference appears to be more
concerned with the political sphere rather than professional aspects of the
media and its work. Media accountability for one does not seem to be a topic of
The Israel Broadcasting Authority is not participating in
this year’s conference, casting an uneasy pall over it. On the positive side one
notes that the organizers of the conference have made a conscious effort to
provide more balance in the list of speakers and presenters than in the past few
years. Who knows, but perhaps Agenda will not be setting the agenda next year
and the meeting would truly become a professional one, independent of
ideological color of any sort.The authors are respectively vice chairman
and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch.