Media Comment: Agenda’s agenda

Agenda’s radical left-wing agenda is not hidden. It is part of the radical forum Shutafut-Sharakah, made up of extreme groups like The Citizens’ Accord Forum between Jews and Arabs in Israel, Keshev, Shatil and Sikkuy.

By ELI POLLAK
November 30, 2011 22:44
Israelis celebrating Independence Day

Yom Haaztmaut Israeli flag 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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Next week, the Eilat Journalists Conference will convene once again.

For 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.

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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 democracy.

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 measure.

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 social change.”



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 justice.”

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 Avnery.

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 racism.

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 coherently.

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 Agenda.

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 December 4-7.

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 stage.

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 great interest.

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.

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