“The press loves reading about the press... and those corners of it which I
neither understand nor knew about, well, they’re all the more
That incisive observation was not made of Israel’s media,
although one could be excused for assuming so. It belongs to Hugo Rifkind, who
published a column on November 19 in the UK’s Spectator on press
He added: “We’re on the quite frightening cusp of accepting
that media is becoming an organic, twisting thing that nobody can ever quite
understand or control.”
Has Israel’s media twisted out of control, a
version of HAL 9000, the computer villain of 2001: A Space Odyssey
? HAL suffers
from a contradiction: although he is to accurately process information without
distortion or concealment, nevertheless he submits to other, secret
Last year, on July 7, this paper quoted the IBA’s Moshe Negbi,
who stated that Israel’s media were “guilty of promoting one-sided coverage of
the Gilad Schalit story... promoting [an] agenda to garner a ratings boost...
shirking their responsibility toward the public.”
He believed that
commentators in the media were letting their personal beliefs cloud their
Most newspaper, television and radio outlets,
with some exceptions, he asserted, were engaged in “slanted
JPOST VIDEOS THAT MIGHT INTEREST YOU:
THIS PAST week, Israel’s journalists gathered in “emergency”
The message was that the freedom of the press is under attack
by the government and Knesset legislators.
They are incensed over a bill
which calls for increased fines for libel, with no need to prove damage. Worse
yet, the legislation demands prominent publication of the right of reply for
anyone who is criticized.
Such “draconian measures,” they claim, would
silence the media. The “exorbitant” damage payment would jeopardize the economic
foundations of media outlets to the extent that investigative reports would be
stifled for fear of retribution through the courts.
The auditorium in Tel
Aviv was full.
All the “stars” were out. The speeches were full of
pathos, damning the dark powers-that-be, those who would put an end to
There were some contradictions, however. Meirav Michaeli wrote
that “the media are pro-establishment by nature. They identify with
the ruling power, until they don’t, according to their own need for
Was that cognitive dissonance a la HAL? Ilana Dayan spoke at the
conference, admitting in a mea culpa that demonstrations and protests of the
national and religious Right were not covered as were those of the liberal
In the same week yet another serious issue was placed on the
A report by the Knesset’s research unit, initiated by
Independence Party MK Einat Wilf, discussed the possible dangers inherent in the
concentration of media ownership in Israel in the hands of a select and small
group of financial moguls.
Cross-ownership of media outlets, as well as
multiple ownership of businesses and journalistic establishments could lead,
according to the report, to serious distortion of the public’s right to know and
suppression of freedom of expression.
Four business groups – the Ofer
family, the Dankner family, Mossi Wertheim and Yitzhak Tshuva – have holdings in
media companies, including cross-ownership and diagonal ownerships whereby a
company owns shares in a media company and other business interests. A prime
concern is that news coverage could be biased in favor of economic
Cross-ownership weakens the advertising market. During the
discussion in the Knesset this week, drama producer Yariv Horovitz claimed that
Wertheim, who also owns the Israeli Coca Cola franchise, purposely froze
advertising costs on TV so as to lower the expense for the Coca Cola
The press could be used to influence politicians to make
favorable decisions for the other holdings of the same mogul. Hadash MK Dov
Henin spoke wistfully of the days when Israel’s media was owned by the various
political parties. In those days there was more pluralism, and one knew exactly
what the paper’s owners and editors were thinking.
Although the two
issues, of libel legislation and media cross- and multiple ownership would seem
to be different issues, in reality they are two sides of the same coin - the
extent of freedom that the press should have in a democratic
While the need for investigative reporting cannot be denied, if
a reporter honestly errs and clearly admits the error there would be no cause
for a libel suit. The new legal measures apply when the media outlet insists
that it reported the truth and the victim can prove that he was libeled. At
most, the new legislation would force some reporters to finally do their
homework, lest they be forced too often to submit retractions, which could harm
their careers and reputation.
Multiple media ownership can lead to
slanted news coverage. Professor Sam Lehman-Wilzig and Nava Sharvit of Bar Ilan
University published in 1999 a study which showed how Yediot Aharonot
slanted their reports on media companies owned by the conglomerates
“Yediot Tikshoret” and “Hachsharat Hayishuv” which, in turn, own the
The damage to the media consumer in Israel from concentrated
ownership is not the most pressing challenge facing our society. The moguls have
little influence on the public broadcasting stations which make up a sizable
fraction of Israel’s media.
Israel is a very small country. The number of
media outlets is small, so necessarily the number of owners is not big. The TV
business, especially, is necessarily a very expensive one, and Israel’s
advertising market is limited.
Only the very rich can afford the luxury
of owning a TV station - and of absorbing its losses.
The real danger to
Israel’s democracy and freedom of the press comes from the media itself. Dror
Eydar of Yisrael Hayom
observes that in the Israeli media “there are almost no
balanced debates... only the ‘sons of light’ versus the ‘sons of darkness’
...the media has itself become a political player... [with] charlatanism,
anti-intellectualism, silencing of voices, and lack of independent thinking...
There is no desire at all to maintain a balance, hear the voices of people who
think differently, and accord legitimacy to different world views.”
Barkai of Army Radio, who organized the journalists’ meeting, would be well
advised to heed those barely audible voices who insist that freedom of the press
is not a license to willfully attack innocent people.
Nor does it give
him and his friends the right to usurp the media for their own purposes. Such
standards are certainly more dangerous than the not-too-frequent meddling of
some rich owners.The writers are respectively vice chairman and chairman
of Israel’s Media Watch.
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