Photojournalists photographers journalists reporters 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The New York Times’ public editor, the in-house supervisor, stirred up the media
this week by questioning whether the press has a responsibility to ensure that
the truth is printed. Arthur Brisbane raised the issue, musing about whether or
not it is appropriate for an objective journalist to “take sides” by noting that
someone lied. He also suggested that a reporter who points out a falsehood is
actually a “truth vigilante.”
In an appended note, Jill Abramson, the
paper’s executive editor, was forced to note that the question Brisbane was
addressing was actually “whether the Times, in the text of news columns, should
more aggressively rebut ‘facts’ that are offered by news-makers when those
‘facts’ are in question.” In other words, are newspapers or news broadcast
really trustworthy? According to Abramson, “some voices crying out for ‘facts’
really only want to hear their own version of the facts.”
we suggest, is that even for such an elite news organ like The New York Times
objectivity is no longer perceived as an ethical obligation.
debate is likely to spill over to Israel, and some of our biased journalists
will jump at the opportunity to “prove” that their behavior is now no longer
considered as unethical or unprofessional.
Whereas the Times
is a private
newspaper, most electronic broadcasting outlets in Israel are regulated by law.
Israel has a detailed code of ethics that clearly rejects the post-modernist and
relativistic viewpoint expressed by Brisbane. The question in Israel is
not one of principle but one of practice. Will Israel’s regulators and ombudsmen
continue to act in their usual derelict manner as a new threat assumes major
The three major electronic broadcasters, the IBA, the Second
Authority for TV and Radio (SATR) and Army Radio, which include three television
networks and over 20 radio stations, are overseen by Elisha Shpiegelman (IBA),
David Regev (SATR) who most recently replaced Giora Rozen, and Oded Levinson
(Army Radio-Galatz). All three have backgrounds in journalism.
serves both as ombudsman and as an anchor for an economic program broadcast on
Galatz, creating a conflict of interest. Rozen, for the past year, was
working simultaneously as the executive director of an NGO and a part-time
ombudsman of SATR, also creating a conflict of interest.
problem, though, is the ineffectiveness of these judges of media
ethics. Their decisions are too often questionable. Even when they
do find a complaint to be justified they either lack the means or the will to
take action to right the wrongs. They are also, too often, notoriously slow in
Examples abound. Last week, Ohad Chemo of Channel 2
informed his audience that right-wing extremists had uploaded a photoshopped
picture of a sleeping IDF officer with his head replaced by that of a dog. The
outrage and disgust were palpable. But the picture was three years old and from
a Facebook account portraying a Purim-themed album having nothing at all to do
with “settlers.” Yonit Levy, the anchor, issued a “clarification,” not an
apology. The ombudsman did not order an investigation of Mr. Chemo for poor
journalism, nor has the authority publicly reprimanded him. Media
accountability? No way!
On the night of the Fogel family massacre, Army Radio
continued its regular programming, which included a light entertainment program.
At the same time many people in Israel who do not listen to the news on Shabbat
were being exposed to the tragic events for the first time. One might think that
Galatz would show some sensitivity. A complaint made on March 13, the day after,
was finally answered by Levinson, after repeated inquiries as to the delay, only
three months later. To add fuel to the fire, Levinson’s answer justified the
station’s decision, claiming that a poll made years previously showed that the
public does not desire a change in programming.
Last year, a late-night
Army Radio program for Tu Bishvat was full of references to “grass” and
“consciousness-expanding aids.” Levinson rejected a complaint that the army
radio station Galatz especially should not tolerate even the semblance of
support for drug use. He claimed it was all “humorous,” but said the station was
sorry if the joke was misunderstood.
When an ombudsman knows that a
complaint is justified but for whatever reason does not want to admit it, the
standard policy is to ignore the “inconvenient” parts. On November 11, Arieh
Golan conducted a long interview with attorney Michael Sfard, the legal adviser
of the post-Zionist Yesh Din organization. Sfard, in a lengthy monologue,
explained that settler claims that their land does not belong to Palestinians
are just “white noise.” Mr. Golan followed that up with an interview with Eitan
Brosh, the Defense Ministry official responsible for uprooting settlements and
outposts in Judea and Samaria. No representative of the settlers was given the
opportunity to present his or her views, but a complaint about that fact was
Of course, not every complaint is accurate or justified.
Viewers and listeners sometimes misunderstand what they observe and
hear. But combining weak or even unwilling oversight and
less-than-effective punishment with cross-ownership seriously erodes the quality
of the news we consume. It is high time that the overseers do the job for which
they are paid, media review, not media defense.The authors are
respectively the vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch,