Media Comment: The media and their icons

Through the use of media tools, the public is told who it should appreciate, who to admire and who it can ignore.

June 19, 2013 22:26
Army Radio reporter conducts interview.

Army Radio reporter conducts interview 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Media outlets report the news. They also serve as a platform for public debate and the exchange of views. Many critics see the media as also managing the news and setting agendas.

“The news” then morphs from being a collection of facts into an opinion-driven manipulation of events. A reporter and his/her editor, if biased, can alter reality.

The academic literature has long recognized that mass media possesses codes and conventions that shape its messages and so construct a sense of the world and how it works. This creativity is employed not only for politics and economics but culture as well. “Media creates culture,” it has been claimed.

In today’s media-saturated world, there really is no “blank canvas” anymore. Through the use of media tools, the public is told who it should appreciate, who to admire and who it can ignore in cultural activities such as art, literature and music. The media creates the icons – the people we are taught to recognize, who last in our collective memory and who we are persuaded have meaning as humans and as citizens of our country.

Last week, two famous authors died. One of them was a novelist and the other wrote religious tracts.

Both sold a large number of their books over a period of decades. Both were household names, albeit in their respective publics.

One of them, Yoram Kaniuk, was born in Tel Aviv, joined the Palmah, was a crew member of a clandestine immigrant ship, studied painting, left Israel in 1951 for Paris, became a sailor, resided in America for a decade, adventured in Mexico, Guatemala and Las Vegas and was twice married. The mother of his children is non-Jewish.

Two years ago, he succeeded in a legal move to change the religion clause on his Israeli identity card from “Jewish” to “no religion” out of solidarity with his non-Jewish grandson. Many of his novels were made into films.

The other was Rabbi Yehoshua Neuwirth. Born in Germany, he fled to Holland during World War II and stayed hidden with his family for three years. During that time he managed to conduct an Orthodox lifestyle despite the Nazi conquest.

He then immigrated to Mandatory Palestine clandestinely by boat.

Rabbi Neuwirth was a Torah scholar, taught in a leading Jerusalem yeshiva and became one of the foremost authorities on the complex laws of Shabbat. His three-volume opus can be found in the libraries of the vast majority of Orthodox Jews across the world irrespective of their religious identity as haredi, national Orthodox or modern Orthodox.

He was also very highly regarded as an expert in medical ethics. He was sought out as a consultant on the design of modern electronic appliances, with an aim to assuring their strict compliance with Jewish law, and many of which assisted the sick. Rabbi Neuwirth was a renowned leader in adapting modern technology for the practice of Torah Judaism.

The number of people attending Rabbi Neuwirth’s funeral vastly outnumbered the number of those attending the funeral of Kaniuk, attesting to the depth of his influence on his appreciative public.

Similarly, in the days following their deaths, the media’s treatment of the two convincingly demonstrated that the media had its cultural favorite.

Israel’s Media Watch reviewed the media during the 24-hour period following Rabbi Neuwirth’s death.

The review included the June 11 radio programs, covering the headlines and four news programs on Galei Tzahal and five central programs on Reshet Bet. No mention was made of his death. Neither the Mabat Channel 1 TV program nor Channel 10 news included an item on him.

The Internet was a bit broader in its coverage. Ma’ariv, Ynet, INN and various religiously-oriented sites mentioned the deaths of both Kaniuk and Neuwirth. To be fair, several of the sites included withering criticism of Kaniuk’s anti-religious attitude as the justification for noting his passing. Sites that ignored Neuwirth but reported on Kaniuk included Haaretz, Globes, Walla, Reshet Bet, Galatz and Calcalist.

This inability of too many of Israel’s media outlets to deal with topics not immediately connected to their own private world is not new. Much criticism has been voiced in studies and at conferences over what is perceived to be the blindness of the media to anything happening outside of Tel Aviv – and some even draw the line from Shenkin Street in north Tel Aviv to Yehudah HaYammit Street, where the Galatz station resides, in the south.

In the past, funerals and for that matter the lives of outstanding Orthodox personalities were completely ignored by mainstream media, as were, until recently, traditional Jewish musicians. Too often, only if a rabbi was involved in a sharp dispute with the secular public did that rabbi “merit” coverage.

Scores of left-wing demonstrators were assured coverage for the most trivial of issues, but tens of thousands visiting the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron are ignored or at most perfunctorily mentioned.

The problem is even more serious when some of the media stations are publicly funded as state-sponsored broadcasters who, by law, are obligated to faithfully represent the pluralism of Israel’s society. They should be providing programming that reflects Israel’s heritage, which does include religion.

In this connection, we are happy to learn that Galatz has made steps to change built-in prejudice.

Galatz’s chief, Yaron Dekel, speaking at the Yesha Council Conference on Public Diplomacy this week, announced that his instruction to alter the test on cultural recognition led to significant change in the social makeup of the incoming cadets. Of 30 recruits to the station, nine, that is, almost one-third, are from the religious sector of the population.

As policies of affirmative action are very much preferred by the liberal camp, we presume that this development will be welcomed by all.

Last year, on March 28, we pointed out that there are too many elements within Israel’s media that suffer from what we termed “cultural autism.” Their general knowledge and education is rather limited, their appreciation of others could use improvement. Rabbi Neuwirth was not only a courageous intellectual, he was a moral example to all.

It is sad that our media does not understand how important it is, especially for our youth, to be exposed to such people. Sadly, we all will pay for this ignorance.

The authors are, respectively, vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (

Please note: In last week’s column, we wrote that a possible reason for the early retirement of senior
Haaretz columnists was fear of not receiving pension funds. Ehud Ein-Gil of the Haaretz staff committee has informed us that Haaretz employees have an arrangement whereby their pension payments are held by an outside company, and that their money is fully insured for them upon their retirement, even if they voluntarily retire, in which case the law does permit the employer to seek the return of those payments, although Haaretz management never has done so.

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