More than just a storm in a teacup

Now Neubach is under fire again, the main criticism against her is that she has a “strange” inclination to be critical of the government.

July 29, 2012 21:25
4 minute read.

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Keren Neubach is a talented, bright, hard-working and professional media personality. Though politically she is inclined to the Left, no one ever doubted her intellectual honesty, or claimed only rightwing politicians are targeted in her criticism.

However, it is the Right that is in power today, and it was the Right that was in power in 2004 as well, when Neubach was removed from her position as political reporter on Channel 1 by then-director-general of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, Yosef Bar’el. The main criticism against Neubach then, as it is today, was that she has a “strange” inclination to be critical of the government, something that the right-wing government apparently cannot stomach.

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Neubach’s career in public broadcasting was not terminated in 2004, and she was allowed to continue to broadcast as a presenter, both on TV and the radio – a not totally unwelcome development as far as she was concerned.

However, in November 2011, Neubach was once again removed – this time as presenter for Channel 1 TV’s investigative Mabat Sheni (“Second Glance”) program. The (lame) excuse given? She is not photogenic (in Hebrew the term used was: lo overet masach – does not go over well on screen), though it was clear that her photogenic qualities were not the issue.

Now Neubach is under fire again; the current director of Kol Yisrael, Michael Miro, has decided to add “a balancing presenter” to her popular daily radio program Seder Yom (“Agenda”) on Reshet Bet of Kol Yisrael. Seder Yom deals with current social and economic issues.

Though I usually tune in to the classical music station while driving, I frequently switch to Reshet Bet when the reception of the music station is disturbed, and so I occasionally find myself listening to Neubach’s program. While I have invariably found the program interesting, I must admit I have reservations regarding Neubach’s inclination – which is very typical of Israeli TV and radio presenters – to interrupt those she is interviewing if she happens to disagree with what they are saying.

In fact, I resent this phenomenon to such an extent that last Friday night, when the presenter of Ulpan Shishi, Danny Kushmaro, kept interrupting Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, who was trying to defend the new economic decrees, I actually felt sympathy for the beleaguered Steinitz, who continued bravely to struggle to defend his policies, and to end his sentences.

Having said all this, nothing justifies Miro’s actions. Firstly, adding a “balancing presenter” to a successful program, the success of which is largely due to its existing presenter, is simply not professional. Short of removing the program you feel is not balanced politically (or which irritates your bosses), you can either have alternate presenters on the same program, or you can create a separate program that will deal with the same issues from another point of view.

In fact, if it were not for the fact that Miro is apparently intent on infuriating Neubach to the point that she will decide to resign, he could learn a lesson or two from the Knesset Channel (Channel 99), where there are presenters from all sections of the political spectrum, each of whom presents issues on the agenda from a different political vantage point. The result is quite incredible, turning the viewing of the Knesset Channel, whose budget is fully covered by the Knesset itself, into a fascinating experience.

The second problem with what Miro did is his choice of “balancing presenter.” Apparently Miro did not have a large number of right-wing presenters to choose from. In fact, several of the candidates expressed their disapproval of the move on ethical grounds. But the final choice – the highly controversial publicist, poet and literary critic Menachem Ben – was no less than scandalous. Ben likes to play the role of provocateur.

For example, he openly stated on Big Brother VIP, in which he participated in 2009, that he seeks to outlaw homosexuality, denies that Aids exists as a disease, and rejects the theory of evolution (all this is recorded in video clips online). In short, Ben does not miss an opportunity to make provocative statements that are anything but politically correct.

Haaretz publicist Benny Zipper has termed Ben a sort of clownish idiot-savant, who as such has an important role to play in society, in that he is able to uncover various manifestations of human hypocrisy, and reach non-conformist conclusions, without his fearing the consequences, even though one must add that this has led on several occasions to his being fired from various positions that he held.

But what on earth does Miro expect Ben to contribute to Keren Neubach’s program (which Ben admits he never even heard before making his debut on it a week ago Sunday) except turn it into a freak show, and drive Neubach up the wall?

At the time of this writing, it is not clear how this whole episode will end. Neubach has reacted with a partial strike, and her supporters have been demonstrating outside the Kol Yisrael studios, but whether Michael Miro will go the whole way and fire her, or reverse his decision, only time will tell. However, in so far as he is Binyamin Netanyahu’s man, and has supposedly coordinated his moves with him, one cannot help wondering what the prime minister’s plans are for the public Broadcasting Authority.

The writer teaches at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College and was a Knesset employee for many years. She is a senior strategic adviser to President Shimon Peres.

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