Many a moon ago, when I was employed at Fox News in New York, I had the privilege of working with many gifted people, both in front of and behind the camera. One of the people I never got to work with directly was Neil Cavuto, Fox’s head business honcho, and I regret that. Not only is Neil a great person to work for (according to every person on his team I knew) but he has a rare gift which is overlooked by many in the news industry: he knows how to explain financial matters in ways everyone can understand.
Not only that, Cavuto knows how to conduct an interview with top financial players and get the bottom line out of them.
The reason I’m mentioning this is that it should be clear to everyone following the coverage of the “cottage cheese uprising” over the past week or so that the Israel media desperately needs a Neil Cavuto, and perhaps much more.
Since this consumer-organized boycott of cottage cheese began, we have
been inundated with articles, TV packages and political statements about
how it started, where it’s headed and so on.
But after following the various reports, I have yet to see any which
really explains the phenomenon in a way that the average man can
To be fair, it’s important to point out the paradox of financial news.
On one hand, it’s complicated, but on the other it can be the most
important news of the day, as these stories can often affect people’s
wallets. That’s something every good newsperson knows should be
reported. The reason it’s complicated is obvious. Explaining any
business market in layman’s terms is not easy. There are dozens of
factors and statistics involved. Throw in complex terminology and
acronyms like interest rates, currency values and GDP, and you’ve lost
most of your readers/viewers before you even get started.
Journalists must sift through the numbers and jargon while clarifying
what they mean to the reader. One of the Israeli papers splashed a
headline on its front page this past weekend: “Israel is more expensive
than the US by 30%.”
After reading the article, which was based on data from the Organization
for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD), I found the
headline to be inaccurate.
The OECD’s report measures how much it costs to live in member countries
based on the price of certain food and housing prices. If anything, the
30% figure should be higher, as transportation costs in Israel (i.e.
gas, cars, public transportation etc.) are considerably higher than in
the US. Another article I read asserts that the problem is not the
prices for goods & services, but the fact that in Israel wages are
relatively lower than in other European countries, and that adjusting
incomes is an easier task than adjusting prices.
This is an oxymoron disguised as news. It stands to reason that if
employers, including manufacturers, are forced to increase wages,
they’ll have to raise the prices of their products to maintain their
profit margin. The folks who’ll be affected by this half-baked concept
will be the seniors and unemployed, who won’t get more money but will be
paying more for products.
The term “bottom line” is the key to the whole issue – the profits for
the manufacturers and the supply chain (i.e. delivery companies,
retailers etc.) and the government’s income from taxes. It’s in
everyone’s interest to keep prices high – except for the customer.
Simply put, the more consumers are charged, the more revenue everyone
gets, including our government ministries. While there is plenty of
anger toward the manufacturers, in a “free market” economy it’s hard to
tell a company it must lower its profit margin. The government should be
a different story.
The wise men and women in Jerusalem work for the people, but when it
comes to financial issues they seem to forget that. It was recently
reported that the Treasury took in NIS 91 billion in taxes for the first
five months of 2011 –10 billion more than for the same period last
year, and 1.5 billion more than it projected.
Yet the VAT is a whopping 16%.
There would be riots in the streets if any state in the US had such a
rate. The Israeli media must rise to the challenge of fighting the
consumer war – even if it means starting some new initiatives.
Boycotting is a great way of affecting manufacturers, but let’s face it,
they have us over a barrel, especially if the government remains
passive. This leaves only one real option: targeting the retailers.
There might not be a lot of manufacturers in Israel, but there are many,
many stores selling the same products, and this is where buyers have
Customers must have the information laid out in an easy-to-understand
and search format. If someone wants to buy a new computer, there needs
to be a publication or website which will explain, not just where they
can get the best deal, but also explain a product’s strengths and
weaknesses, while supplying an impartial professional evaluation.
Retailers who charge exorbitant amounts will begin to think twice before
they mark up; if they don’t reduce their profit margin, they will be
out of business.
It’s as simple as that.
In addition, our lawmakers must be forced to explain to the Israeli
people why they feel overflowing treasury coffers is more important than
the ever-growing number of people living below the poverty line due to
high taxes. When they tell of their proposed changes, they must be
publicized and followed up on for all consumers to read.
This kind of information should not be relegated to a weekly
supplement;it must be made available online on a regular, constantly
updated basis. With media outlets always looking for new sources of
income, you’d think someone would pounce on the opportunity. Who knows,
maybe someone will take up the challenge and transform the “cottage
cheese uprising” into an all-out consumer revolution.
It’s about financial activism, and making a better life for ourselves. I believe that’s something Neil Cavuto would appreciate.The writer is an independent media consultant and a former producer at the Fox News Channel in New York.