MEDIA COMMENT: Is Netanyahu getting fair coverage from the press?

We might just shrug our shoulders and consider this as just another attempt by Ynet to “generate traffic.” Much worse is the conclusion that Ynet cannot be trusted.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu – if they go to trial, how will his corruption trials end? (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu – if they go to trial, how will his corruption trials end?
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Last Tuesday, within minutes of a Ynet report claiming the police initiated a probe into a decade-old stock deal between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cousin Nathan Milikowsky, the Israel Police issued a denial. Despite a policy of not confirming or denying news reports, the police statement explained that in this case a denial was necessary due to the “sensitivity and public significance” of the allegation.
Ynet reporter Eli Senior’s subsequent update was that police investigators were given information which “raised questions” regarding Netanyahu’s stock purchases. Yet, the headline still read “Police probing Netanyahu stock transaction,” when it should have been “Police deny new Netanyahu stock investigation.” The Calcalist website which, like Ynet, is part of the Yediot Ahronot media empire, was not much better, reporting on March 20 that elements within the State Prosecutor’s Office were “deliberating whether to open a criminal investigation.”
Introspection? Not in this case. We might just shrug our shoulders and consider this as just another attempt by Ynet to “generate traffic.” Much worse is the conclusion that Ynet cannot be trusted. The end justifies the means, it seems, with the end in this case being to get rid of Netanyahu. Damning headlines, whether truthful or not, create the noise needed to impress upon someone in the Justice Ministry that it is their duty to leak to the media that there will be an investigation.
Ynet is not alone. There are those that are seeking to prod Justice Ministry employees to find ways to scuttle the appointment of Yariv Levin – an attorney, and the Likud’s current tourism minister – to the post of justice minister. Using Channel 12’s April 13 evening news show, political commissar Amnon Abramovich “jokingly” warned the PM that such an appointment would add another year to his expected jail sentence. This was not an innocent statement. Abramovich and reporter Guy Peleg, who filed the item, know that Levin at the Justice Ministry would probably lead to continuation of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s judicial reform, which could severely curtail their powers and those of their friends.
In the next day’s Ma’ariv, even former Labor Party minister and MK Haim Ramon roundly criticized the pair for their “humor.” He noted the history of successful attempts by the Justice Ministry to derail the appointment of political figures, citing several cases such as former justice minister Yaakov Ne’eman’s dismissal, which was based on false allegations. Ramon demanded that the ministry respond, and it did the next day. Attorney-General Amichai Mandelblit found it necessary to deny any involvement of ministry officials in the appointment of the next justice minister, and Abramovich, confronted on screen by reporter Amit Segal, stressed that he was only “joking.”
Despite such lack of introspection, there is good news. In the past, almost any serious criticism came only from outsiders, such as the writers of this column, who founded and directed Israel’s Media Watch back in 1995, or an occasional but short-lived media critique show. Nowadays, the dam has burst. An increasing number of mainstream media personalities find it necessary to at times voice scathing opinions on the media’s performance. Due in large part to modern social media, the mainstream press has no choice but to become sufficiently pluralistic to allow airing of “other” opinions.
On April 10, Avri Gilad, himself a central media figure who hosts Channel 2’s The World This Morning program, posted his observations on his media peers on Facebook: “Bibi’s victory... is registered in your name... You caused enough damage. You demand that all who fail should pack up and go home... that’s not an option with you, so at least switch channels, and accept the majority’s decision”.
A SECOND EXAMPLE is Channel 2’s Amit Segal. In our February 28 column, we noted a calculated attack on him in Haaretz, where he was pilloried for appearing to espouse pro-Likud commentary.
In contrast to past practices, Segal was given an opportunity to respond in an interview conducted by Ilana Dayan, on her high-profile Uvda (“Fact”) program on April 8. Dayan pressed him on commentators expressing personal viewpoints. Segal’s response was: “When you pronounce your so-called non-objective opinion, you contribute to the overall objectivity of the Israeli media.”
Dayan replied, “Doesn’t this opinion create a lack of journalistic integrity?”
Segal countered, “And is the opinion of all the other commentators supposed to create a lack of journalistic integrity? Why is it that when you [Ms. Dayan] express your opinion about the Supreme Court, about a special legal approach in that court, it is alright?”
Segal continued, “Why is it that no one ever sat opposite Ilana Dayan and asked her ‘How do you live in peace with yourself being an objective journalist but you also express your opinion on the Court?’ And you know why? It’s because you express the ‘proper’ view, that of 95% of Israel’s media. And to them, that view is not strange. Deep in all your hearts, you think that to be a journalist with your opinions is to be completely objective, and to be a journalist like me is illegitimate.”
Dayan noted that Oshrat Kotler was strongly criticized and had to take a leave of absence after she referred to a group of IDF soldiers as “wild beasts.” Segal did not flinch and responded, “If I had called soldiers of the IDF ‘beasts,’ I would have lost my job that very evening.”
There was more introspection. We have noted time and again that pollster Mina Zemach’s predictions are not reliable. But in the aftermath of the failure of the pollsters on election night, the media did not simply relegate itself to the usual “nu-nu?” attitude. On April 11, The Jerusalem Post’s Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman noted, “[Reviewing] the dozens of polls released throughout the campaign, one can see that Channel 12 and Yediot Ahronot pollsters were wrong most of the entire 100 days. They always had Blue and White too high.”
The polling firm was Ms. Zemach’s Midgam. It was not a coincidence that the Zemach polls were invariably in favor of the Blue and White Party whose central goal was to replace Netanyahu.  The identification of polling bias is good news. Perhaps Yediot will have no choice but to employ a more objective outfit.
The change in the media scene has been dramatic. So much so, that Rogel Alpher, in an April 21 Haaretz column, complained that the media are dominated by supporters of a right-wing agenda. He drew up a list of more than a dozen personalities with some surprising names, including Doria Lampel, the KAN evening news anchor. The column was a defense of Amnon Abramovich, who was attacked during the campaign by a Likud TV ad.
Israel Hayom’s Dr. Dror Eydar wrote in a post-election column, “There is no possibility of introspection for people who are convinced with every fiber of their being that they are simply a conduit for the strict reporting of reality as it is, while in fact, they are political activists like everyone else.”
But introspection is becoming legitimate, especially since we have the option to select whose opinions we view, listen to and read.
The writers are members of Israel’s Media Watch,