Media Comment: Informing less but influencing more

WHY DID the media need to wait for last Thursday evening’s press appearance by Netanyahu for Liberman’s record vis-à-vis the haredim to be set out before the public?

June 5, 2019 22:22
WILL THEY laugh again in a few weeks? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Liberman

WILL THEY laugh again in a few weeks? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Robin Blom published her study, “Believing false political headlines and discrediting truthful political headlines” in the September issue of Journalism. It dealt with news and media literacy. The Indiana Ball State University academic found that there is a need to “improve much needed critical thinking skills” on the part of the media consumer. Our columns have always sought to push them to fulfill their own personal responsibilities as concerned citizens.

Blom drew an additional conclusion: that headlines are essential signals for news audiences who usually skim them to select the stories that truly interest them. Moreover, headlines are “even more important on social media, as there is usually no space for additional information.”
There is a paradox here. News outlets in Israel have multiplied over the last two decades, supposedly increasing pluralism. Reporters, readers and presenters of previously marginalized sub-groups are now front-and-center, and with the tools of Twitter and such, mainstream media is significantly challenged. Nevertheless, the old problems do not disappear.

For example, after the failure of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to form a government coalition, he lashed out at who he perceived was his main stumbling block: Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman, calling him a “leftist.” Stung, Liberman replied: “How can he call a resident of Nokdim [a community in Gush Etzion] that?” A few reporters pushed his message to highlight Netanyahu’s lack of credibility when it comes to facts.

Thanks to Aaron Lerner of Independent Media Review and Analysis (IMRA), we were able to locate a statement of Liberman reported in this newspaper on February 28, 2009. In an interview for The Washington Post he declared that he is “willing to evacuate his home in the settlement of Nokdim if a peace deal involving a two-state solution is reached with the Palestinians” – even if he personally did not believe in the possibility of that occurring.

Many residents of Judea and Samaria may be of similar opinion. Willingness to leave Yesha areas may not be a clear dividing line between Left and Right in Israeli politics, yet the least that would have been expected from the media is to remind the public that Liberman did proclaim a willingness to vacate Judea and Samaria.

Arguably, this position does justify to some extent Netanyahu’s accusation. It would seem that the clash between Liberman and Netanyahu is too good a news development to be considered factual. It sells papers. The plethora of news sources did not force the mainstream media to actually consider the veracity of the comments of either side. Information is not the strong side of our media nowadays.

WHY DID the media need to wait for last Thursday evening’s press appearance by Netanyahu (and yes, it is a shame that he doesn’t take questions) for Liberman’s record vis-à-vis the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) to be set out before the public? Where was the media to remind the public of his promises to eliminate Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh of Gaza, which went unfulfilled; of his demand for the death penalty that was not actualized? The mainstream media used Liberman to attack Netanyahu, to question his veracity. This was a clear case of manipulation and agenda-setting replacing decent reporting and commentary.

That the media can make or break a story is a well-known truth, but the opposite is less evident: how many stories have been killed – spiked in journalese jargon – that we never learn about?
The situation of Christians living in territories governed by the Palestinian Authority, for example, is an important issue. In the first place, Christians could, and should, be Israel’s allies. Given the attacks on Christians across the Middle East, as well as most recently in Sri Lanka, Israel’s media should by paying close attention to what is happening to this other non-Muslim minority in the Middle East. The disproportionate assistance for Israel of America’s Evangelical Christians – as well as those in Europe, South America and Southeast Asia – is a fact. One might then think that Middle Eastern Christians would be a natural topic for editors to assign to reporters.

Indeed, what has been happening recently that could be newsworthy?

In Dr. Edy Cohen’s report, issued on May 27 by the BESA Center, we learn that he fears there is a real possibility that Christianity could disappear in the place where it emerged. He notes three events either underreported or ignored by the Israeli media.

ON APRIL 25, residents of the Christian village of Jifna near Ramallah sought protection from the PA after being attacked by Muslim gunmen. In response, dozens of Fatah gunmen came to the village, fired hundreds of bullets in the air, threw petrol bombs and caused damage to public property. On May 13, the Maronite church in Bethlehem was desecrated and vandalized, and expensive equipment, including the security cameras, was stolen. Days later, the Anglican Church in Abud village, west of Ramallah, had its fence cut, windows broken and equipment stolen.

All three of Israel’s main television networks employ a full-time “territories” correspondent, or alternatively, an “Arab affairs” reporter. They enter Areas A and B. They usually have no compunction in asking about “delicate” issues of those they interview. They even infiltrate Jewish Hebron and hilltop youth communities. Should not this issue be attractive enough for an in-depth story?
Another “missing from the media” aspect is the voice of the Arab community in Israel.

The “Seventh Eye,” self-described as an “investigative magazine devoted entirely to Journalism [and] the Media” – and since 2015, independent from its former left-wing sponsor, the Israel Democracy Institute – published on June 1 Oren Persico’s report about the appearance of Arab Israelis in the media. His findings for May 19-25 showed that out of 3,100 “speaking individuals” on the main current affairs TV and radio programs, only 94, or 3%, were Arabs. Arab residents of Jerusalem’s eastern neighborhoods and the areas of Judea and Samaria were not included.

As he points out, Arabs make up some 20% of Israel’s citizenry. The ongoing survey is sponsored by the Sikkuy NGO, which “advanc[es] civic equality,” together with the Ifat business information company. Persico notes that out of the 23 programs in mainstream media surveyed, Arabs were missing completely from 12. The networks reviewed are Kan, channels 12 and 13 television news, and Gal Galatz radio. The previous week, May 12-18, only 1.4% were Arabs interviewed or participating in talk shows.

If Israel’s media is to serve the public, to inform and to act as an agent for the promotion of inter-communal discourse, this level of representation is inexcusable. It would be interesting to know if a similar survey is being conducted regarding the haredi population and that of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. This becomes especially important in view of the forthcoming election.

We do not expect the media to “repent,” certainly not prior to an election campaign in which, we predict, they will do their utmost to bring down the prime minister for all the wrong reasons. But the least we can do is proclaim: media consumer beware – the headline you are reading is not innocent.

The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch (

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