At the Edinburgh International Television festival on August 23, Jon Snow, England’s Channel 4 News presenter, delivered the 2017 James Mac-Taggart memorial lecture. Snow had recently been in a bit of trouble. He was caught shouting a profanity against the Tories this past June at another festival in Glastonbury, an act that compromised his professional ethical duty to maintain a semblance of objectivity.
Snow was rather forthright, saying in Edinburgh that media people have been taught these last two years that “we all know nothing.” The digital media has not “connected us any more effectively with those “left behind – the disadvantaged, the excluded.”
He explained, “The mostly London-based media pundits, pollsters and so-called experts, have got it wrong – the Brexit referendum… [US President Donald] Trump… [the UK] general election.” His conclusion was astonishing: “We in the media are comfortable with the elite, with little awareness, contact, or connection with those not of the elite.”
He illustrated the ignorance by noting that when he Googled “Grenfell Tower” – the British apartment tower that burned in June, killing close to 100 people – a blog post was found from eight months prior to the disaster, not penned by any journalist, that highlighted the dangers of the building.
“The echelons from which our media are drawn do not, for the most part, fully reflect the population among whom we live and to whom we seek to transmit information and ideas,” he declared.
Anyone who has been following our columns regularly knows that our criticism of Israel’s own media elite, the branja, pinpoints those very themes with one major addition of our own: the decidedly Left-leaning political bias and liberal cultural partisanship.
Another insight was provided by Conrad Black, writing in The National Review in mid-August, after viewing Copy, Jacob Bernstein’s documentary life of his mother, Nora Ephron. He came away with “a much clearer picture... of the force, attractiveness and danger of that talented cultural, media and entertainment world of which she was such a prominent figure.” It gave him “a clear view of their collective self-absorption… [They] believe[d] that their media and entertainment world is, in effect, the real world, a world of great power and influence and virtue – and much the most interesting world of any.”
That, too, resonates with Israel’s own branja. We maintain that they display, as Black said about North America’s media elite, “the vulgarity, vacuity, and reckless contempt for the public and for any notion of duty to reflect society with balance and integrity…” They demonstrate they can be “a group of anti-theistic, ultra-materialistic, narcissistic poseurs, hedonists of self-celebration.”
The question is: Is there an alternative?
In an August 20 BuzzFeed report called “The Rise of Israel’s Right-Wing Media,” Miriam Berger writes Channel 20’s TV program “The Patriots.” She sees it as “trying to model itself after Fox News.” In her perception, “more often than not, they argue over whether Israel’s politics are right-leaning enough.”
She is perceptive enough to know that “for years, Israel’s Hebrew-speaking media was dominated by a relatively centrist, liberal press,” but “now overtly rightwing media figures…are increasingly normal. They proudly air their politics – and broadcast a more religious nationalist and populist agenda for Israel.” Disparagingly, she adds that this is part of a “similar progression” to “the rise of so-called alt-right media” in US politics.
YET, ISRAELIS are also quick to point out that actually we here have been a harbinger for the US – and the anti-liberal, “strongman” wave that turbulently swept through much of the Middle East and Europe. Back in 2015, most of Israel’s feisty media predicted that Netanyahu would lose the general elections. He won and hasn’t stopped gleefully reminding journalists since. This coincided with a majority of Israelis feeling that the media was untrustworthy, with a leftist bias. Together with technological advances, it also led to a growth in more overtly partisan media outlets.
Unfortunately, instead of being a professional neutral observer, Berger writes that Israel’s “media is changing… reflecting tensions at the heart of the country’s politics and society” as if the assertion that for decades the media was slanted to the Left was the preferred situation. She quotes Oren Persico of The Seventh Eye that “the media is just another front for this confrontation between the old secular elites who are Center-Left and the new elites of religious Right.”
Persico disputes the claim that Israel’s media has a left-wing bias, making it clear to all that he is not exactly an objective observer of Israel’s media. Berger then quotes Erel Segal of Channel 20: “Nobody believes in objectivity anymore.” The bottom line of Berger is that Israel does have an alternative today.
We feel that the competition between the various news outlets need not be politicized and rooted in ideological outlooks. True, too often, we have seen the same type of journalist move from Galei Tzahal to Channel One and then on to Channels Two and Ten as well as into the print media. More often than not, they simply replicate the type of questions they will be asking (heavily anti-Netanyahu rather than anti-government) and the topics they’ll be covering (usually the “occupation”) over the reality that is the real news.
They will continue to oppress various minorities that will rarely be provided with platforms or afforded a sense of normalcy – such as women, immigrants, especially from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, Arabs and haredim. But they will staunchly defend the illegal immigrants living in southern Tel Aviv at the expense of the Israelis living there legally. After all, the illegals are mostly black and political correctness says that black is always right.
Too much attention is paid to fashion and food – all too expensive. The media will be sympathetic to the invalids who have been violating the law, obstructing traffic and getting away with it, all in an attempt to take more money out of the taxpayers. They will never seriously question the invalid’s morals and outright violations of the law as they did to the Gush Katif demonstrators who tried to do just the same – obstruct the traffic.
At this point, Channel 20 is the beginning of an alternative, but it is far from being sufficient. The blogs, tweets and various websites providing alternative news and opinion are part of the solution, but also not sufficient. We will know that Israel’s media had changed on the day that the prime minister is pressed with questions about his lack of faithfulness to his voters.
If the result is that Netanyahu will then actually reconsider and keep his electoral promises, then we will know that the media has changed.
Is this possible? Yes, but only if the public is sufficiently vociferous in its demand for such a change.The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imediaw.org.il).