One of the strong messages the Israeli media has sought to make to those who would, they claim, interfere with and restrain their freedom during the past year was the need for media pluralism. This was the reason given for allowing Channel 10 to continue broadcasting and even providing it with a license for 15 years. This, in spite of the fact that Channel 10 repeatedly violated the law, violated its financial commitments and blackmailed politicians. The same reason was given for providing a further lifeline to the public broadcaster, the IBA.
After decades of mismanagement, employee unions who did all they could to prevent streamlining and cost cutting, and a continuous usurping of the public airwaves by the employees who largely felt that the public broadcasting stations belong to them, it was high time to start a completely new page. But instead of releasing all employees and starting anew, the Histadrut labor federation, together with the media, in the name of pluralism and media independence, demanded and received a stay. The employees remain in place, we the tax payers provide their unnecessary salaries, and can expect more of the same old public broadcaster that has never understood what the word pluralism really means.
The third chapter in this saga, which has unfolded during this past year, was the question of the future of Channel 2. At present, the channel’s entertainment belongs to two concessionaires, Reshet and Keshet, who split the time between them. Channel 2 news is funded by the concessionaires but run by a separate independent public board. In the wake of the Channel 10 fiasco, former communications minister Gilad Erdan and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested that Channel 2 be split into two separate channels. This would have created media pluralism. But the idea was not supported by the media. Channel 2 wanted to remain the way it is. Not surprisingly, what the media wants, it gets. Pluralism is only a nice word, used to bamboozle the public to further the interests of the media, its owners and journalists to the detriment of the media consumers and, we stress, the state’s democratic fabric.
In principle, there should be public oversight over the media’s activities. This is the job of the Second Authority for TV and Radio, which, instead of carrying out its duty to the public, let Channel 10 continue and spit in the eyes of the public. It would have been the SATR’s job to split up Channel 2 and provide us, the public, with pluralism.
In fact, after giving in to Channel 10, SATR’s chairwoman, Ms. Eva Medziboz, publicly announced that she would support the splitting of Channel 2, moving the two concessionaires to receiving broadcasting licenses. Last week it turned out that these were words only, meant to calm an irate public. Medziboz, in a complete volte-face, announced last week that it would be better to allow Reshet and Keshet to continue with their concessions, which will terminate in 2017. Ms. Medziboz now supports non-interference. We suggest that Ms. Medziboz should be serving the public, not the concessionaires.
There is another, even sinister, element linked to the need for pluralism. The natural assumption is that the public will get more information if there are more sources. In a normal country, usually this is true but in Israel, maybe. As noted by veteran columnist Matti Golan in Globes last week, Channel 2 news did not inform the public about the strange goings on in Bank Hapoalim concerning the financial problems of Moti Zisser who was reported to have hired private eyes and attorneys to bring down the bank’s CEO. It also did not mention the recordings of Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, who according to Channel 10, gave out a PR contract to “friends,” a charge vigorously denied by Regev and all those accused.
Golan claims that the blackout has to do with ego. Since the scoops were brought by the competitor, Channel 10, Channel 2 news left its public uninformed. But isn’t Channel 2 news a publicly run news organization? Where was its public oversight committee? Where was Ms. Medziboz in all of this? Media pluralism? Another element in this saga was the recent closing down of the independent Voice of Israel Internet radio broadcaster.
The Voice of Israel, after a year of broadcasting, had to close down at the end of August due to lack of finances. It provided what Israel’s mainstream media failed to do. It had news formulated from an editorial outlook that sought to provide world Jewry, and Israel’s non-Jewish admirers, with news and views not colored by a left-of-center worldview.
It was Jerusalem-based and its 30 person staff included media professionals who declared their Zionism proudly and a good number with a religious orientation. Pro-Israel advocacy and confronting the global pro-Palestinian propaganda was an agenda item. It reached audiences in 170 countries. Among its 14 regular program hosts were Daniel Seaman, Yishai Fleisher, Josh Hasten, former MK Dov Lipman, Eve Harow, Gil Hoffman, Dan Diker and Judy Lash Balint.
As its CEO Glen Ladau was quoted, “There’s just this disconnect between Israel and the Diaspora. They can read the news and the other English sources, but it wasn’t giving people a real connection.”
Diker, who hosted a show that focused on National Security, said, “It truly revealed the real Israel, showing it inside out... and I think it is a great tool to fight delegitimization of Israel.
It really revealed Israel as a Jewish state with great sensitivity to other cultures and peoples.”
Critical voices were not denied airing and prominent left-of-center politicians and public personalities were invited into the studios.
It was, however, a reverse image of Israel’s broadcast media. The censorious, condemning and negative fault-finding standard of Israel’s media was replaced by something positive, Zionist in its nature.
Excluding the IBA’s very short English daily TV show that will probably disappear shortly, our media fails those abroad who listen and watch via website streaming. The mainstream foreign affairs commentators either cannot grasp the intricacies of global politics and military affairs or are themselves part of the “progressive” camp.
One need not be a truth-denier to find good things to say about Israel or to highlight the many advances its citizens are responsible for in the fields of science, culture, social action, archaeology and hi-tech business and much more. The closing down of the Voice of Israel is a loss for true pluralism, perhaps that is why the media largely ignored it and did very little to try and help save the station.
We, the public should start getting used to receiving our news from sources such as the Voice of Israel. As Israel’s Media Watch has been stressing, we can all listen to Internet radio in our cars, using a simple wire to connect our smartphones to the “aux” outlet in the car radio – IMW supplies it for free. In this coming year, all of us should become part of this revolution; by listening to other sources we can create true media pluralism.The authors are vice chairman and chairman respectively of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il).