Media Comment: Seeking genuine media independence

After 71 years, we deserve independence from biased, strident, expensive and failed media purveyors who also engage in negative misrepresentation.

May 9, 2019 23:00
Galatz army radio

A SOLDIER from Army Radio at the station in 2013.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

George Orwell, writing on September 1, 1944, in the Tribune, a left-wing British magazine dominated by Communist Party officials, had “a message” for his fellow left-wing journalists and intellectuals: “Do remember that dishonesty and cowardice always have to be paid for. Don’t imagine that for years on end you can make yourself the boot-licking propagandist of the Soviet regime, or any other regime, and then suddenly return to mental decency. Once a whore, always a whore.”

That came to mind while reading Gideon Levy’s op-ed column this past Sunday in Haaretz. In between Passover – the Jewish holiday of freedom – Holocaust Remembrance Day, Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars, and Israel’s Independence Day, Levy, always the provocateur, wrote of the “Gaza Ghetto Uprising.” This is a phrase he first uttered the previous evening in a debate with Likud MK Yoav Kisch while on a panel of Channel 12’s Meet the Press program. He repeated it the following day on Kan TV 11.

Levy didn’t ignore the violence originating from Gaza but simply spun it this way: “You can make claims against Hamas but you can’t make any claims against Gaza. It’s fighting for its freedom and no struggle is more just than its struggle, and Hamas is its leader.” Israel, “with its own hands,” has built a large “ghetto.”

Levy is not just a columnist for Haaretz; he is a member of the newspaper’s editorial board, a former deputy editor, and sets out its editorial line.

In the Israel of 2019, assuredly there is a free press, and freedom of opinion is a staple of our democracy. Yet part of this freedom is the right and even the duty of the public to castigate those who exploit outrageous comparisons with Nazi-linked phraseology. Just as Meir Kahane was disinvited from the various media channels, so should Levy and his cohorts be. Levy can continue to make his self-hatred known but why do our television or radio consider it acceptable to provide him a stage for his extremism? Why not free our media from all extremism, from the Right and the Left.

In the United States, the media itself have raised the banner of a major pushback against a culture of rhetoric weaponized by politicians that they perceive is causing a rift in American society. Likewise, here in Israel, we should protest what has become an increasing effort by certain media sources to corrupt public discourse. These “media stars” seek to become extremists with a license, pushing the language and the themes not for their content value but for the “noise” they generate.

Levy is not alone. We have often noted in this column the Nazi rhetoric of Haaretz related to Education Minister Naftali Bennett. But it is not only such rhetoric which is bothersome. On Sunday, at 5:45 p.m. on the Kan TV Channel 11, Dov Gil-Har interviewed seven-year old Lihi Shenfaff and her mother. Lihi had written a letter to Gaza hoping to interest people there to halt their rocket fire and consider a more peaceful approach. Lihi was asked by Gil-Har if she knew what Hamas wanted. Without hesitation, Lihi replied, “They want from us the Land of Israel.”

QUITE POSSIBLY Gil-Har was taken aback by Lihi’s forthrightness but his reaction exposed his bias. “That could very well be,” he retorted. He found it necessary to reformulate the remark of a seven-year-old as if to suggest doubt that she could be right. Gil-Har knows that Lihi’s assertion is exactly what is written in the Hamas Covenant: All of “Palestine” must be emptied of its Jews. Gil-Har is not ignorant but he is rather prejudiced, finding it necessary to cast doubt on a child’s remark only to protect his liberal, anti-national agenda. His thoughts are his right, but why do we need to suffer them on a publicly-funded TV station?

During this past week many in the media took advantage of the last round of fighting against Hamas to emphasize how important it is for the government to realize the huge damage inflicted if, heaven forbid, the Eurovision were to be canceled as a result of the security situation. The state-owned Kan TV is not an innocent party, as it produces the Eurovision, and made sure that a special correspondent based at the Eurovision rehearsal hall, Shani Nahshoni, would ask everyone she could if they were frightened to be in Israel.

Somehow, though, the scare tactics did not work. Ya’akov Bardugo, for example, on last Sunday’s Army Radio 5 p.m. news program, excoriated this vile attempt to scare Israel from defending itself only for the purpose of holding the Eurovision contest. So Kan TV changed its strategy. Instead of calling for consideration of the Eurovision, they made sure on Sunday at 11 p.m., with the help of their European correspondent, to emphasize that no one in Europe was even mentioning the Eurovision in connection with the Gaza fighting. Perhaps they were hoping that by continuing to mention the contest in the context of the ongoing war that someone would “wake up.” For the state-run TV, the Eurovision Song Contest is more important than the safety and security of Israel’s citizens.

We also should note that no one has mentioned that the Eurovision is being held during Sefirat Ha’omer. The historical mourning period recalls the Bar-Kochba fighters who died in the revolt against Rome, as well as those Jews slaughtered in Western Europe due to the Crusades. Jews who preserve the tradition will not be able to “enjoy” this spectacle.

The truth is that the Eurovision is very expensive and is not bringing in the expected results. As we know, ticket sales have been rather slow and hotel room reservations mediocre. Had the Kan conglomerate been forced to finance the song contest, it would not have taken place as it is not a financially viable operation.

Let’s make this a bit clearer: The cost of Eurovision is expected to come to more than 100 million shekels. Consider the income that Kan makes from advertisements on Saturdays, the Jewish festivals and Independence Day. It is not more than 10 million shekels per annum. It is high time for Kan’s management and for us, the public, to be asked what is a better investment of public funds – a one-time Eurovision contest or a festive atmosphere every Shabbat and festival without advertisement income? 

As part of its demands for entering the coalition, the National Union religious party has put up for negotiation the dissolution of Army Radio. We would like to see this as part of a process in which the Israeli public receives our independence from the media’s anti-democratic hold on our airwaves. Even better would be the disbanding of the failed Kan conglomerate.

After 71 years, we deserve independence from biased, strident, expensive and failed media purveyors who also engage in negative misrepresentation.

The writers are members of Israel’s Media Watch,

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