Media comment: Don’t let the media judge itself

Ominously, the opinion polls seemed to reflect more the opinions of media personalities, executives and editors as well as the owners of media outlets than those of the man in the street.

Media comment (photo credit: REUTERS)
Media comment
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In the wake of the collapse of the election- day exit polls, and the subsequent piranha-like mutual frenzy of media rivals following the Likud victory, James Taranto, writing in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, provided a bit of consolation, if not encouragement. He noted that American experts also flopped. For example, Sam Wang of the Princeton Election Consortium had tweeted on Monday that “Netanyahu staying PM seems hard. I’ll stay w/ 3-1 odds against.” Paul Waldman of The Washington Post wrote, “There is a real possibility that Benjamin Netanyahu will lose.”
That American professionals are no better than their Israeli counterparts is nice to know, but the real problem is that those polls, ordered and paid for by central media outlets, developed a Golem-like aspect and, for all intents and purposes, took over the reporting platform. They were the story rather than being commentary. Almost all coverage began to revolve around the numbers and percentages.
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Ominously, the opinion polls seemed to reflect more the opinions of media personalities, executives and editors as well as the owners of media outlets than those of the man in the street. Too many in the media were dancing around themselves in a closed circle. As Raviv Drucker of Channel 10, who did all he could to bring about the downfall of Netanyahu, freely admitted, “Maybe we live in la-la land.”
Amir Teig, writing in Haaretz on March 23, was even more critical, claiming that the country’s media outlets “have now come to understand the extent to which the public is hostile to them...the campaign revealed the one-dimensional character of the media and a sense that the media believe they know what’s best for their own audiences.”
The important issues facing the public, such as the local and international situation, analysis of economics and of defense matters, the relationship with the Palestinian Authority and more were shuffled to the background. Even some of the background of members of the new 20th Knesset, such as the Bulgarian hotel manager job held by the Likud’s Oren Hazan, a resort that also had a casino, was ignored. The media not only reflected its own biases but was shallow as well. It simply did not provide the information the public needed to make an informed decision on whom to vote for.
As Sir Alan Moses, chairman of England’s Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), declared three weeks ago, examples of media “abuse, intrusion, distortion, lies, cruelty and brutality” need to be addressed and regulatory rules need be fine-tuned.
Most importantly, wherever there is bias, the media cannot judge itself; oversight must include external partners.
In the week since the elections, Israel’s media, to its credit, is asking itself how it got the election results so wrong. As Nati Tucker described in The Marker, “Journalists misread the political landscape, newspapers were blatantly biased and polls proved to be utterly mistaken.” They engaged, he asserted, “in unethical and often ugly journalism.”
Drucker went even further: “There was a torrent of one-sided, biased reality.
Netanyahu was smart enough to translate this revulsion into votes.”
But this preference for one-sidedness also carried over to the media’s introspection this week. For the most part, the discussions, interview panels and columns carried by the various networks, print, electronic and online, were staffed by media personnel.
The Tik Tikshoret program, which is supposed to deal with media infractions, brought to its panel discussions journalists Yaakov Ahimeir, Baruch Kra and Barak Ravid. Kalman Liebeskind, who dared to suggest in Maariv that journalists with a proven left-wing bias should be fired, drew sharp attacks from Channel 10 staff.
Drucker slugged it out with Channel 2 TV’s Amit Segal via tweets and Facebook posts following an op-ed Drucker published in Haaretz. Drucker asked in his op-ed, full of self-importance and unrepentant for his behavior: “Which model is better for the viewer: a reporter who wants the Right to win but conceals his views, or a reporter who acknowledges his preference and then reports on the facts?” Segal responded that the problem with journalists like Drucker was not mistakes in analyzing forecast data but in their total mobilization on behalf of the political Left.
Yediot Aharonot owner Arnon Mozes hasn’t apologized for the unprofessional behavior of his newspaper, nor has Amos Schocken, publisher of Haaretz. On the other side, Benjamin Netanyahu already has expressed contrition for his remarks regarding the busing of Arabs to the voting booths.
Yet, despite the across-the-spectrum admissions, and the clear evidence, we expect that nothing will change. Those responsible at the management and editorial levels in the Israeli media organs for overt media bias are unwilling to admit their professional errors, are not willing to reach personal conclusions and will not permit outsiders to participate in the post-performance debriefing.
This criticism should not detract from the value of the voices heard from within the media. To strengthen the charges of institutionalized bias, Arianna Melamed, herself a left-winger and a long-time member of the inner media elite who worked at Maariv and then moved to Ynet before resigning last year, published on her Facebook page this past Saturday that Yediot’s Mozes had personally spiked a column she penned critical of the Zionist Union’s Tzipi Livni.
“Mozes,” she wrote, “turned journalists into circus dogs. Yediot is the exact mirror- image of Israel Hayom. In one, Bibi is a dog and in the other, he’s a king.” She added, “Yes, I can relate much about the anti-Bibi media.” Her harsh remarks were then also reported on Channel 10’s Mako news site.
Another aspect of the biased media is evidenced in the coverage of US President Barack Obama’s unprecedented dressing- down of Prime Minister Netanyahu for saying that “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them in buses.” Kol Yisrael’s Arieh Golan broadcast his personal disgust with Netanyahu’s “racist” remarks.
Never mind that Netanyahu was merely stating the truth or that the money for these activities came, in part, from funds whose connection to Obama’s State Department is currently being investigated.
Haaretz’s Benny Ziffer wrote on March 19 that the “‘Arabs on buses’ comment was not racist.”
Not a single Israeli media commentator pointed out that there were other disparaging and even racist expressions directed at sections of Israel’s populace, that were not addressed by Obama. The divisive words, of course, came from left-wingers and we mentioned them in our column last week. Somehow, the White House was quite selective in the media sources that were passed on to the president.
Yair Garboz and Yehoshua Sobol, Meretz supporters, targeted traditional religious people who identify with the Right. Tzipi Livni had referred to Netanyahu as “garbage” to be taken out to the bin. Last Wednesday, columnist Yonatan Geffen told a club audience that those who voted for Netanyahu shouldn’t “cry when your kids die in the next military operation.” Truthfully, it is Obama that has opened himself to charges of racism; he only complained about comments referring to Arabs, but the words shaming Jews were considered by him to be kosher.
To improve, the media must realize that it is a servant of the public rather than its master.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (