If we asked you which political leader, which party and which country are the ones involved after you finish reading the following description, what would you answer?
The leader had spoken at a party conference and launched a direct attack on the media, criticizing it as “a free press [that] has far too often [used that] freedom to spread lies and half-truths.” He then called on his party’s activists to use social media networks to challenge the mainstream press’s “propaganda of privilege.”
One of his chief allies then suggested to fellow party members not to pay attention to the media and another senior party official, who also spoke at the conference, opened his remarks with an attack on “our friends in the media.”
If you are thinking, perhaps, that this was US President Donald Trump and the Republican Party in America or even that it was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud here in Israel, you would be incorrect.
What we described above, including the words in quotation marks, actually occurred at the British Labour Party conference in Liverpool on September 25. The speakers were party leader Jeremy Corbyn and his chief ally John McDonnell and last time we looked, the two are quite decidedly hard-left socialists.
In fact, we noted in a previous column (on August 30) that Corbyn, at a different forum, the Alternative MacTaggart Lecture on August 23 in Edinburgh, was already gearing up an attack on the media in different words. A month had passed, but there has been no real media counter to his harsh words. We suspect that had the speaker belonged to a right-of-center party the response would have been much more vocal and strident.
In this period of the #MeToo movement and the spectacle of the Kavanaugh appointment hearings, the charges are that it is not only individuals who may be guilty of misdemeanors or worse, but there is a problem with the collective consciousness. We are witnessing investigations stemming not only from personal testimony concerning alleged sexual misconduct, but also arising from concerns about the working environment at certain companies and institutions.
One can only wonder why this atmosphere has not yet affected the media. Sexual misconduct is serious business, but so is fake news, especially when it hurts individuals. Unethical media behavior destroys the very fabric of democracy without which also the #MeToo movement would be powerless. Media infractions are not only due to an individual lapse of judgment, but are also fostered at certain networks and newsrooms. There is an atmosphere at work.
As a new study by Robin Blom indicates, one way to improve the ability of a media consumer to deal with biased and partisan news is “enhanced media literacy.” Blom, who teaches at Indiana’s Ball State University, is particularly concerned how biased perceptions about the news media disrupt public discourse and political learning. This contrasts with how assumed trustworthy news sources create the “trust” they foist on to their consumers and how, additionally, that “trust” contributes constructively to the public knowledge.
If the media are acting, some or most of the time, unethically and in a biased fashion, they are violating not only the element of trust between them and the public but are taking advantage of the right to broadcast the state awards to them.
How would this enhanced media literacy work?
Here is an example. Gavri Banai, one of the legendary “HaGashash HaChiver” entertainment troupe, appeared on Kobi Meidan’s culture review television program, broadcast over the KAN network as well as on a program at Galei Tzahal, the IDF radio (and other media outlets.) One of his main messages was that he refuses to appear in places that are to the east of the Green Line as these are “occupied territories.” He even will not visit Jerusalem’s Old City.
The media consumer should wonder why an entertainer is being asked to express ideological or political beliefs. Banai sings and performs. He is not running for office, is not a political scientist or an historian and his knowledge about political issues should have no more weight than any other citizen.
It is a fact that in Israel’s media, cultural artists – performers, authors, painters and dancers – are at least as important as university professors. Here too, enhanced media literacy would imply questioning this very fact. When an entertainer passes away, our radio stations go into mourning. When a known rabbi, priest or imam leaves this world, this is not newsworthy in the same manner.
But let us even accept the fact that artistic opinion is important to many people, one should still question such an interview. The interviewers should have questioned him about his adobe. If the “occupation” is so important to him, why is he himself living in a former Arab village, conquered and occupied by Israel?
Ayn Hawd, just south of Haifa, was attacked on the evening of April 11, 1948 and during fighting on July 17-19, the IDF overcame resistance and most of the 700-900 villagers resettled in a Jenin refugee camp. It was renamed Ein Hod and Banai maintains a residence there. It would also have been relevant to ask him why is a post-1967 so-called “occupation” different from an “occupation” that occurred in 1948? But such questions are not asked.
The vast majority of artists are left or even far left of center. That is why their opinion is so important to our media. They are not questioned, but used to promote a viewpoint that strengthens the liberal elite entrenched within the media. This is a phenomenon of self-growth, of the construction of an echo chamber. It is no secret that right-wing artists in Israel such as Ephraim Kishon and Naomi Shemer received quite a different treatment by the very same media.
Anyone who listens to KAN radio cannot but notice that their “star” anchor is an unprofessional propagandist who usurps the public microphone to purvey his version of liberalism. Aryeh Golan’s opening comments after the 7 a.m. news are always slanted towards the extreme left-wing. The intelligent listener, of whom there are many, understands that this kind of anchor cannot deal with any issue impartially and therefore the content of his program is rather meager and is there simply to support his personal outlook.
The option is that the listener leaves off listening to KAN’s radio station and going to the competitors. And today, unlike 20 years ago, there are very many. They are the true “public broadcasting” network today, not KAN. This is but one example of what we citizens should be doing.
Those who control the themes the media pushes, the personalities who relate to them, the number of times the theme is repeated and so on are what a true media literate consumer need study and of which he or she needs be aware. The more we are cognizant of how the media tries to pull the wool over our eyes, and to manage the news rather than report and discuss it, the less successful they will be.The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il)
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