Many politicians, public figures and media personalities were outraged by Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev’s quip that “what is the use of public broadcasting if we cannot control it?” But Regev merely spoke openly about what politicians and tycoons have been doing for years: manipulating the media to serve their interests. And they mostly succeed.
This is why much of the media in Israel is politically biased and serves vested interests.
A prominent editor, while recently acknowledging that politics has always ruled public broadcasting, still insisted that Regev’s open acknowledgment could cause damage to our democracy, proper governance and statehood, as if these were realities that must be defended.
“The Labor Party controlled the media for decades,” the editor acknowledged, “but it did so with greater sophistication, and appearances are critical.
If the control is too obvious it lends legitimacy to the same bad practices in public service appointments and administration, and this will erode the public trust in the public sectors’ standing, and in its quality....”
The public sector’s standing? Its quality? How much lower can the public sector’s standing and quality sink? How can it sink lower than that of the Knesset’s or that of numerous other public agencies? Indeed, how can the media sink much lower in the public’s estimation? In a highly politicized Israel, probably more than in most nations, politics is mostly propaganda, with minimal respect for the truth. Otherwise, how could those controlling our public broadcasting service keep repeating many times a day that “public broadcasting is yours, and for you” and get away with such a brazen lie? “Yours”? “For you”? In reality, whoever does not toe the line of the leftist ideology of most of our broadcasting “stars,” from Oded Shahar to Keren Neubach, and by most editors and producers, who have taken over the public microphone and treat it like it was their private property, is rarely heard on our “public” broadcasting service, except for a few token fig leaves, usually extreme rightist that give the Right a bad name. The only chance for dissenting views to be aired is after midnight in Jojo’s conversations with listeners.
Our broadcasting “talents” never stop complaining about the supposed lack of equality in Israel. But while they earn a salary of some NIS 60,000 a month, far above the average, it has never been reported that they contributed a share of their excessive salaries to the poor. Their pose is “all talk,” as one of their flagship programs is called.
The politicization of the Israeli media started with the takeover of Zionism in the Twenties of the past century by true believers, socialists and Leninists who established political organs masquerading as newspapers, such as Davar, Al Hamishmar, etc. The Right followed with its own Ha’boker and Ha’yarden. After the state was established, the Mandatory broadcasting service became the organ of Mapai, the ruling party, and its allies on the Left.
The younger, more radical generation, like Shulamit Aloni and Yossi Sarid, rebelled against the old-guard Mapainiks.
They took over the army radio station Galatz, while the even more radical and more “anti” Uri Avineri established the muckraking, titillating Ha’olam Ha’ze.
These became the two schools in which most of our media, print and broadcast stars were educated, where their world outlook was fashioned.
What these “schools” shared was lack of pluralism and tolerance. If the Israeli media reads and sounds like a one-melody choir, it is for this reason.
After socialism lost steam in Israel, some of our politically connected tycoons “bought” its bankrupt assets with credit advanced to them by the then-nationalized banks, and came to own much of the Israeli media. They exploited it, naturally, to advance their interests and protect themselves from criticism.
A recent article in The Marker
quoted posts by former key managers at Yediot Aharonot
, and the ex-editor of Ynet, who related how much of the news in the group was “treated” according to instruction from the boss so as to harm the reputations of those he hated and promote the careers of those who “cooperated.” Against their professional standards, most journalists cooperated, fearing for their jobs and livelihood.
The lesson we must draw from the failure of the Public Broadcasting Authority, its betrayal of its role as an open neutral forum, its mismanagement, its bitter internal strife and its deep corruption is that public bodies seldom serve the public, and that it is therefore futile to try and create a new broadcasting authority and believe that it will not evolve the way the present one did.
The media, including broadcasting, should be open to real competition, not one prescribed by government-appointed commissions protecting vested interests under the guise of promoting the public interest (however defined).
This may not be a perfect solution, since nothing human is perfect, but it will allow a wider range of opinion to be articulated, and not just what the cabal that controls the putative public broadcasting wants us to hear. And it will avoid the sorry developments that inevitably afflicted public broadcasting, as they do all “public” bodies.