There are several lessons that we, as a nation, must draw from the training
accident involving our airmen in Romania two weeks ago.
One of them, in
the field of military-press relations, is that technology was victorious. In the
struggle between ethics and ethos on one side, and technology, the die has
already been cast.
Let me explain: the national ethos in the State of
Israel places our casualties at the top and, correctly, grants them great
respect. Both respect and value are granted to those killed defending the
country, either in battle or in training.
Israel, which has lost, since
its establishment, over 21,000 fighters, knows how to value the heavy price that
we have all paid: the warriors with their lives, their families with their loved
ones, and the Israeli public as a whole with their best people.
element, essential to that respect, is the attitude toward the casualties’
families, which we term mishpahot haschol. This is an old Israeli expression
that embraces a large public – hundreds of thousands, who have suffered a great
loss in some manner. The practical arrangement with them has been that when a
soldier is killed during military service, the announcement of his death to the
media is withheld until the family is notified. There were instances in which
family members were abroad, and it was customary to wait until their return. The
Israeli media respected this arrangement.
In the past, the military
censor would forbid the publication of this information, but after the censor
itself was weakened by the High Court of Justice, Israeli media outlets decided
to continue honoring this arrangement willingly and out of respect for those
killed and their families and despite the fact that it was no longer defined as
a security issue but as a personal and humanitarian one.
interesting that in spite of the revolution that the Israeli media has
undergone, and despite the intense competition between print and electronic
media, and within those fields, this practice was still maintained.
WHAT arguments, conflicts and massive competition failed to accomplish, new
technology has. The Internet, the age of cellular phones, and other
communications systems have created what is known as the Web 2.0 concept of new
media. In this situation, the traditional media outlets have been pushed aside
in the face of blogs, tweets, Facebook messages and other social network
Initially, it became clear that one can no longer separate between
Israel and “the whole world.”
The dichotomous division of internal and
external information was exposed to be anachronistic and absurd. There is no
foreign channel that is not available in Israel, and there is not an Israeli
media outlet that is not accessible overseas.
At the next stage, the
sources of internal information directly attacked the “old order.” They did it
in a manner that was extreme and heavy-handed, but I must admit that it was also
It was just a matter of time until the revolution challenged
the last national consensus by which information about casualties is not
But in this era, the rules of the game have
changed in the field of global communications, and new players have appeared,
some of whom publicly state that they do not intend to follow any of the old
protocols. It is dubious if the censor would – or even could – enforce its will
on the informal new media.
THE HELICOPTER incident in Romania was
extensively covered by the Romanian media, and after a short time, was picked up
by other media outlets in Europe and the United States. Then, the electronic
media swung into action – blogs and social networking devices began to circulate
the notice and it could not be stopped.
At the same time, the “old” media
in Israel maintained its silence. News anchors on central television programs
stayed mum and did not reveal the information that their newsrooms already knew.
Only six hours after the incident was the official announcement released, after
which the media could cover the event freely.
This dilemma – of revealing
information that the Israeli media possesses but that is under military
censorship while overseas outlets are reporting on it throughout the world is
Incidents that occurred over the past year already revealed this
new challenge in full force: The death of IDF pilot Lt. Asaf Ramon z”l for
example, or the various questions surrounding the publication of material in the
Anat Kamm affair, proved the impotence of trying to prevent the public from
accessing the information.
THE DILEMMA now stands before us. Can
television channels, newspapers and radio segments continue to place their
credibility in question, while the information flows freely on new media
outlets? After all, anyone who receives even a bit of information can piece
together what is happening.
The situation demands a rethink.
last time a public committee dealt with the topic was over ten years
The conclusion back then was that the IDF spokesperson’s office and
other IDF officials must speed up the process of issuing notices to families as
much as possible and that the media, as far as it was concerned, would wait as
long as necessary.
I believe that we must find a respectable solution
that will adapt to the existing and future technical realities. One way, for
instance, would be to publish a partial notice reporting a given incident,
giving out basic details such as its geographic location and time, and only
later publishing the complete story.
In the delicate balance demanded by
this scenario, the media outlets will only be permitted to reveal the entire
incident after the terrible notice has already been issued to the families. The
ideal situation is that the gag would be lifted simultaneously with central news
programs in Israel so that they will not find themselves in the impossible
position they were in last month.
If this does not happen, there is no
alternative but to, once again, appoint a public committee led by a public
figure with both media and security experience, in order to examine the relevant
laws on the matter. Ignoring the communications revolution and its implications
will only place us in impossible positions in the future as well.
do not want to live in a “world of idiots,” we must show flexibility and
creativity in order to adapt the Israeli ethos to the 21st century.
writer is a Kadima MK and a former IDF spokesman.
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