Truth? What’s that?

So what have we got? A media industry of questionable trustworthiness and with no accountability.

By ELI POLLAK
May 24, 2017 21:54
Israeli newspapers

Israeli newspapers. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO)

 
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These past few weeks were quite bad for Israel’s media. One falsification followed the other. The latest absurd episode was a Friday night report on May 12 on the prime-time Channel 2 program Ulpan Shishi.

As reported on the ICE website, Channel 2 correspondent Omri Kronland gave a saucy report about one Adir Peretz, supposedly a bridegroom, and his prenuptial trip to Bucharest with friends. The 11-minute report followed in some detail the group’s immoral shenanigans, starting with a limousine, complete with stripper, which picked them up at the airport. This of course is Channel 2’s method of making its weekly news program attractive. Sex always sells, also as news.

Only it turns out that the whole story was staged. As reported by ICE’s Alexander Katz, for starters Peretz did not get married that week. The Israelis arrived in Bucharest a day prior to the limousine ride. And it was Kronland, or so it would seem, that had the limousine ordered. In other words, the correspondent did not “fall” for the fake story – he created it.

Channel 2’s response? As reported by Keren Greenblat on the Seventh Eye website, the initial reaction was, “The widespread response just proves the importance of the report.” It took three days for the item to be removed from the channel’s Mako website. The channel’s spokesperson, Alon Shani, responded that the item had been removed on Channel 2 news chief Avi Weiss’s order, and that the story was being checked thoroughly – but that it had already turned out that some of the story’s details were “inaccurate.”

Kronland has a quite a record when it comes to “interesting” reports. As reported by TV Channel 20, Kronland tried in the past to induce “settlers” to perform illegal acts. According to Greenblat, Kronland’s report on her struggle to counter sexism on Israeli TV was manipulative, and included pornographic content.

Channel 2 should not only have fired Kronland immediately, it should never have hired him. Dana Weiss, the presenter of the Friday evening show, should have had some hard questions about the report before airing it. But no, neither Kronland nor Weiss have been fired or even suspended until the whole story is thoroughly investigated – and not by Channel 2 personnel.

Eva Meziboz, chair of the Second Television and Radio oversight panel, expressed her dissatisfaction but beyond words did nothing.

Neither did former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner, president of Israel’s press association, who usually is quick to criticize any supposed attempt at limiting the freedom of the press in Israel, make a statement or a demand an accounting. The Israel Democracy Institute has kept mum.

The bottom line of this story? Channel 2 is delighted. It had an item which made much noise. Truth? Ethics? Journalistic responsibility? Who cares.

This is though not the only recent case. As reported on the Walla news website on April 30, Reshet’s former content editor Uri Shzigovsky and reporter Guy Hochman were fired by the Channel 2 concessionaire. They were held responsible for fabricating a report on an ultra-Orthodox individual who broke a pole bearing the Israeli flag on Independence Day. In true form, Shzigovsky then went on to blame Hochman for the fabrication and had no regrets about provoking the ultra-Orthodox to show spite for our national holiday. The ethical quality of former editors and reporters at Channel 2 does not seem to be of the highest grade.

Consider another item that made headlines. The main news channels gleefully parroted the report of the IDF spokesperson that Tel Aviv residents were tops in number of days spent doing reserve duty. Adam Gold (and quite a few other bloggers) did some simple homework, first calculating the percentage of residents in various cities who even do reserve duty. Tel Aviv with 8.5% stands behind cities such as Beersheba with 9.1%, or Kfar Sabba with 10.3%. As reported by Ma’ariv journalist Kalman Liebeskind, when considering the number of reserve days served per capita, Tel Aviv is far behind Modi’in, Beersheba, Rishon Lezion, Holon, Bat Yam and Ramat Gan. But who cares? Most journalists identify with the Tel Aviv milieu or themselves live in Tel Aviv, so they happily swallowed the story.


Had they not been so lazy, or biased, they could have exposed the fallacies of the IDF report. That would have been real news, demonstrating that the army cannot be trusted to provide us with objective and well researched information. It would have raised a truly serious issue.

A similar case is the recent headline-making report of State Comptroller Yosef Shapiro that Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Uri Ariel used his powers as minister to transfer tens of millions of shekels to what is known as “Garinim Torani’im” – that is, groups of religious Israeli families who establish community centers in various cities, in the midst of secular neighborhoods. The implication was that these transactions were illegal and that there was a need for a thorough investigation by the attorney-general. The media reported this gleefully, after all Ariel is a “settler” and a proud symbol of the national religious community.

The media swallowed the comptroller’s report hook, line and sinker. Instead of immediately attacking Ariel, reporters should have looked a little deeper into the allegations. The comptroller’s report based itself on among other things the work of a left-wing organization called “Molad,” a Hebrew acronym The Center of Democratic Renewal. This organization was accusing Ariel back in 2014 of distributing funds to his supporters. Molad clearly has an agenda – how then could the comptroller use its “data” as a source?

Here, too, Kalman Liebeskind of Ma’ariv was a voice in the wilderness, noting that Ariel distributed funds to many, including left-wing secular groups with agendas far from his own.

So what have we got? A media industry of questionable trustworthiness and with no accountability. “Journalism” which perpetuates myths as long as it identifies with them but which hangs in the public square anyone with whom they do not, and journalistic standards be damned.

Perhaps we can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that we are not the only fools in town. The Harvard Kennedy Center just published a report on media bias in coverage of US President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office. Trump’s coverage during this period “set a new standard for negativity” – 80% negative reports. In no one week did the “coverage drop below 70% negative and it reached 90% negative at its peak.”

The report goes on: “Trump’s coverage during his first 100 days was not merely negative in overall terms. It was unfavorable on every dimension. There was not a single major topic where Trump’s coverage was more positive than negative.”

Truth? What’s that?

The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imediaw.org.il).

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