Media Matters: Reality TV at its best

Kudos to Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines for initiating the new law forbidding publication of polls four days prior to any election - and to the media for adhering to it.

Geula Even 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Geula Even 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Tuesday night's election-coverage award goes to Channel 1. In conjunction with the cable network, HOT, it had reporters stationed throughout the country, providing live accounts of voter turnout and man-in-the-street reactions, while explaining the key issues relevant to each municipality. Meanwhile, back in the studio, Geula Even and Oded Shahar presented ongoing commentary from former mayors, journalists and academics. Then there was an appearance by Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, who made an impassioned appeal to the public to get out and vote, warning that apathy enables small, organized interest groups to grab power disproportionate to their numbers. The only downside to an otherwise exceptional broadcast was the interspersing of superfluous comedic skits with mock voters. This decidedly un-funny touch was probably added in an attempt to liven up the show. Whether or not this was a direct result of conclusions reached this week at the Rosh Pina Festival ("Where Content Meets Technology") is not clear. But it certainly is relevant to what emerged from the panel on the future of broadcast news: that viewers like their news "lite." The usual dilemma was raised: Should the media cater to their audience's taste, or set a standard that dictates it? This, according to Ynet's account of the event, led to an angry altercation between the host of Channel 2's "Ma Koreh" (what's happening) and veteran newscaster Gadi Sukenik. "Linoy Bar-Gefen, don't you go out of your mind from the material you yourself air?" he challenged the pretty young blonde about what he apparently considers her fluffy items. Bar-Gefen responded by pointing out that prior to her current program, she produced a serious series on Israel's water situation. But very few people watched it, she said, because it appeared opposite A Star Is Born. And then she really let him have it. "What would you do in my place?" she asked rhetorically, and immediately answered her own question. "You'd do The Polygraph." This was a dig Sukenik richly deserved. Not, mind you, for his opting to host the appalling reality game show which has contestants subjecting themselves to lie-detector tests on sensitive, personal subjects that affect their family and friends. It is Sukenik's prerogative to make his living as he sees fit. Indeed, his retort was that he "does anything for which he's paid." But it was pretty damned cheeky on his part to put down Bar-Gefen for her own career choices. Particularly since he himself was ridiculed mercilessly for having flushed his professional reputation down the toilet. Channel 2 could have created a whole reality show around this exchange between two of its celebs. And it might as well have on election night. Like its main competitor, Channel 10, it put on a flashy, American-style extravaganza, but only in the time slots allotted to the news. At 10 p.m. sharp, the former ran an Israeli drama/soap opera, and the latter - what else? - the eagerly awaited weekly "eviction" episode of Big Brother. Speaking of which, haredi Jerusalem mayoral candidate Meir Porush reportedly told his campaign staff in Yiddish that he anticipated a lower secular voter turnout, because "so many of those people will stay at home, so as not to miss der groisse bruder." As it turned out, he lost to Nir Barkat anyway, perhaps having to do with another widely reported statement the MK from United Torah Judaism made in Yiddish mere days earlier, to the effect that within 10 years, there would be hardly a secular mayor left in this country. Well, to borrow a quip used by Channel 1's Rotem Avrutsky, reporting from Porush headquarters (where supporters were complacent, due to their experience five years ago, when the exit polls falsely indicated a Barkat victory over Uri Lupolianski): Who's eating whose shtreimel now? AND WHILE on the subject of language from the Old Country, Arkadi Gaydamak - who ended up scoring so low that he won't even have representation on the city council - was at a disadvantage with his lack of fluent Hebrew. This didn't bother Al Jazeera TV, however. In a glowing news feature accompanying the Russian-born Israeli through the city whose residents, he said, would be certain to elect him as their mayor, the controversial tycoon spoke in English while courting the Arab vote. As popular as this may have made him on the streets of east Jerusalem, it turned out to be a poor tactical move. In the first place, Arab voter turnout in Jerusalem is always next to nothing. In the second, the Jewish population who might otherwise be wooed by the wealthy businessman who owns their beloved soccer team, Betar Jerusalem, and who helped the socioeconomically disadvantaged residents of Sderot and Kiryat Shmona when they were under constant missile attack, don't tend to be fond of Arabs. Then there's the fourth candidate. Though he has barely managed to receive even an honorable mention in the media since his defeat to the above three, Channel 1's Yigal Ravid did refer to him as "our" Dan Biron. This slip can be excused, since it wasn't actually an endorsement of the bohemian bar owner who ran on the Green Leaf ticket, but rather a reference to the fact that he is a former colleague, and his wife, IBA arts reporter Sari Raz, is a current one. AN ACTUAL endorsement, however, was made by Haaretz earlier this month - though perhaps "anti-endorsement" would be a better description of the "Vote 'No' on Barkat" editorial in which it called on Jerusalemites to reject the secular front-runner for his insistence on an undivided capital and "protesting any compromise with the Palestinians regarding the sovereignty of the city." The left-wing daily, one of whose pet peeves is religious coercion, went as far as to say that even a haredi mayor (referred to as "responsible") would be better than "a man of the right who lacks political wisdom." Adding hypocrisy to irony, the editorial asserted that "Jerusalem needs a mayor who will curb the emigration of secular young people, improve the school system and clean up the streets on both sides of the city, not a pyromaniac proponent of strife. The political future of the split and explosive capital should be left to the cabinet and the Knesset." In other words, Haaretz believes that mayors should be concerned with the local affairs they are elected to tackle, yet opposes this particular one not for his position on parks and parking, but on partition. The good news for Haaretz is that that "the political future of the split and explosive capital" will be "left to the cabinet and the Knesset" - no matter who's in charge of curbing the emigration of its young people, improving its school system and cleaning up its streets. THERE'S ALSO good news for those accused of right-wing paranoia for suspecting the media of political partisanship. Former Channel 2 director-general Shalom Kital has just accepted a job offer from Labor chairman Ehud Barak to become his campaign manager. Though eyebrows are raised whenever a journalist jumps ship to join the ranks of those he was supposed to have been following dispassionately, Kital's career move is no less legitimate than Sukenik's. In fact, the more that blatantly biased members of the press put themselves on the payroll of politicians they support the better. This way, at least, they're earning their keep honestly. FINALLY, KUDOS are in order to Labor MK Ophir Paz Pines for initiating the new law forbidding the publication of polls four days prior to any election - and to the media for adhering to it this week. As we witnessed during the Kadima primaries, polls not only reflect outcomes, they can influence them as well. Beyond that, the legislation led Geula Even literally to count down to the closing of the voting stations during her broadcast, which gave the event the flavor of New Year's Eve. Watch out, Big Brother and Polygraph, this was reality TV at its best.