Gov’t mulling int'l Israeli news channel

The venture would require state and private funding.

NBC 311 (photo credit: AP)
NBC 311
(photo credit: AP)
The government is considering the establishment of a news channel to add Israel’s perspective to the international news arena, Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
“We could have our own channel, which would at least broadcast on the Internet. We’re not there now, but we are seriously discussing that,” Edelstein said.
The channel would require a combination of state and private funding, he said, adding that his ministry had secured some state funds toward the project.
In a reference to Al-Jazeera, Edelstein said, “Would it be an Al-Judea satellite TV broadcaster? Or would it broadcast online? Would it have a .gov or .com Web address? We still don’t have the answers.”
The channel could be a 24- hour-a-day live news station with a team of reporters and camera crews, or a more limited channel that provides press services, he said.
“We are looking for partners [in the private sector],” Edelstein added.
Addressing criticism that the government and IDF had given Gaza flotilla activists a big head start last week by waiting several hours before providing the IDF’s account of what took place on the Mavi Marmara ship, Edelstein said, “If we were to react immediately, we could have wrongly talked about dozens of people being killed.
We could have said wrongly that [Islamic Movement Northern Branch head] Sheikh Raed Salah was killed, and pass on unverified information. In a responsible, democratic country with a responsible prime minister, the government responds when it has all of its information intact.” The process of checking information “took time,” Edelstein said.
“I know it sounds like a cliche, but I hope the truth will win in the end,” he added. “In North America, news broadcasters started bulletins last Monday night with reports of brutal, bloodthirsty IDF soldiers, but several hours later this changed. You couldn’t find a single news presenter who spoke like that.
We were giving information by the hour. The IDF provided images. Talking heads appeared on screens. I think we were successful in terms of changing the tone. You can’t work the media before the event takes place.”
Edelstein said he was aware of “the feeling that something is wrong, and there is an urge to point a finger at Israeli hasbara [public diplomacy]. In most cases, in this type of criticism, people don’t define what they mean by hasbara. I would have to say that hasbara is a combination of many fields – diplomatic, mass media, newspaper, new media, the Internet, social media, and working with Jewish communities and friends of Israel all around the world.”
Despite the criticism, Edelstein said Israel “did not react that badly” to the flotilla raid.
“I think our presence in the electronic and written media was better than the Palestinian presence. I was in North America on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday... 46 interviews were given to main TV channels and newspapers by myself, and by the head of the Israel Consulate-General [in New York] and his deputies.”
In Europe, too, Edelstein said, Foreign Ministry staff, Jewish community representatives and others rallied to give media interviews to defend Israel.
Still, Edelstein said he agreed with critics who said there was room for improvement in Israel’s PR efforts. Steps were under way to prepare for the next round of media battles, and during daily meetings, discussions were being held on a potential media crisis that could develop in the event of a navy interception of Iranian ships bound for Gaza in the near future.
“We’ve been working on creating an infrastructure of our friends and allies around the world, in the Jewish and Christian communities, which is not fully ready yet. It’s based on volunteers and professionals [who will coordinate the transmission of accurate information],” the minister said.
Edelstein conceded that the Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Ministry suffered from restrictive budget problems. Nevertheless, he was seeking to implement ambitious initiatives based on volunteers.
“This is the 21st century, and that means things that are not officially called hasbara are the best hasbara. The moment things come from the government, the state, or ministries, they are perceived as being less reliable and as propaganda,” Edelstein said.
”There are many things only volunteers can do. Writing on Facebook, Twitter blogs, and sending e-mails to friends is second to none. The best things people can do are not about money, but about doing things in the right way.”
 Edelstein cited an operations center housed in his ministry and staffed by volunteers, as well as a ministry secretary, both aimed at maintaining continuous contact with Diaspora communities.
“A few hours ago, I completed a conference call with representatives of 30 European Jewish communities. I can’t say they were depressed. Some definitely said they wanted more assistance from Israel,” he said.
Asked if he thought Israel could ever defeat its opponents in the media arena, Edelstein said, “I’m not sure we can win by knockout, but we can hold another round, and another round, and find a way to win by points. I would say that despite all of the negative things, the whole world is not against us. There are militant and well-funded groups... influencing public media, but we have to remember that the whole world is not on their page.”