'You have seven seconds to change the world'

Refugees from the North get tips on speaking to the media.

camera crew 298 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
camera crew 298 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Some 100 refugees from the North learned new ways to improve the country's image Monday, in a meeting at Tel Aviv's Sheraton Moriah Hotel designed to help them better tell their personal stories to journalists. The event was organized by media experts who are dissatisfied with the way Israel is being depicted abroad, both in print and on screen. "My seven seconds with the media is to show that my life is being hurt," said an girl in a Scout uniform when asked how she'd fill a sound bite. "I'm 18 years old, I'm about to start my [military] service, and this is not how I want to spend my summer vacation." Seth Isenberg, one of the meeting's organizers, suggested that the young woman present herself to the media as someone whose life goals were being "crushed" by the war. "That's too selfish," she said. "I wouldn't say that - I'd talk about my friends and my soldiers." Gil Samsonov, a partner at Glickman Nettler Samsonov Advertising Ltd. in Tel Aviv, said he hoped the project would yield an ongoing effort that would produce "Israel's next spokespeople." "I initiated this because of frustration," Samsonov said. We've watched the BBC and other foreign media and they're really slanting their reports against Israel, he said. The event began with participants with media experience undergoing mock interviews. "Don't try to talk like the prime minister," Samsonov said before the interviews began. "Don't try to be a media person, you're here for the human side." "The explosion was around 100 meters from my home," said Arie Pencovici of Ramat Yishai, taking Samsonov's advice. "My house trembled like a tsunami. All the windows in the house went to pieces. Terror came to pay us a visit and we are pissed off." Samsonov was impressed but said Pencovici had gotten too upset. It clearly came from the heart but it wasn't an effective media strategy, according to the experts. The mentors gave more advice on how to speak to the press. "Before you start a conversation with someone," Isenberg said, "be clear about your intentions. The conversation has to be thought-out." Over and over, the advisers stressed the importance of brevity. The average television sound bite is seven seconds long, they said, asking participants what they'd say under such a constraint. "I'm a refugee," one offered. "We just want to live," said another. "I'm the son of two parents who survived the Holocaust and now I'm a terror victim," another man said. Then everyone had a chance to be interviewed. The result was a series of narratives, both personal and pithy, that brought tears to the eyes of almost everyone attending. Pencovici said that when he was being interviewed in Ramat Yishai after a rocket almost hit his home, he linked arms with an Arab friend and told the television cameraman, "Nasrallah sent this Katyusha here and I'm sending this [image] back." Other messages were less heartening. "It doesn't let me live," one women said. "This war actually stopped my life. Look at my 'fridge, it's empty. My son's enlisting in the army and I have nothing to give, no food." "We're all waiting for it to end," said Florida International University student Elisheva Marks, whose mother lives in the North. "I just don't want my house to ever be destroyed." Everyone agreed that the meeting was enormously helpful. "It's excellent," said Sarit Garbi of Karmiel. "I don't think the world can really see what happened to us. I'll tell you the truth, I'm really scared, and I can't sleep at night and I'd like to tell them that." Her boyfriend, Oren Ben Yosef, agreed that Israelis needed to better explain themselves to the foreign press. "The government isn't giving them adequate explanations," he said. "They should see the civilian side, the 'Average Joe.'" Although the foreign media did not attend like Samsonov had hoped - he thought they might have been too busy filming Israeli tanks to show up - the importance of the event to everyone involved was crystal clear. "It was going to be a workshop," said Prof. Ilan Avisar of Tel Aviv University's film and television department, "but it turned out to be a sort of therapy. Talking to the cameras, it helps."