Attacks on Israeli media from within and without

Israel’s mainstream media have already quite a few journalists who do not toe the self-imposed line.

A newspaper rack in the United Kingdom (photo credit: REUTERS)
A newspaper rack in the United Kingdom
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A central change took place within Israel’s media that was clearly evident to readers and viewers in the weeks leading up to the elections: Core elitist elements in the media started to attack the non-left-leaning media.
In the past, review and criticism by the media of itself was a no-no, or assigned to far corners of the broadcast world, away from prime time. Journalistic solidarity and self-protection, and even self-preservation of an elite’s power, dictated that the dirty laundry was not to be washed in public. This was possible as long as the media elites were of one color – the self-proclaimed liberal, humanist, secular and post-modern category.
But the need for financial survival, the plethora of media organs that developed, and especially the pressure by the so-called “uneducated masses,” that is, the political and culturally conservative, religiously traditional, and those “uneducated” (in the Stalinist sense) are all leading to change. Our panels are a bit more balanced. We hear pundits with varying viewpoints. We even hear language that was learned in the schools of the state religious stream and we see kippot and even wigs.
Israel’s mainstream media have already quite a few journalists who do not toe the self-imposed line. The leadership of people such as Amnon Abramovitch – who showed the “right” way by keeping news away from the public regarding former prime minister Ariel Sharon – is being challenged. Ever since the Oslo Accords, the mainstream media, which have followed Abramovich’s example, did its best to safeguard their clique values at the expense of journalistic ethics and the need to keep the public informed.
Journalists such as Amit Segal of Channel 12 have shown that there is another way. They are guided by the public’s need to know, irrespective of whether that knowledge serves their ideology or not. This became rather evident in the week preceding Election Day. It was Segal who made headlines on prime time TV revealing the remarks of Yisrael Bachar, the (now fired) senior political adviser of Benny Gantz who was taped by Rabbi Guy Havura saying that “He [Gantz] is a danger to the people of Israel, is not brave enough to attack Iran. [Blue White Party] MK Omer Yankelevitch says that he is weak and stupid.” Quite damning, coming from someone who masterminded the Blue and White strategy from day one.
Abramovitch, Ilana Dayan and friends were in a bind. How can they still defend Gantz? Segal kept his sources to himself, but Ilana Dayan found out the source and brought a secret taping of her own showing that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was seemingly involved with Rabbi Havura, which brought about Bachar’s downfall. Certainly, Dayan’s info was important enough to be aired, but it did not answer the central question: If a person so close to Gantz testified that Gantz is not made of prime ministerial material, then perhaps there is something that the electorate should be worried about?
Instead, the mainstream media, in an attempt to save their anti-Bibi campaign, turned the spotlight toward Netanyahu, even going to the lengths of bringing another “scoop” in the form of a statement by his aide Natan Eshel. Haaretz and Channel 12 reported on a conversation recorded prior to the September elections regarding someone he wanted to hire.
IN THE conversation, he said: “Let me tell you what happily happened to us in the last elections. Although [Attorney-General] Avichai [Mandelblit] proclaimed two weeks before the election that we are talking about a criminal, the situation is just like as for Evette [Avigdor Liberman], if you did not steal, who are you?... In other words they [the public] do not understand that you enter politics to help the people, you entered to steal and for that you must be a macho.”
He added, “This public, even call it the non- Ashkenazi one, what appeals to them?... they hate everything; it is hatred that unifies our camp.” Finally, he added his two bits on Likud Minister Miri Regev: “Regev does an excellent job. That means that she is an animal.”
There is here, too, no question that Eshel’s words were important information and shed light on one of the important people advising the prime minister. But there is a subtle difference between the racist and demeaning testimony of Eshel and that of Bachar. Eshel did not say a word about Netanyahu; Bachar did. This should have been accentuated in the analysis of the pundits but was not.
Instead, it was the bearer of the tidings, that is, Amit Segal, who was fiercely attacked. In something many journalists such as Michael Tuchfeld considered to be a violation of journalistic ethics, Channel 12’s Ilana Dayan revealed a colleague’s sources. In the United States, journalists have gone to jail to safeguard their sources, but not here. In fact, Dayan was not the first one to do so. Haaretz showed the way, by allowing Uri Blau to divulge that Anat Kam was his source. Kam went to jail for stealing army records, but in the end, a District Court judge found the paper and Blau guilty of divulging their sources and ordered them to pay Kam reparations to the tune of almost half a million shekels.
The change is not limited to Segal. The same Channel 12 has as its Haredi correspondent Yair Sherki, who is also identified as coming from a right-wing family. His father is Rabbi Uri Sherki, whose conservative right-wing ideology is well known.
Another prominent journalist is Erel Segal, who starred in our column two weeks ago, when we noted he was suspended by the KAN conglomerate for playing the guitar and singing with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and who KAN had to reinstate due to the public pressure of, among others, prominent journalist Kalman Liebskind.
The unprecedented proliferation of these media stars has affected the media in many ways. Any journalist knowns today that there are competitors who will bring to the public scoops that will not deal lightly with the left-wing ideology. If you have a scoop, it should be published irrespective of the results. It is not surprising then that Baruch Kra, the legal correspondent of Channel 10 TV, formerly of Haaretz, was the one who shortly before Election Day revealed some of the tapes showing that Blue and White leader and former chief of staff MK Gabi Ashkenazi was seemingly heavily involved in what is known as the Harpaz Affair. In that affair, a fake letter was used to torpedo the candidacy of then-general, and now Likud Minister Yoav Galant, for the chief-of-staff position.
We, as spectators, are now seeing the realization of the dream of the late Uri Orbach, who called upon National-Religious youth to go out into the media arena and make their presence known. This is the most effective way of ensuring a pluralistic and ethical media.
The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch (