Media Comment: An ‘apartheid’ journalist

Discussion and debate in Israel are robust and free-wheeling, as they should be in a democracy.

An Egged bus 370 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
An Egged bus 370 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Rino Tzror is a much-admired journalist. He has been an editor and has also directed award winning documentary films. He is currently the moderator of the Army Radio station (Galatz) Thursday news show Ma Boer? (What’s Burning?).
Two week ago he dealt with the question of the new bus service for Palestinians who are permitted to enter Israel. The Transportation Ministry claims that to alleviate the problem of Arabs resident in Judea and Samaria who wish to wish to work in Israel having to pay exorbitant prices to taxi drivers or other “transporters,” as well for security reasons, it decided to take action. The assistance was in the form of providing bus service into Israel, for a reduced fee of five to 10 shekels, depending on the destination.
Haim Levinson claimed in Haaretz on March 4 that the true motivation for these bus lines was complaints by Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria against the presence of Palestinians on their buses. The residents were afraid of the security consequences of such mingling. The Transportation Ministry heeded their request, according to Levinson, and created the new bus service. Levinson did note, though, that the new service is a “hit” and that thousands of Palestinians are using it.
Ido Benbaggi, the “territories” correspondent for Galatz, provided the background to Tzror’s program. He interviewed some Palestinians who were upset with the new bus lines.
Benbaggi did not provide any information about Palestinians who were actually thankful for the savings in time and money. In fact, the service, which initially had only 12 weekly buses, was increased by the Transportation Ministry to 40-60 buses per week. The ministry spokesperson claimed that neither Benbaggi nor the editors of the Ma Boer program had requested any ministry response.
Tzror continued the item with a long interview with Prof. Yedidya Stern of the Israel Democracy Institute.
Stern had only very sharp criticism for these new bus lines. Tzror not only did not even attempt to ask tough questions, or act as a “devil’s advocate,” as a professional journalist would, he “helped” Stern by repeatedly referring to the new bus lines as “apartheid lines.”
This is not the first time Tzror has used such terminology. In an Educational TV interview with Anat Zruya, a producer of films on haredi (ultra- Orthodox) society, he referred a number of times to Zruya’s claim that the haredi community is an “apartheid” society. He did not attempt to question Zruya’s choice of language, rather he gave the impression that he identified with her views. In fact, Tzror’s programs are all too often characterized by a onesided choice of topics and by “convenient” guests, who tend to share Tzror’s views on the issues or with whom Tzor identifies.
Tzror is not alone when it comes to using the A-word. Akiva Eldar from Haaretz wrote on October 16, 2012: “The government’s acknowledgment that Jews are a minority in the land means one thing only: Apartheid is here.”
Gidon Levi, from the same paper, titled his op-ed of November 11, 2012, with: “Apartheid, what else could it be?” Another A-worder is former Meretz education minister Shulamit Aloni, who in an article dated December 31, 2006 lets us know that: “Indeed yes, Apartheid in Israel.”
APARTHEID IS a loaded term. It is defined in the Internet “Free Dictionary” as “An official policy of racial segregation formerly practiced in the Republic of South Africa, involving political, legal, and economic discrimination against nonwhites.” It is also defined as “A policy or practice of separating or segregating groups.”
It so happens that this year’s annual “Israel Apartheid Week” was celebrated by our enemies in Europe from February 25 to March 10, in the United States and Canada from March 4 to March 8. Zror made his contribution to this “festival” right on time.
Interestingly, this same Rino Tzror was chosen this year by the ministerial committee for ceremonies to be one of the 12 people who will kindle a flame on Israel’s Independence Day. The decision to honor Tzror was made prior to March 7. However, one can question such a decision on a few counts. Is Tzror the most worthy journalist for such an honor? Did the ministerial committee consider other journalists? What was so special about Tzror? But more seriously, we believe that there is something wrong with politicians bestowing honors upon active journalists. Can we be sure that the journalist so honored will not be more forgiving or more willing to provide air time to those politicians involved in choosing him? There is though another aspect of this issue which is worth considering.
The army radio station received many letters of complaint against Tzror’s usage of the word “apartheid.” Yet, the station did not admit any wrongdoing and was not willing to apologize for such language, or assure that such misuse of the publicly funded airwaves would not repeat itself. We ask, what can be done about such infractions or violations of professional journalism codes and ethics guidelines? Any attempt by either a government agency or civic society associations to suggest formal regulatory institutions or legislation is met with very strong resistance. In an article published on March 18 in the UK Daily Mail, Melanie Phillips takes up the cudgels in defense of the press as “the last bastion of a free society,” arguing against regulation by government. Her view is that “press freedom is the one that guarantees all the rest” and that without it, “... thus uninvigilated, the institutions of a free society would turn rotten and disintegrate.”
We agree. Nevertheless, while Phillips is discussing the private press, we would suggest that state sponsored media outlets, that is, the television and radio broadcasting networks, are different. In the first instance, by definition they are funded by the public and so should not be permitted to misrepresent it.
Tzror blemished Israeli society as a whole. Public broadcasting should be pluralistic, open to all sections of society as can be practically feasible.
There must be a rigid framework to deny a minority – the editors and show hosts and reporters – the ability to dominate the airwaves with their private weltanschauung.
Secondly, since they are funded through our tax money, we, the “public,” are the owners and it is our right to demand supervision. Thirdly, Phillips’ concern, that “that the more the press is made accountable to an outside regulator... the more freedom dies,” applies when the readers have a choice. A newspaper can be purchased, or not. In Israel, we have very few options but to listen to and watch public broadcasting. Given the lack of a free market, supervision is necessary.
Discussion and debate in Israel are robust and free-wheeling, as they should be in a democracy. On the other hand, irresponsibility, lack of factual information or unfair ethical biases practiced by journalists, especially those in our public broadcasting system, need not be tolerated.
Disciplinary regulations should be in place and used.
The authors are vice chairman and chairman, respectively, of Israel’s Media Watch (