Media Comment: Does the media care about its public?

Over 200 persons from both sides of the Green Line convened at Jerusalem’s Leonardo Hotel and were presented with material.

Press Card 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Press Card 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
This past Monday, the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, better known as the YESHA Council, conducted a full day’s Media and Public Diplomacy Conference.
Over 200 persons from both sides of the Green Line convened at Jerusalem’s Leonardo Hotel and were presented with material, written and digital, as well as new and soon-to-be-viral video clips.
The mood was upbeat despite the concern over the looming crisis in connection with the Ulpana neighborhood’s evacuation.
Back in October 2008, Peace Now’s Yariv Oppenheimer proclaimed, following a YESHA Council initiative to bring media personalities and opinion makers across the Green Line to acquaint themselves with the reality on the ground, that “I don’t feel that any great breakthrough in public opinion was achieved.” Some four years later, the situation has changed, dramatically.
Oppenheimer recently expressed Peace Now’s alarm in an advert which read: “Without us realizing what has happened, the Right has effected true revolution in public opinion on the issue of the territories. Recently, they have established a well-oiled public information unit that is active on several fronts.”
THERE IS no doubt that the media’s treatment of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria is an ongoing issue of contention. Charges of leftwing bias are frequently heard. The critical reactions from the audience to the presentations of Hilik Sharir, formerly Ma’ariv’s deputy editor and currently deputy director for content programming at Channel 2 News, and Ehud Yaari, Channel 2’s Arab Affairs correspondent, who ascended the speaker’s platform at the conference were clear expressions of their frustrations. Media conduct and ethics continues to remain a bone of contention.
The fact though, that mainstream media “stars” felt comfortable and unconcerned in lending their names to such a conference is newsworthy of itself. Newsworthy, too, was the appearance of Deputy Foreign Minister MK Danny Ayalon, who delivered a 40-minute talk and a video conveying regards from Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein.
Former Ariel Sharon media advisor Arnon Pearlman was also a speaker. Newsworthy, but not reported. Except for Arutz 7’s website.
Sharir defended his news output, his correspondents and his editorial calls. Sharir’s version is that all decisions regarding the show’s line-up stem from professional considerations.
That the media can be prejudicial and unethical is no secret and is not just a reflection of what happens in Israel. Peter Sissons, a 20-year veteran BBC broadcaster and anchor of news and current affairs programs, confessed in January 22, 2011, that the BBC’s “very DNA, is a way of thinking that is firmly of the Left.” He further asserted that “‘bias is too blunt a word to describe the subtleties of the pervading culture. The better word is a ‘mindset.’” Sissons added, in a remarkable admission, “I lost count of the number of times I asked a producer for a brief on a story, only to be handed a copy of ‘The Guardian’ and told ‘it’s all in there.’” If this is the inside scoop from a very high-level insider, in such a prestigious – and state-sponsored – media organization, then perhaps the protestations of innocence by our local directors and editors should be taken with a grain of salt.
Sharir was candid, however, in admitting less-than-perfect standards. Once, he informed participants, he produced a program that included a video clip from one of the extreme leftist groups opposed to Jews residing in Judea and Samaria, which aired before the Sabbath had ended. This circumvented the need to broadcast a response, as those involved observed the Sabbath and couldn’t be interviewed.
He also acknowledged that the panels on programs broadcast on the Sabbath were not all balanced since it was difficult to include Israelis whose political viewpoint supported and represented the Jewish settlements of Judea and Samaria and their ideology.
At question time, he was asked about two of his reporters, who were trained by the Agenda Group, a NGO organization whose director, journalist Anat Saragusti, was formerly employed at HaOlam HaZeh, Uri Avneri’s extreme-left weekly.
Agenda promotes itself as a Center for Strategic Communications, a “unique not-for-profit center working to reprioritize and reframe social change issues within the Israeli public debate and media.”
This includes the goal of achieving a “long-term and strategic shift in the media’s approach to key social change issues... to impact the public agenda and the policy-making processes... in the media arena in planned and pro-active ways.”
Sharir’s response was, “They are professional.”
In Sharir’s world, left-wing reporters do not have any biases. Sharir had no compunctions about employing minority-representing journalists (one is Ethiopian; the other an Arab) even though their professional credentials are highly partisan and ideologically-driven.
He claimed that there is a lack of religious candidates applying, as he sits on the acceptance committee, and said it was a shame that there is a reversal of a good trend. We would beg to disagree, since we can easily think of at least half a dozen names of excellent reporters who could do the job.
Sharir also pointed out that the Second Authority of Television and Radio ombudsman shared responsibility for oversight and dealing with complaints.
Sharir did not mention the broad lack of respect of his news program for the ombudsman’s decisions and recommendations.
A journalist who wasn’t there had made his opinion known the previous week in Ma’ariv.
According to Kalman Liebskind, the Israeli media is Israel’s biggest enemy. Channels 2 and 10, Army Radio and the IBA’s Kol Yisrael are “agenda biased,” according to Liebskind. “If the facts are not facts,” Liebskind wrote, “our entire democratic process is damaged. There’s no democracy.”
He also pointed out a self-fulfilling prophecy characteristic of the media. On the one hand, they claim that the state is suffering “because the world is watching what we do here.” But who, if not the media, is providing the world with information that is many times incorrect, imbalanced or simply wrong? The four main news diary presenters at Army Radio received special notice: “If Reno Tzror is a leftist, and Razi Barkai is a leftist, and Yael Dan is Left, and Micha Friedman is Left – is there not anyone else? Does that seem reasonable? Can current events be treated only by such broadcasters?” Israel’s public has made real progress in the past 20 years. It has become media savvy and it no longer accepts the media’s control and lack of accountability and fairness. It demands that the media reflect the Zionist ethos of the Jewish state.
The media has had no choice in recent years but to be more attentive to its public. However, its progress has been slow and sadly, colored with intellectual dishonesty. The bottom line of this week’s Yesha Council’s conference is that with hard work and good will there is good reason to believe that even our mainstream media will finally come to its senses.
The authors are, respectively, vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch,