Media Comment: Hara-kiri at the IBA

The ongoing battle between the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s director-general Yoni Ben-Menachem and its chairman Amir Gilat is very public.

IBA logo 311 (photo credit: Courtesy of IBA)
IBA logo 311
(photo credit: Courtesy of IBA)
The ongoing battle between the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s director-general Yoni Ben-Menachem and its chairman Amir Gilat is very public.
This isn’t something new - indeed, it’s a tradition at the IBA, adhered to by almost all of their predecessors. Israel’s public broadcasting law did not clearly delineate the responsibilities of the chairman, executive board of directors and 32-member plenum of the IBA council relative to those of the professional management, headed by the director-general. Since everyone wants control, the resulting tension between the two main personalities tasked with running and overseeing the IBA is natural.
However, it would seem Gilat and Ben-Menachem have succeeded in outdoing their predecessors in their mutual animosity. In Knesset committee sessions, the two make sure to sit far apart. The popular refrain “anything you can do, I can do better,” has been replaced for them with “anything you can do, I can destroy.”
The IBA is in trouble. Gilat and Ben- Menachem, during better times, agreed on the steps needed to obtain over a half-billion shekels from the government, in an attempt to resuscitate the organization. The so-called reform agreements, signed by the employees, promised a staff cutback of 700, as well as management changes. However, as already described in previous articles, the agreement does not contain the guarantees needed to assure that the IBA will be well managed and truly a public servant.
The minister responsible for the IBA, Gilad Erdan, aware of the serious problems at the IBA, has appointed a committee to look into the “reform package” and in the meanwhile has stopped its funding.
This, instead of convincing Ben-Menachem and Gilat that in bad times, one should overcome differences and attempt to salvage what can be salvaged, has merely exacerbated their already strong differences of opinion.
So much so that Ben-Menachem has recently applied to the State Comptroller for the defense of his job. The comptroller turned him down.
THE LATEST chapter of this story is the IBA’s new ethical guidelines. As we reported in the past, the IBA ethics committee, chaired by former judge Dr. Bilha Cahane, basing itself on extreme left-wing icons such as Professor Akiva Cohen from the Communications Department of Tel Aviv University, decided that the IBA must be brought up to date.
The old ethical guidelines, known as the Nakdi document, which stated that the IBA does not have “a voice of its own,” needed to be thoroughly revised, the committee concluded.
The poor journalists, such as Keren Neubach and Oded Shachar, needed to finally be allowed to use their microphones to further their own agendas.
The decision to revamp the code was taken despite strong opposition.
In fact, previous attempts to stop this outrageous appropriation of public funds to serve the agenda of a cabal of elite journalists had been successful.
This was back when Gilat and Ben- Menachem were still “friends” and knew how to agree on substantial issues. But under the present circumstances, the IBA plenum last week decided to ratify the modernization introduced by Dr. Cahana and her committee. As reported on the Walla website, the decision was ratified with a vote of eight for and two against – that is, less than a third of the members of the IBA plenum actually voted, and only 25 percent of those were in favor. Cahana was not even present at the meeting.
The implications are clear. Consider Neubach’s October 9 interview of Amnon Levy, in which she also touched on the funeral of Rabbi Yosef.
“I can assume, accurately, I would claim, that only that part of Israel’s society which we will call one-to-seven [one being the poorest on her scale] attended the funeral. No one else. You won’t find there numbers eight, nine or 10 – unless they were Shas operatives who managed to care for themselves,” she said.
Amazing. Neubach just “knew” who attended, what their financial status was, and that the better off had only connections to thank for it.
Neubach’s patronizing attitude is considered “ethical” these days, and is to be encouraged. For this is what the new guidelines tell us: “The hosts of soft news shows are understood to be fair agents... they will take the position of devil’s advocate and will do so in a cultured and decent way.”
These guidelines replace the Nakdi doctrine of objectivity with what are termed “the rhetoric of objectivity.”
The guidelines note that “the journalists of the IBA are aware of their heavy responsibility as they are the agents who create reality for the public, and they are aware of their job as journalists in general... the committee was impressed by the IBA’s journalists’ understanding of their job as the watchdog of democracy, therefore it is obligatory to give them the necessary tools to be critical and express their opinions under certain conditions.”
PROFESSOR ASA Kasher, an expert on ethics from Tel Aviv University, had this to say on the Cahana recommendations in a letter to the IBA plenum: “The assumption that we have to redefine our ethics according to existing notions about the role of the press ignores the necessary differences between public and private media.
“ ...I have never accepted the cliché that the media is the watchdog of democracy. We have no reason to assume that the media is managed by people who truly know what democracy is and what should happen within a democracy, and how to safeguard it. Too many modern-day journalists are known for their superficiality and lack of understanding of the topics they have to report on.”
We would add that it is doubly disconcerting to see a governing body make changes to media ethics when the managers themselves obviously do not understand their basic responsibilities towards the public which funds the IBA.
Passing a controversial decision with less than a third of the members of the plenum present is not exactly democratic. Deliberating on it without its having been on the agenda of the meeting in advance is a violation of the basic principles of fair government.
Not allowing those who think differently to be heard is just another way of saying dictatorship.
For the past 20 years we have argued that Israel needs a public broadcasting authority. If managed correctly, such a body provides an exceptionally important service to the public, not only in the realm of news, but also in culture, sport, education and whatnot.
But when the IBA spends money without any accounting; when its board has not the slightest inkling of what its job is or how it should be carried out; when the heads of this institution think their job is to fight each other, and that their positions exist for that purpose; the sad conclusion is that the IBA must be shut down, and the sooner the better.The authors are vice chairman and chairman respectively of Israel’s Media Watch (