Media Comment: Israel’s impotent media council

The media treats not only women with disdain but also the nationalist camp.

Woman's eyes 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Woman's eyes 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The relevance of the issue of media supervision and regulation, internal or external, voluntary or legislated, was highlighted again this week when the subject we treated in last week’s column (“The media’s omerta,” May 2), the claims of sexual harassment against media icon Emmanuel Rosen, was discussed in the Knesset.
The Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women convened on Monday afternoon. Among the invited guests were representatives of government ministries, broadcast bodies, feminist NGOs, religious activists from Kolech and Takana, groups that assist victims of sexual harassment, and also Israel’s Media Watch.
Israel’s Press Council did not merit any positive attitude at the meeting; in fact, just the opposite.
One participant recalled an appeal to Dahlia Dorner, a former Supreme Court justice and the current president of Israel’s Press Council, made in May 2010, that was signed by almost 50 feminist organizations and personalities including activists and academics.
The appeal dealt with the decision of the Ha-Ir weekly to grant Dr. Yitzhak Laor many column inches, extending over 10 pages, plus the cover page, to respond to a negative report about him published in Haaretz on February 18, 2010.
Laor had been accused by former students at Tel Aviv University and other women of harassing them over a period of several years, a charge he denied. Other media outlets had immediately dealt with the subject, with Channel 10’s investigative reporting program Hamakor leading the way.
Despite that petition to Dorner and even the submission of a complaint to the police, Israel’s Press Council declined to discuss or otherwise involve itself in the matter.
One published testimony in the Haaretz story suggested Laor had once passed a woman at her desk at Haaretz and asked, “Are you wearing panties?” causing her to go to the bathroom to cry. Other girls came to comfort her, saying she wasn’t the only one.
She complained to the head of the news desk, Moshe Gal, but he “pretty much laughed it off,” she said.
Three years later, Dorner had adopted a slightly different position.
In a segment broadcast over the Educational TV network (ETV), the Tik Tikshoret (Media File) program this past weekend, itself until lately hosted by the same Emmanuel Rosen, the matter of the media’s behavior relating to the case was discussed.
Meirav Batito of Yediot Aharonot argued that until a charge sheet is presented in court, nothing can be publicized by the media. But Justice Dorner, who also participated in the panel, promptly contradicted her.
In her view it is permissible to publish information about sexual harassment, provided that the media takes sufficient steps to convince itself that the story is reliable and true. But did any media person consider turning to the council for assistance and aid when faced with sexual harassment? Presumably the experience in the case of Laor again convinced the victims that the council is not a positive force and should be even ignored in such matters.
The Israel Press Council, as we highlighted back on September 22, 2011, “does not have any legal means at its disposal to enforce its decisions....The process by which it decides whether or not to address a given not transparent...”
Furthermore, we asserted that the “council is lax in imposing its own ethics code on journalists...when its deliberations reveal unethical actions by media people, more often than not... the infractions are never corrected in the same way they appeared... sadly, it would seem that the Press Council is quick in defending its own, but somewhat slow when considering the... rights of the media consumers.”
Let us revisit its more recent record.
Already in August 2009, Dorner and the IPC preferred slow, cumbersome bureaucratic procedures when asked to intervene in response to the publication of pictures of rape victims in newspapers. Despite a bit of blurring, identification of the victims was possible, whereas the law is clear: no publishing of rape victims’ photographs is permissible.
The IPC avoided proactive intervention like the plague.
A second troubling administrative failure of the IPC was its handling of a complaint concerning the treatment of one of the writers of this column.
During Knesset deliberations over the amending of the Channel 10 Law last December, board chairman Avi Balashnikov let loose a tonguelashing, shouting “evil, evil, hard-hearted evil” in response to remarks Pollack made. Ran Binyamini, who reported the event, did not broadcast Pollak’s words nor did he give him the right of reply – an ethical violation. Following the refusal of the Israel Broadcasting Authority to deal with the matter, the IPC was approached.
The IBA responded to the IPC that Binyamini was reprimanded.
The executive director of the IPC, Arik Bachar, then decided this was sufficient reason to close the case. In fact, though, the IBA ethics committee backed Binyamini and forced the IBA to retract the reprimand. Pollak then requested that the case be reopened. But that has not happened. Bachar recently wrote in an email: “It is my assumption that I have exhausted all alternatives of investigation that the IPC possesses.”
One would think that with her many years on the bench, dealing with the many institutions of state administration, Dorner would be aware that to enforce the ethics code both power and an efficient apparatus are required. The media, however, during her terms in office, have time and again succeeded in avoiding any real punishment for wrongs, and has failed to put its own house in order. Is she bewitched by the media’s influence? Something is very wrong in Dorner land.
In February last year, the Tel Aviv Journalists’ Association decided to leave the IPC in protest against Dorner’s election to a third term as the council’s president. They protested that it was unethical and undemocratic for the current council to elect its president and that the council should first elect new members.
The new body, not the outgoing one, should be the forum that elects its president.
This was the imposition of “a minority opinion on the majority,” their representative stated.
And as for democracy, in a media critique column, Dror Eydar pointed out that the commotion surrounding the Rosen affair and possible suppression of women, including their harassment, should alert us to another form of discriminatory exclusion and stifling of personal voices. He pointed out that the media treats not only women with disdain but also the nationalist camp majority.
He asks, “does the media not objectify the conservative majority and turn it into something to be ridiculed?” Journalists with rightist views are not in any positions of power within the media, he writes. “There are no newscasters or interviewers who ask questions that deviate from the norm or raise issues other than the ‘accepted’ ones. There is not a single prime-time news show that is run or hosted by a conservative or rightist journalist.”
And we ask: should not pluralism as an expression of basic democracy also be a concern? Does the IPC or its president have anything to say about that? Sadly, Israel’s Press Council, which could have played an important role in increasing the prestige of Israel’s media and the respect it should get from the public, has for years done the precise opposite. It is “part of the club”; it’s actions are not open to public scrutiny and overall, it has just further convinced the public that something is very wrong in Israel’s media landscape.
The authors are, respectively, vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (