Media Comment: Leader, caretaker or failure?

There are leaders and caretakers. A leader identifies needs and moves ahead to provide, while the caretaker takes good care of his responsibilities.

Orthodox haredi man reads newspapers media news 390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
Orthodox haredi man reads newspapers media news 390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
Real leaders are few and far between.
There are leaders and caretakers. A leader identifies needs in advance and moves ahead to provide them, irrespective of the volume of the background noise of pundits, self-designated experts and know-it-alls. The caretaker seeks to make sure that he takes good care of his responsibilities. They kowtow to their superiors, pay attention to their underlings and bend with any breeze that blows in their direction. Their main goal is to be perceived as doing their job well. The failure may be a leader who did not know how to implement grand ideas but all too often can also be the miserable caretaker, who has little idea about management, who is happy to make do with a hefty salary and a prestigious job but fails even the challenge of being a successful caretaker.
Associate Professor Dr. Ilan Avisar was the chair of the Department of Film and Television at the Faculty of the Arts at Tel Aviv University from 2002-2005. For eight years (1996- 2004) he was a member of the Israeli Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting. For the past nine years he has also been a member of the Israel Film Council. His credentials are impeccable and, in contrast to many others on the humanities faculty of Tel Aviv University, he identifies publicly as a Zionist. It is not surprising that Moshe Kahlon, as then minister responsible for the Second Authority of TV and Radio (SATR ), appointed him as chair of the SATR almost four years ago. Avisar’s term will end this January, and Communications Minister Gilad Erdan is already in the process of appointing a new council, and so it is only appropriate to try to provide an assessment of Avisar’s performance during these past four years.
The Walla website reported a week ago that Culture Minister Limor Livnat expressed scathing criticism of the SATR : “The second authority mandated to be the gatekeeper for our children and Israel’s culture is derelict in its duty. I sometimes pinch myself, saying that this cannot be. It is impossible to open the TV ; everything has turned into ‘reality.’” Livnat, who 15 years ago was Israel’s communications minister responsible among others for the SATR and whose efforts led to the opening of Channel 10 TV , is not a voice in the wilderness. At the end of 2012, in the aftermath of the Knesset’s election gifts of hundreds of millions of shekels to channels 10 and 2, Avisar appointed the Shaham Committee, named after its chairman Ya’akov Shaham, head of the SATR TV oversight committee.
The official reason for this committee’s appointment was “a thorough review of the media, especially in view of the latest legislation of the Knesset.”
Presumably this committee, whose recommendations were, as announced by the SATR , to be binding and given within 120 days, was supposed to provide recommendations that would lead to change in the low level of programming while, at the same time, safeguarding the economic needs of the TV concessionaires.
The latest twist is that the SATR has extended the mandate of the committee until the end of January, by which time the mandate of the present SATR board will have expired! Israel’s film producers have cried foul against the Shaham Committee, claiming that it would release channels 2 and 10 from the need to outsource their products. At the same time, the channels are fearful that the committee will restrict their ability to provide covert advertising. We would add that the Shaham Committee was not needed. Many members of the SATR council do not identify with it either and would prefer it to cease existing.
Its function was to allow Avisar to claim that he is acting, when in reality he was procrastinating.
The SATR ’s rules prohibit covert advertising. A committee chaired by Prof. Asa Kasher presented its recommendations on this issue already in 2006, but they were ignored.
SATR rules also do not allow the concessionaires to use news air time to present trailers of their upcoming programming. At IMW we have repeatedly noted this theft of air time, but it has taken Avisar and the SATR three years before they even invited the concessionaires for a “chat” about their illegal practices.
In fact, until now nothing has been done. In Hebrew slang, there is an expression for this kind of management. It is called “as if” – as if something were actually being done.
The TV show Ossim Shinui (Creating a Change) is another example of mismanagement.
Four months ago, we informed Avisar that the producers of this program are illegally offering NGOs to appear on the program, provided that they pay a sum of NIS 50,000. Avisar did nothing until this past week when the DeMarker website had a professional testify that he had to pay for appearing on the program.
The show has now been canceled. No, Avisar did not call the police in for an investigation.
Fear of the press seems to be the driving force in Avisar’s SATR administration, not the real question of whether the law has to be upheld.
Up until this day, the SATR has not kept its commitment to enforce gender equality at the Kol Barama radio station. Women are not allowed to present programs, and their part in the broadcasts is minor at best. From day one, Avisar tried to defend the station instead of carrying out his mandate, which is to enforce the law.
The foul language of some of the hosts, especially on FM 103, is roundly criticized by all. A year ago, Avisar promised that he would work to issue codes of conduct that would define this unethical conduct and eliminate it. As usual, nothing has yet been done, and people like Natan Zehavi continue to defile our airwaves.
In retrospect, we can certainly say that the present SATR council and its chair, Avisar, did not play a leadership role. The frequency of reality shows increased, the use of news programming to advertise shows reached unprecedented heights, and covert advertising became the norm. Some council members, such as Dr. Dalia Zelikovitch, tried from within to create change, but Avisar would not allow it. Others, such as Dr. Aliza Lavie, escaped to become Knesset members. The bottom line is that not a single new radio station has been added to Israel’s spectrum (Galei Yisrael was approved in principle before Avisar’s chairmanship).
Digital radio broadcasting is still far away in the future, awaiting real leadership. The poor quality of the content on channels 2 and 10 is acknowledged by all. Here too, if anything, the quality has worsened and the number of broadcasters has not changed. Avisar’s council can, in the best of cases, be considered a caretaker, as it has for four years supplied us with more of the same. The council failed miserably in providing the Israeli public what it deserves – pluralistic quality broadcasting on TV and over the radio. One can only hope that Erdan will have the wisdom and foresight to appoint a real leader.
The authors are, respectively, vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (