Media Comment: Mandela and snow

The idea that journalism is a demanding profession whose call is to provide the public with the broad picture, irrespective of personal prejudices, has seemingly not yet become part and parcel of Israel’s journalistic practices.

Nelson Mandela speaks to crowd in London  370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Nelson Mandela speaks to crowd in London 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
What is the thread that connects between the funeral of Nelson Mandela and the icy weather Israel experienced during the past week? In both cases, the media had a ball. Finally there was something significant and well worth reporting. But in both cases, part of Israel’s media demonstrated its lack of ability to provide the public with an objective and comprehensive report of the events.
Consider the case of Nelson Mandela. As rightly mentioned by Michael Freund in this newspaper, notwithstanding the South African situation, Mandela was a terrorist who caused the death of innocent people. His best friends were some of the most cruel, vicious and avaricious dictators of the 20th century. At the same time, for sure, he was the figure identified with the termination of apartheid in South Africa and the creation of a modern democracy that replaced white-supremacy rule.
Indeed, in this connection, the Globes newspaper published an op-ed article by extreme left-wing historian Prof.
Moshe Zimmermann of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Zimmermann in his article defends Mandela’s terrorism by claiming that Mandela considered Menachem Begin’s career as a precursor to his. In other words, in Zimmermann’s view Begin was a terrorist who made good and so was Mandela. It just so happens that Begin took pains to prevent innocent deaths, but who cares about facts? Zimmermann considers Mandela as a light-tower of wise and moral statesmanship and asks how is it that the whole world thinks so, yet Israel did not recognize his greatness? TV Channel 2’s reporter Arad Nir, sent especially to South Africa to cover the memorial ceremony had this to say: “If Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu would have participated in the ceremony... the local Jewish community would have raised its head in pride. But Netanyahu is miserly and the South African Jews had to make do with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, a symbol of Israeli rule who resides in Neve Daniel in Gush Etzion. Not exactly the flag of the “other Israel” which the local community wants to wave against a South African government which is resolutely against the occupation.”
It doesn’t even occur to Mr. Nir that there is a case to be made for limiting Israel’s presence in a funeral that is attended by some of the world’s most oppressive rulers. Nir does not take into account the case of the Dalai Lama who did not attend because the South African government is fearful of Chinese wrath and has refused him a visa twice in the past. Should Israel’s prime minister not consider this immoral policy of South Africa? The TV reportage was just as shallow. Channels 1, 2 and 10 all had special reports whose common theme was the Israeli delegation, and the heads of state and celebs attending the ceremony. Channel 10 brought a report from the former jailer of Mandela, which was all glowing about the peace loving personality of Mandela. None of the channels related to the problematic aspects of his past.
Most of the Internet sites provided similar bland reportage.
A welcome change was to be found in Nadav Eyal’s commentary on the NRG website, where he related fully to Mandela’s violent past, criticizing it, yet at the same time giving the context and the reasons that seemingly led to it.
Benjamin Pogrund’s article in Haaretz, similarly tried to put Mandela’s history as well as Israel’s problematic relationship with the Apartheid regime into context. His conclusion is that “the true Nelson Mandela can and should be a lodestar for us.”
But these are the exceptions. Most of Israel’s journalists have colored glasses and find it very difficult to go against the stream.
The same type of limited reporting was to be found in the coverage of “the storm” that preoccupied us for the past week. On Sunday evening’s news, Channel 10’s report was about Safed and Jerusalem and its surroundings, west of the Green Line. Judea and Samaria were not even mentioned.
Channel 2’s news had reports from Safed, Jerusalem and the Galilee. Ohad Ben-Hamo reported briefly on the isolation of the Gush Etzion region but had a long filmed report on the effects of the storm in Ramallah and the Gaza Strip. Only the IBA’s Channel 1 TV news gave a comprehensive report on the damage, which included Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria.
The lack of reportage did not go unnoticed. At Israel’s Media Watch we received numerous complaints about the indifference of the mainstream media to the actual suffering of many people in Judea and Samaria. A typical example is the letter of Daniel Alkalay from Jerusalem who complains about the main Saturday night news program on TV Channel 2: “The program related to the storm and resulting damage in almost all parts of the country except for the settlements in Judea and Samaria. The suffering of the residents who have no electricity, news, water since Thursday is hard to describe, yet this seemingly does not interest Channel 2 news.”
Sadly, one can almost divide the news purveyors by ideology.
Makor Rishon, Israel Hayom, Arutz 7 all had in depth reports on the sad state of affairs in Judea and Samaria.
Especially Arutz 7 brought some of the hardship of the residents to light. On December 15 it mentioned a family evacuated from Haresha due to hypothermia. Other websites reported two miscarriages that occurred in the Yitzhar area. 100 hilltop families were totally disconnected from water, electricity and phone services. Personal blogs of residents describing the hardship were also brought to light. But all of this and much more could only be found on relatively obscure sites.
It was hard to find empathy in the “mainstream” purveyors of “news.” They did report that homes were disconnected from electricity in the various townships, but the colorful and empathetic story that would serve to humanize the settlers was seemingly too hard to swallow. Only towards the end, when there was not much other news available, some of the mainstream media gave some color to stories emanating from Judea and Samaria, such as a birth given on Highway 443 by a woman from Givat Ze’ev, due to the blockage of traffic.
Sadly, too many of our journalists consider it their job to bring all the news that they see fit to print. The idea that journalism is a demanding profession whose call is to provide the public with the broad picture, irrespective of personal prejudices, has seemingly not yet become part and parcel of Israel’s journalistic practices.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (