Media Comment: Media self-protection

The media demands that there be no interference in its professional work.

Newspapers (photo credit: Wikicommons)
(photo credit: Wikicommons)
Self-protection and survival are natural instincts. Faced with danger, the red panda usually flees and a rhinoceros will charge. Bureaucracies obfuscate.
A 1944 US Office of Strategic Services manual on sabotage suggested the following gems on how to interfere with organizational operations: never permit shortcuts, refer all matters to committees and bring up irrelevant issues.
All of these strategies and more are staples of the media business.
One outstanding strategy used to deflect criticism of the media coming from NGOs such as Israel’s Media Watch who monitor it daily, keep audio and visual records and produce research reports, is that this activity is done by “outsiders.”
This allows the media to portray media critics as ignorant or worse, antagonists whose sole purpose is to oppose democracy and undermine the democratic task and role the media plays in our society.
The media demands that there be no interference in its professional work. They are the Fourth Estate, separate and above the political fray and no one has the right to check and balance their activities.
Branding opponents is one of the more benign methods. The media does not hesitate to use the democratic process for its own goals.
It demands protection from politicians in the form of specialized laws such as protecting journalists from having to reveal their sources.
At the same time, though, the media seeks to control those who could potentially cause it damage.
One well-known ploy is the threat to withhold air/screen time. A politician or any other public figure will early on in their career realize that exerting pressure on the media will lead to the stifling of their connection with the electorate.
The media uses its power to distort and even mute the figure’s public agenda. The public will not be allowed to become intimate with her or his positions and activities.
If this does not work, the next step is to turn the media critic into an object of ridicule. The media will depict itself as a heroic crusader and those with criticism as villains.
Dr Jacinta Maweu from the University of Nairobi, Kenya, is a lecturer in media studies.
In an August 2013 article, he dealt with the effect of increasing commercialism on what he defines as media benchmarks: professionalism, truth, accuracy, reliability, impartiality, respect for humanity and the promotion of public interest.
He pointed out that “the success of any democracy depends upon the combined efforts of professional journalists, concerned citizens and responsible media institutions that can balance between public and commercial interest. And without such, citizens only fool themselves when they claim they are informed and self-governing.”
Sadly, too often, academia in Israel, instead of being the leaders they should be in pointing out the emperor has no clothes, do the exact opposite. More often than not, Israeli academics prefer to remain naked, becoming over-friendly with the media.
This week, the University of Haifa’s Department of Communication, together with Sonara and the Nazereth Academic Institute, are holding a conference entitled “Religion, Peace and Media Coverage.”
Sonara is an Arab news website. Reviewing it, we note that it broadcasts Valley of the Wolves, an anti-Israel, and indeed, an anti-Semitic Turkish television production.
Perhaps the need for funding caused the organizers at Haifa U. to overlook this inconvenient element.
The schedule provides insight into how the media will violate the fundamental professional demands of balance and pluralism.
Tomorrow, Friday, Dr. Hannah Kehat of Kolech will be the sole presenter at the session devoted to “The New Field of Power in the Struggle of Religious Feminists.”
We know of exciting developments in feminism within the national religious camp which deviate from the radical concepts of Dr. Kehath. Why are they not part of this conference? Are the organizers seeking to marginalize elements in Israel’s society who do not toe the reformist liberal media line? Later that morning, the participants in a discussion of “Peace in the Media” are Prof. Akiba Cohen, Ilil Shahar of Galatz, Hussein Sweti, a Sonara journalist, Peace Now’s Yariv Oppenheimer and Dr. Ghazi Abu-Raya, spokesperson for Sakhnin and the director of the far-left Givat Haviva Center branch there.
Cohen is arguably the force behind the latest ethics changes in the IBA which allow journalists to use the public airwaves to promote their own agendas.
Shahar was exposed by IMW as accepting a paid invitation from the Geneva Initiative groups to fly to Europe and cover their activities. The lack of balance in the panel is all too evident.
The other panels are not much better. Today, Thursday, the main panel will have Dr.
Michele Rosenfeld of Haifa U., Yair Sheleg of Makor Rishon and the Israel Democracy Institute, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elias Chacour, the Reform Movement’s Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Sharia Judge Iyad Zahalka and Sheikh Nemer Nemer.
Chacour, a Melkite from Biram, is engaged in “reconciliation work.” In his book We Belong to the Land he writes: “We as Palestinians had not been responsible for the suffering of the Jews in Europe, yet we were the ones who were chased out of our land and made to suffer so the world could soothe its conscience and pretend to repair the evil done against the Jews.”
Kippa-wearing Sheleg is ideologically left-of-center in his political outlook and close to Kehat in his religious views. Kariv defines himself as a progressive.
Was the editor of Besheva, Emmanuel Shiloh, also a kippa-wearing Jew, asked to participate? The answer is no, for we asked him.
There are several haredi newspapers, radio stations and news websites. Do they have nothing to contribute to the topic? There are National Religious rabbis who appear regularly in the mainstream media interview shows. Not one of them could be persuaded to attend? Was Dr. Yoel Cohen of Ariel University, an expert and author of books and articles on the subject, invited? In answer to our questioning, he confirmed that he was not.
This “academic” conference is a classic example of the friends of the media restricting the “public space” of possible critics while rewarding those who do attend with recognition and perhaps a report in the media on their participation.
It highlights the media’s success in protecting itself from criticism and opposing points of view. It also reveals the unethical actions certain elements in society are willing to engage in to assure that their political and cultural bias is entrenched.
The German-Jewish satirist Karl Kraus famously quipped, “No ideas and the ability to express them – that’s a journalist.”
Let us not be misunderstood: a free media is a sine qua non for a free, democratic and informed society. But if the media and its academic supporters insist on managing the news, distancing outsiders while enlisting insiders as allies, they only invite increased mistrust from the public.
There are many reasons why the media must be monitored and studied. One good explanation is this excerpt from Franz Kafka’s short story, “At Night”: “Why are you watching? Someone must watch, it is said. Someone must be there.”
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (