Media comment: Parliamentary tasks

There is no alternative but to advance legislation and use the law to try and regulate the press.

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)
Autumn is upon us and with it come the shouts and cacophony of the fall session of the Knesset. There are weighty and serious issues for our elected representatives to deal with concerning our country’s security, diplomatic standing and future. Social legislation is also on the agenda, and this includes media issues.
Just mention the term “regulation” and our media professionals become irritated, to say the least. Media oversight is not a favorite topic among journalists.
But just as we expect the authorities to make sure that restaurants are hygienic, we should also expect that the press, printed, broadcast as well as electronic, is held to minimal standards which protect the public from unethical practices.
Experience shows that voluntary codes, such as those of Israel’s Press Council, are insufficient.
There is no alternative but to advance legislation and use the law to try and regulate the press.
Media bias is undemocratic, and, when practiced by statesponsored and state-supported broadcasting networks – the Israel Broadcasting Authority, Second Authority for Television and Radio, Israel Educational Television Network and Army Radio – it is illegal.
It is in essence the implementation of extreme minority rule by a few editors and TV producers, several reporters and the odd researcher.
Bias can be implemented in many ways and it is about time our MKs applied themselves to assure that at least the media directly financed by the taxpayer is fair and pluralistic. Commercial radio and television could also benefit from more equal opportunity and pluralism.
With this in mind, we would suggest to the Knesset members, irrespective of their ideological makeup, that there are some pressing media-related issues which need their attention.
We start with the Army Radio station. Unlike the IBA and the Second Authority, there is no law regulating the operation of the station, or providing for its public supervision. The only applicable law – enacted this past year – deals with advertisement, and even this came about as a result of the intervention of the High Court of Justice. Must we wait for further guidelines from the Supreme Court? Wouldn’t it be better if the legislature took the initiative? We would suggest that advertisement be entirely abolished from Army Radio; a state-supported media organ competes unfairly with private radio stations that live only off of their advertising income. Only an extra NIS 7.5 million per year is needed to replace Army Radio’s advertising income.
Soldiers who want to serve in Army Radio should first be required to serve 18 months of regular army duty, similar to hesder yeshiva students. Then, they would be required to serve an additional three years at the station – after all, they are getting a free education in journalism.
Going through some regular duty might also make them a bit more appreciative of what the IDF is really about.
Army Radio’s goals as a public body must be defined. It should be clear that its first obligation is to serve the needs of the Israel Defense Forces. Army Radio needs a public supervisory body, which would assure transparency of its operations, as required from any other nonprofit public organization in Israel.
Israel needs a press law, as the existing ones are mostly mandatory.
The 1933 Journalism Ordinance is still in force. A 2008 bill was tabled by then-interior minister Meir Sheetrit but it never became law.
One of the important issued raised at that time was the need for newspapers to permanently delineate the owners and publishers of the paper and their holdings. This would have made it much more difficult for publishers to use their papers to implicitly or explicitly further their business interests at the expense of the quality of the paper. It is not surprising that at that time, it was the owners who vehemently opposed this.
The proposed law mandated the appointment of an ombudsman who would deal with public complaints concerning content as well as advertising. As we know, “respectable” newspapers around the world maintain a public editor or representative, so why should Israel be different? Digital Radio: if the government sincerely wishes to free up the media and bring it into the 21st century, permitting true pluralism, it should adopt a real “open skies” policy, instead of paying only lip service to the idea. The draconian demands of the Second Authority should be removed. The airwaves should be open to anyone who wants to broadcast. Modern technology enables hundreds of stations to broadcast simultaneously, why is Israel limited to a dozen or so, most of which are regional and not national? The Israel Educational Television Network: This is a publicly funded station. Its status is that of an autonomous unit within the Education Ministry. Is it really needed? We believe that Israel has too many publicly funded media stations and that this is one which should be closed down. However, if this is not possible for political reasons, then at least it, too, must be regulated and its operations made transparent.
The IBA: So much ink has been wasted on this ancient institution which refuses to be modernized. The Knesset controls its budget; it should use its power to force the IBA to serve the public instead of the present situation whereby the public is the servant of the IBA.
The scandal surrounding the rejection of the Latma satirical program while using covert tactics to authorize extreme leftwing satire is but one example of the terminal sickness of this body. A general debate on this specific issue would contribute to a public review of what the real task of public broadcasting in Israel is, and of who it serves.
Our recommendation is that the Knesset support Communication Minister Gilad Erdan in his demand that TV Channel 1 be closed down, reformed completely and only then be allowed to go back on air.
Media licensing: This is not only needed for radio stations.
The present law regulating the TV stations is so complex and demanding that in practice it prevents new players from entering the field. It must be altered significantly.
Amalgamating regulatory bodies: Israel has too many public broadcasters, but not less problematic is the proliferation of regulatory bodies. We should learn from others. An Israel Federal Communications Commission should be established, and it should be given the responsibility of overseeing all of Israel’s broadcasters. The regulations should be limited to the bare essentials and enforced without leniency.
Website monitoring: No, we are not suggesting regulating private websites, quite the contrary.
The web is mostly a breath of fresh air. But too many of the publicly supported media franchises use their websites without care for media ethics. This should be and can be regulated.
We have touched upon a number of topics, but there are many more, such as the question whether Israel’s Press Council should be mandated by law, the revision of the law governing rating of programs with respect to violence, sex and drugs. The predecessors of this Knesset almost always gave in to media demands, motivated by self-preservation. Will the present Knesset outdo itself and provide the public with true social media legislation? The authors are, respectively, vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch.