Media Comment: The IBA’s ‘reformation'

MKs bashes blunders of Israel Broadcasting Authority during Knesset c'tee meeting discussing reforms of state-sponsored TV operations.

IBA 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
IBA 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
This past Tuesday, the Knesset Economics Committee, chaired by Professor Avishai Braverman (Labor) discussed rehabilitating the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
The IBA’s leadership, chairman Dr. Amir Gilat and executive director Yoni Ben-Menachem, are to be complimented for having brought to almost full fruition a process that began almost a decade ago and was considered by many to be impossible.
Yet the committee meeting was nothing but a left-wing bashing of the present leadership of the IBA. Politicians such as MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) called for the closing down of the state-sponsored television and the abolishment of the TV fee (the agra). All this in the context of “trying to save Israel’s public broadcasting.” Interestingly, not one MK from the Likud or Bayit Yehudi parties thought the discussion merited their presence.
The fact that the Israel Broadcasting Authority is a bloated behemoth is no secret. It employs close to 2,000 people. The highest salaries go to technicians whose jobs are outdated due to new technologies. There was no financial accountability at the IBA. Managers do not have budgets to balance and there is no system that would permit cost-itemizing of an hour’s broadcasting to facilitate budget control. The IBA’s management structure is arguably the worst of all public organizations in Israel.
These ills will hopefully be cured with the onset of what has been termed in Hebrew “the reform.” The agreements allow the management to reduce the workforce of the IBA to 1,200 and in principle should introduce modern technology into the IBA.
It took almost a decade to reach these agreements, which are technical in nature. The true sickness of our public media station, which was not discussed in the Knesset committee meeting, is that the IBA is not public, too many of its employees do not feel the need to serve the public; to consider what the public needs are and to obey the law that defines their job as public servants.
One might think the IBA should make efforts to present to the public the positive aspects of the Jewish state.
But this is not to be. Just this past week, with publication of the governmental report on the al-Dura case which absolved the IDF from harming Muhammad al-Dura, the IBA’s coverage could have been coming out of the United Nations. Al-Dura’s father, as well as France 2’s reporter Charles Enderlin, were given free time to further promulgate their version of the events without any tough questions asked.
This was not an isolated event. Consider the latest “report” of the anti-Israel B’Tselem organization, headed among others by the Israel Democracy Institute’s vice president Professor Mordechai Kremnitzer. This organization recently (May 9) accused the IDF of unnecessarily killing too many civilians in the recent Operation Pillar of Defense. In their own words: “The report challenges the common perception in the Israeli public and media that the operation was ‘surgical’ and caused practically no fatalities among uninvolved Palestinian civilians.”
The IBA’s Kol Yisrael radio station brought this accusation in its morning news as if it was a regular news agency report. It also gave B’Tselem space in its morning news roundup program.
We all know that B’Tselem is not a news organization.
Its reports are questionable at best and too often outright false in their accusations against Israelis. In this instance, NGO Monitor pointed out that the “report” is far from objective, that its sources are not reliable, that its assumptions about the motivation of the IDF are not based on fact, but rather surmise and that in part the B’Tselem press release contradicts its own findings.
The IBA is well aware that B’Tselem is unreliable. Back in 2008, Israel’s Media Watch president at that time, Dr.
Uzi Landau, sent a letter to IBA chairman Moshe Gavish in which he noted that various researchers – Tamar Sternthal from the CAMERA organization, Yonathan Halevy from the NFC website and others – have exposed the false accusations of B’Tselem. For example, B’Tselem had accused the IDF of killing a Palestinian youth on December 31, 2007, while the truth was that the youth had been killed by Hamas and Fatah fire.
Gavish justified Dr. Landau’s complaint. In his response, he noted that the IBA decided that any press release arriving at the news desk must undergo at least an initial veracity check. Dealing more specifically with B’Tselem, since the group had purveyed false information in the past, the IBA would undertake an in-depth check before bringing an item from this source to the public’s attention. It was also stipulated that it is imperative to note in the IBA’s reports that the item is not fact but rather a citation from a report, and the source must be given.
B’Tselem’s false accusations, among those of other radical left-wing organizations, are fodder for Israel’s enemies and anti-Semites all over the world. They can argue, justifiably, that if the IBA treats B’Tselem’s reports seriously, then there must be something to their claims.
The path to accusing the IDF of being and immoral, bloodthirsty occupation army which has no interest in the well-being of the local Arab population is short.
Has the IBA learned anything? Has it followed its own guidelines? Clearly not. IMW’s current president, former ambassador Dr. Meir Rosenne, asked in his May 12 letter to IBA chairman Dr. Amir Gilat: “Did the IBA undertake an in-depth check of the B’Tselem claims? When the IBA cites news from this organization, why doesn’t it note that the news comes from an organization with a clear political agenda? Will the IBA also provide broad coverage to reports coming from NGO Monitor, Camera, Palestinian Media Watch and Yehonatan Halevy when they provide in-depth reports about B’Tselem?” Rosenne finishes his letter asking: “Is it appropriate that the public broadcaster is the one who gives a public stage to these Israel haters?” In fact, the IBA’s staff has also on other occasions provided ammunition for the anti-Semites, material which was unjustified and meant to smear Israel. On April 24, the IBA TV Channel 1 Mabat Sheni documentary program aired two items which discussed the “price tag” issue and the “hilltop youth.” The item on the “price tag” was seemingly purchased from the BBC Panorama program. As one might expect, it was one-sided. The emerging picture was that the “price tag” mentality reflects all settlers east of the Green Line. Although the Yesha Council, for example, has time and again denounced any “price tag” actions, the broadcast item did not even attempt to include their critical reactions to the “price tag” perpetrators.
The second item did not try to balance matters. Eyal Tavor described “the second generation of settlers” and also dealt with the price tag and hilltop youth issues. The item misrepresented the settlement leadership, interviewing only the old-guard leadership. After the fact, we know that there was good reason for this. The true leadership, people such as Yossi Dagan, Gershon Mesika, Avi Roeh and others refused to be interviewed, knowing that they could not expect a fair shake from Tavor.
Moreover, Israel Hayom journalist Emily Amrussi, who was also interviewed, claimed her words were taken out of context and edited in a way which gave the impression that the hilltop youth do not respect Israel’s democracy.
It is the job of a news organization to put issues on the public’s agenda, perhaps especially when they hurt. But they must be thoroughly researched and the reporting must be fair. Too often, the IBA has done the opposite, alienating many people within Israel’s society. True reform at the IBA would mean that it becomes a public service organization. The IBA should replace its highhanded “we know more than you” ethos with that of the public servant, who is always attentive to the needs of Israel’s society and well-being.
The authors are, respectively, vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (