Media comment: We still need awards

The Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism, graciously sponsored by Kenneth and Nira Abramowitz and initiated by Israel’s Media Watch, will be awarded this coming Sunday.

US and Israel flags 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
US and Israel flags 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
The Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism, graciously sponsored by Kenneth and Nira Abramowitz and initiated by Israel’s Media Watch, will be awarded this coming Sunday (February 16) to Dr. Dror Eydar and Dr. Guy Bechor, with the Israeli Prize for Quality Economic Journalism going to Elia Tsipori, deputy chief editor since 2006 of the Globes daily newspaper.
By chance, the same week as these prizes are awarded, two members of the Ethics Committee of the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s Public Council will resign. Dr. Motti Neiger and Prof. Akiba Cohen exited the committee in protest against the appointment of Prof. Asa Kasher as its new chairman.
Neiger is head of the Netanya College Communications School and Cohen, a professor emeritus, taught at Tel Aviv University and is currently on the staff of the Emek Yizrael Academic College. They were upset that former judge Bilha Cahana is no longer the committee’s chairman.
We already related to a major alteration in the IBA’s ethics code in our October 23, 2013 column; Cahana sought to revamp the old guidelines, known as the Nakdi document, which declared that the IBA does not have “a voice of its own.”
Instead, she decreed, together with Neiger and Cohen, that journalists are permitted to make personal comments on news programs and provide the public with their sagacious insight. They considered the adage that views and news don’t mix to be outdated.
Cahane’s committee noted that it “was impressed by the IBA’s journalists’ understanding of their job as the watchdog of democracy, therefore it is obligatory to give them the necessary tools to be critical and express their opinions under certain conditions.”
The IBA plenum ratified this fundamental change in a vote of eight to two; less than a third of the members actually voted. However, there were misgivings among the professional management of the IBA, as the new guidelines would replace the IBA’s doctrine of objectivity with “the rhetoric of objectivity.”
Ethicist Professor Asa Kasher shares these concerns. Kasher holds the Laura Schwarz-Kipp Chair in Professional Ethics and Philosophy of Practice at Tel Aviv University, received the 2000 Israel Prize for Philosophy and, among his many positions, is the vice chairman of the steering committee of the Ethics Center of Jerusalem. He wrote, “I never accepted the cliché that the press is ‘democracy’s watchdog’ and I have no basis to assume that the media is managed by persons who know best what is democracy, what should happen in a democracy and how to guard it.... Many journalists today are known for their shallowness, their lack of grasp of the matters on which they report and among other things, their kowtowing to their sources.”
His view, according to Cohen and Neiger, is a “targeted elimination” of the committee’s work.
We made no secret that in our view, it was the committee’s decision to alter the code that actually was an elimination of one of the basic assurances of objectivity and professional reporting. If anything, Cahana’s committee was instituting a very undemocratic procedure, elevating journalists to a position of undeserved supremacy in managing the public discourse.
Just like any other public sector, the media needs criticism, and more so when state-sponsored broadcasting in involved. This is the fundamental reasoning underlying the Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism. It is in the public interest to support and encourage those in the media who uphold ethical and professional standards and do not serve narrow interests – political, economic and personal – but rather the public and the media itself.
Media ethics have improved considerably this past year at the army radio station. It is the only major media purveyor that does not hesitate to admit mistakes. But its attitude just accentuates the lack of improvement in media ethics elsewhere.
Major issues are not afforded the correct balance and unfair and biased interventions are too often the norm, as repeatedly discussed in this column.
While today’s media is not as one-sided as it once was – the print media having changed radically – nevertheless, the electronic and broadcasting media cannot be relied upon. The public microphone is usurped to become a personal one in too many instances.
Employing undemocratic means through media dominance will only deepen the rifts among us.
We all should raise our voices to prevent this.
THE PRIZE winners this year exemplify that it is possible to be professional, ethical and considerate of media consumers.
Dror Eydar’s writing reflects a “thinking outside the box” style.
His columns are uncompromising in their treatment of government, economics, politics and the media as well. As an independent actor, he is outside the branja, the clique of Israel’s Left-liberal media celebrities.
He has attacked influential elements in Israel for their post-Zionist positions.
Eydar is not the cultural icon of the mainstream media he deserves to be. He began to publish in the mid-nineties. He edited Nativ, the now defunct bi-monthly and published columns in the Makor Rishon and Haaretz newspapers. He finally found his journalistic home at the Israel Hayom newspaper, for which has been writing from its very inception.
Bechor has frequently noted the impact of negative journalism on Israel. With careful, well thoughtout and courageous writing, Bechor has strongly criticized media manipulation, the uniform, unimaginative thinking which dominates it, and its excessive power. He has consistently insisted that the public has a right to receive objective, democratic and unbiased reporting and analysis.
An orientalist, jurist and historian in academic life, he was the first Arab affairs reporter at the IDF Army Radio station (from 1980 to 1984). He was one of the founders of the (now defunct) daily newspaper Hadashot, heading its Middle East desk between the years 1984 and 1991. He then held the same position at the Ha’aretz newspaper, until 1998. He is a lecturer and commentator on Middle East affairs in the media worldwide and has published seven books in Hebrew, English and Arabic.
This is also the eighth year that an additional award is given for economic journalism. The Israeli Prize for Quality Economic Journalism will be presented to Elia Tsipori, deputy chief editor since 2006 of the Globes daily newspaper. Tsipori joined Globes when he was 21 and from 1994 until 2006 was the editor of the paper’s finance section.
Tsipori’s writing is critical, impartial and free of political and business pressures. He separates his private opinion and his professional interpretation. He knows how to admit when his criticism was mistaken – a rare trait on the Israeli media scene. His substantive writing has significantly impacted the economy of Israel.
Arguably the most notable of his accomplishments is the insistent reporting with which he forced the various Israeli pension funds to reduce their management fees from over two percent to less than 1%; a saving of at least NIS 1 billion per year for Israeli citizens. Rewarding him with the prize is one way of publicly thanking a person whose efforts have rewarded practically all working Israelis.
We are proud that there are journalists such as these among us and that we can honor them.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (