Media Comment: Who gets the prize?

Not everyone who receives an award is a prime example of ethical media behavior. In the long term, the list of people awarded a prize is a reflection of the value of the prize itself.

tv quiz 390 (photo credit: Courtesy)
tv quiz 390
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel, like many other countries and societies, awards prizes. Our Independence Day ceremony ends with the Israel Prize event. It has become iconic and even viewer-riveting.
Back in 1957, however, it should be noted, Hanoch Albeck turned down the offer of an Israel Prize since he didn’t think taxpayer money should be utilized for such things and felt that there were already too many types of awards being granted. David Ben-Gurion also declined a prize, writing to the nominations committee that one should not receive a prize for serving the State of Israel.
Over the years, the category of Media Achievement has been added to the list of the Israel Prize. The first was granted to Mordechai (Motti) Kirschenbaum in 1976 and it was termed the prize for “Radio, Television and Cinema Art.”
Kirschenbaum, at the time, produced the Nikui Rosh (Head Cleaning) satire program which quite devastatingly subjected the government to outrageous skits and portrayals. In 1986, there was the Shmuel Snitzer cause célèbre when, on the basis of one article, a man’s life-long production of over five decades was dismissed as unworthy in an appeal to the High Court for Justice.
In 2007 the Israel Prize went to Nahum Barnea of Davar and Yediot Aharonot. Barnea is one of the major figures who introduced to Israel the radical (at the time) “involved journalism” style in which the reporter became an almost equal partner to the story being covered. His Israel Prize is perhaps in recognition of his ground breaking contributions to the replacement of objectivism with subjectivism in the Israeli media.
In stark contrast, last year, Ya’akov Achimeir, a founding member of the IBA television network back in 1968, and before that, Kol Yisrael, the son of famous journalist Abba Ahimeir who wrote in the 1920s for the Labor movement journals and then moved to the Jabotinsky Revisionist Zionist camp, was also an Israel Prize recipient for his contribution to Israel’s media.
Achimeir is perhaps one of the few remaining high-profile journalists in Israel who believes and practices media ethics. It is not surprising that already in 2007 he was recognized by Israel’s Media Watch and awarded the Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism.
Media prizes are also distributed by two important NGOs engaged in supervising governmental behavior, or as the Ometz web site informs us: “the maintaining [of] normative governmental systems, enforcing law and order, improving its civic standards.”
For the Movement for Quality in Government, the mission includes combating corruption and defending its exposers, protecting democracy, instilling values of a proper political culture and encouraging reliable public administration.
Between the years 2005-2011, The Movement for Quality Government recognized the following individuals for media excellence: Guy Rolnik , Ran Resnick, Micky Rosenthal, Kalman Liebskind , Ilana Dayan, Ari Shavit, Meirav Arlosoroff, Keren Neubach and Yoaz Hendel.
During that same period, the anti-corruption Ometz NGO decided that these media figures, among others, deserved a prize: Ilana Dayan, Ruthy Sinai, the Eretz Nehederet satire show, Gaby Gazit, Orly Vilnai-Federbush, Kalman Liebskind, Micky Miro, Raviv Druker, Natan Zehavi, Carmela Menasheh, Itamar Levin, Guy Meiroz, Keren Neubach, Stella Corinne Lieber, Micky Rosenthal, Shahar Genosar, Oded Shachar, Guy Peleg, Razi Barkai, Gal Gabai-Dolfin, Zvi Zachariyam, Yuval Yoaz, Pe’er-Li Shachar and Amit Segel.
There are several interesting aspects to these lists. In the first place, the large numbers of Ometz media prize recipients. Both organizations, we should recall, present awards in multiple areas of social, professional, economic, legal and governmental achievement. Second, a good few media figures are recognized by both groups. Third, representatives of the Haaretz daily constitute a large percentage. Fourth, almost all winners are members of the mainstream media. The sectarian media such as the religious, Russian, Arabic or immigrant are left out.
Fifth, the overwhelming political tint is left-of-center.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at these choices of “outstanding” journalists. Many of them, undeniably, are truly impressive, selected for honor and respect by these two “moral-centered” NGOs. To set the record straight we note that both Rolnik and Liebskind were awarded the IMW media criticism prize. Nevertheless, given the promotion by these two groups of high ethical standards, it is discouraging that a good few of those cited have been involved in serious infractions and violations of the media ethics code.
Ilana Dayan, cited by both organizations, was found guilty in a regional court of serious libel. Even though the Supreme Court found an excuse for her behavior, the case is not over. Menashe was found guilty by a disciplinary tribunal of the Civil Service Commissioner for selling information attained as an employee of the IBA to a competing private media organization.
Natan Zehavi is one of the filthiest broadcasters in Israel, having been repeatedly reprimanded and even fined for demeaning remarks, sexism and hate speech in his broadcasting.
Gaby Gazit was forced, for all intents and purposes, to leave his Kol Yisrael studio for his unbalanced and biased radio programming. He continues to broadcast, at his new Tel Aviv radio home, among others things, anti-haredi deprecations.
He violates the ethics code of the Israel Press Council by appearing regularly in advertisements.
Vilani-Federbush also had to leave her long-time state-sponsored media home. Her professional conduct is questionable.
In one of her reports, bashing the religious, she did not know to distinguish between the 10 percent tithe to the Levites and the “truma” of typically two percent given to the priests.
Keren Neubach’s record includes too many instances of imbalanced editorializing in favor of left/liberal causes to list here. She is another case of a person who is actively disobeying the code of ethics of the IBA.
Army Radio’s Razi Barkai, despite pronouncements in a famous Haaretz interview in defense of Benjamin Netanyahu, has had a long record of anti-nationalist camp prejudice.
Of course, especially as regards Ometz, one could be forgiven for presuming that their very long list suggests that they include so many media people to curry media attention. After all, for NGOs, media coverage and even favoritism is a major requisite for success. One only wonders how many left-of-center media personalities remain before their list runs out of steam.
Far be it from us to suggest that there are not worthy individuals who deserve to be awarded special recognition for their hard work in the media. What is obvious, however, is that not everyone who receives an award is a prime example of ethical media behavior. In the long term, the list of people awarded a prize is a reflection of the value of the prize itself.
The authors are vice chairman and chairman respectively of Israel’s Media Watch,