Media Comment: Why not Ynet?

The future will tell whether the public will tolerate the lack of accountability of Ynet.

Photojournalists photographers journalists reporters 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Photojournalists photographers journalists reporters 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
One observer of media ethics, Stephen J.A. Ward, writing in the Winter 2012 issue of MEDIA, the journal of the Canadian Association of Journalists, provides us with a concise definition of the ethical journalist. According to Ward, journalists should seek to serve the public but not be activists; journalists must strive to be fully impartial as well as objective; they should maintain professional and personal independence and be truly transparent in their work, even welcoming review. These rules-of-thumb should apply to mainstream media outlets as well as internet sites and the social media phenomenon.
Good journalism in the sense of news-gathering and news-reporting isn’t that difficult to produce. The basics are quite obvious: fairness, accuracy, truthfulness, confirmation of sources, prompt correction or clarification of (and, if neccessary apology for) errors, whether they are factual mistakes or mistakes of omission.
In Israel the broadcast media has a clear code of ethics. Although compliance with it could improve, the very existence of a code guides the media and prevents egregious failures. Or at least leads at times to apologies and corrections.
Israel’s newspapers, on the other hand, are in a different league. Only Ma’ariv has a complaints commissioner. The others at best are willing sometimes to relate to public outrage or complaints, after all they do want to sell and an outraged public will not buy.
The internet is also an entirely different ballgame.
On the one hand, the public can react to any item and article and these reactions, by and large, appear on the websites. This has led to retractions, apologies and even attempts at covering up errors by removing them and presenting the public with a modified form of the same item. All this is of course impossible in the print media.
On the other hand there are no clear guidelines and one finds that reporters often allow themselves to disregard even the most elemental rules, such as the right of reply. It would seem sometimes that there is even contempt for the public users of the sites.
Consider Ynet. Anyone who has placed a complaint with this website probably knows their response by heart: “Shalom, thank you for your letter. We received your comments and passed them on to the relevant persons on the website’s editorial board, who have seriously considered them. We hereby inform you that we found no fault in our journalistic decisions. We are always at your disposal for any question, problem or comment. Signed by Ron K. from the client service department.”
This response is given irrespective of the nature of the complaint. Examples abound. The huge demonstration for equality of this summer brought with it a war of numbers. Ynet started with 400,000 demonstrators. Yet the official police estimate was 180,000, so Ynet corrected the figure and put it at “more than 300,000.”
When Uri Amiram complained that the initial figure was misleading, instead of an apology or an explanation, the answer received was the standard one.
On August 18, Ynet ran an article with the headline: “With G-d’s help, haredim pay less for their apartments.” The facts of the article actually supported the opposite conclusion, noting that apartments in haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighborhoods cost slightly more than those in secular sectors. Michal Galperin complained that the headline was misleading and constituted incitement. Ron K. answered as usual.
On September 1 Ynet had a news item by Haim Klir headlined: “Demonstrated against the evacuation of an outpost and made NIS 100,000.” The facts of the case were straightforward and are given in the article itself. Ms. Tamar Fransi was forcibly evicted from a demonstration against the removal of an outpost in the vicinity of Nokdim. Her arm was broken by a police officer. Due to her resulting invalid status the court awarded her NIS 100,000 in damages.
One wonders how many people would be willing to have an infirmity for life for the sake of NIS 100,000. Amnon Lichtenstein complained. Ynet’s answer? You know it by now; Ron. K is not very imaginative.
The Latma website has actively criticized Ynet for quite some time. For example, On October 3, a news item by Yair Altman let us know that “The state has decided to legalize the Shvut Rachel outpost.” The subtitle was “construction in Gilo was authorized only last week, now Israel may again be criticized: In an answer to a brief of Peace Now to the Supreme Court, the state informed the Court that it decided to authorize the construction in the outpost neighboring Shilo. Peace Now: Netanyahu was and continues to be the servant of the settlers.”
Latma’s response was that now we know that Peace Now also dictates the Ynet’s headlines. We will add that Shvut Rachel has been legal since 1991.
Can Ynet change? Perhaps public pressure will do the job. The MyIsrael organization, headed by Ayelet Shaked, who will be awarded the Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism, has spearheaded a public campaign against Ynet. They write on their website: “It is impossible not to identify that during the past year we are witnessing an increasing wave of incitement against the right wing in general and any group that does not fit with their agenda.”
They, too, provide many examples. On January 15 an article was headlined: “A police report – The extreme right will increase its activities” yet in the next sentence, in much smaller print, Ynet has it that “police estimate that during this year the extreme right- and left-wing activists will increase their activities.” Why does the headline scream only about the right-wingers?
Ynet is one of Israel’s most popular websites. It provides the public with much more than political news. Its consumer section is very helpful for anyone contemplating a purchase of products. It provides information on a wide variety of topics, such as cars, Judaism, sports and much more. Why the owners of the website – Yediot Aharonot – are willing to risk all this for the sake of unethical and unprofessional journalism and a lack of healthy respect for the public is unfathomable.
The future will tell whether the public will continue to tolerate the lack of accountability of the editorial board of the website and its journalists, or whether they will reconsider and provide us with a truly professional and public-serving website.
The authors are respectively the vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch,