Coronavirus: Is professionalism in the media impossible? - opinion

After almost two months of restrictions, the impression one gets from listening to the media is that Israel is a banana republic, nothing goes well and only the journalists know what is good for us.

A newspaper rack in the United Kingdom (photo credit: REUTERS)
A newspaper rack in the United Kingdom
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Slowly, but surely, we are seeing the COVID-19 pandemic losing steam, not only here in Israel but also abroad. Our media took pains to bring forth many serious problems and difficulties during this period, as they should.
There is no doubt that in many instances, the systems of management and administration that were in place, as well as those that should have been in place, failed too often, especially when it came to the intensive care units in homes for the elderly.
The selective imposition of the restrictions meant to safeguard us were also part of this story. Stupid arguments centering about prestige of politicians and government ministries were brought to fore. On the other hand, a pandemic of this magnitude is also a matter that should mitigate unnecessarily cynical criticism.
If the media is to truly do its job of improving our health services, it should be pushing for answers to questions such as: does the government have a well-defined exit path that will continue to safeguard us all? Are government agencies now working cooperatively or are there still snafus? Are private sector initiatives, as well as those from the health funds being coordinated for the greater good?
All these are serious issues and the media raised them all. Yes, the media was doing its job. But after almost two months of restrictions, the impression one gets from listening to the media is that Israel is a banana republic, nothing goes well and, only the journalists know what is good for us. This, we suggest, is too blatantly unprofessional and that hurts.
It is not for nothing that on April 12, the German weekly Der Spiegel published a list of the top 10 countries dealing with the crisis, using information from UK-based Deep Knowledge Group. The latter describes itself as “a consortium of commercial and nonprofit organizations active on many fronts in the realm of DeepTech and Frontier Technologies (AI, Longevity, FinTech, GovTech, InvestTech), ranging from scientific research to investment, entrepreneurship, analytics, media, philanthropy and more.”
Among the top 10 was Israel. To be more precise, Israel was first, beating Germany. The rankings were based on many criteria, but as described by DKG they also took into account “the crisis management of the government, including the functioning of the crisis staff or the mobilization of quick assistance.”
Simona Weinglass and the Times of Israel were quite worried, as was Channel 11, which conducted an interview with one of the directors, especially as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put the DKG report on his website and cites it often. On April 19, Weinglass and the Times of Israel reported that it is “a rabbit hole of weirdness”. Is it?
Ronen Bergman in The New York Times on April 12, reported it this way: “Israel does not rank among the hardest-hit countries in the world.” This statement had nothing to do with the DKG report. Consider Wikipedia’s data, according to which the worldwide fatality rate is almost 7%, while in Israel it is less than 1.3%. In Germany it is 3.1%.
The number of deaths per million population in Israel (20) as reported on Wikipedia is less than in Iceland (26), Norway (30), Canada (42), Austria (50), Germany (55), Portugal (70), Switzerland (161) and so on. There are countries where the death rate is lower, notably Taiwan (0.3), Singapore (2) and South Korea (5). (We purposely brought figures from countries where the tally is trustworthy.) There are additional data sites that support this picture of an Israeli success such as Worldometers and the World Health Organization itself.
So, even if the Times of Israel is correct, the situation here seems not to be too bad. Why hide this? Doesn’t professionalism also imply to give credit where it is due, especially when there is also some valid criticism?
THIS UNPROFESSIONAL BEHAVIOR of course does not end here. During the past two weeks we have been informed about terrorist crimes carried out by Israelis against Arabs and against the IDF. While Ynet did report on April 16 that 100 cherry trees were uprooted in Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, part of the ongoing Arab violence, nary a word about this is recorded at the KAN conglomerate site, which has the audacity to use as a promotional slogan the wordplay: “We are here (KAN), all the time“ .
The headlines on March 26, proclaiming that Molotov cocktails were thrown on an Israeli border patrol in Yitzhar, were quite prominent. They were presumed to have been thrown by Jews at Israeli security personnel and the news item was surely worthy of attention. Nevertheless, every day similar actions of violence are committed against Jewish civilians travelling the highways of Samaria and Judea but are simply not reported despite the press releases detailing the terror acts of Arabs. So, why the one-sidedness?
You might be thinking “how can we compare firebombing, which is life threatening with the mere uprooting of trees?” This, however, is symptomatic of the media’s unprofessional approach. As reported on Israel National News (Arutz Sheva), on April 14, “Bedouin attacked a farmer in the vicinity of the village of Rimonim.”
Carmel Dangor, the KAN reporter for Judea and Samaria, reported this on her Twitter account, but if you look for it on the KAN website, under her name, you will find many reports of many Jewish attacks but nary a word on this attack on a Jew. Even Ynet did not report the Rimonim attack.
Yet another aspect of the ongoing media coverage is the way some of the so-called “celebs,” in Hebrew pronunciation, presume to make their profession one of a personal confrontation with politicians. Rina Matsliah and her haredim (ultra-Orthodox) hang-up we have already noted, for which Channel 12 had to apologize. Last week, another clarification was necessary when Amnon Abramovitz on Friday evening commented, "jokingly,” he demurred, that Justice Minister Amir Ohana was part of the negotiating team for a new government coalition "to represent Yair Netanyahu.” Is he a comedian now?
Barak Ravid of Channel 13 was interviewed in Globes on April 15. We would not be exaggerating if we said that there is no love lost between Ravid and Netanyahu. If we are to believe him, Netanyahu has not spoken to him in a private off-the-record manner for over a decade.
Ravid then said, “If there is one thing I have learned from Netanyahu, it is that he appreciates power and understands power and that is how I act with him, with great success I think.” He said that is the way any journalist should act with any prime minister. We would claim that confrontational behavior ill serves the public.
Such an attitude may make for good stories, or not. But it does present a problem. If Carol Hanisch promoted the slogan, "the personal is political", we have too many media people making "the political the personal."
The media should be assertive, even aggressive. Yet, to frame the news too often in the negative and in a biased fashion is harming the profession.
The writers are members of Israel’s Media Watch.