Finally, introspection in the press

We are not naïve. One newspaper issue, whose readership is limited, will not change the world.

Israel Hayom newspaper (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel Hayom newspaper
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Globes is a business newspaper, providing its readers in the main with up-to-date market information, investment news and business analysis. It does not shy away from touching on political issues and, for example, on January 30 published in its English-language edition an in-depth story written by Dan Zaken and Ela Levi-Weinrib on the economic and political implications for Judea and Samaria in the proposed US peace plan, an area barely covered by the rest of Israel’s media.
In the past few months, the paper has taken upon itself an in-depth inspection of the country’s various “ruling classes.” As part of this endeavor, it published last weekend a special section devoted wholly to “retrieving the trust in the media. Senior representatives of the media in special columns.” Ostensibly, as explained in its introduction by the editor of Globes, Naama Sikuler, and journalist David Wertheim, the paper decided to devote itself to this issue for economic reasons.
It is well known that many media agencies are in crisis mode due to electronic media and social media platforms. On the Israeli scene, too many publishers have legal problems. Some already have spent time in jail; others might still have to do so. It is certainly in the interest of Globes to understand what affects the public’s interest in the media, if for no other reason than self-survival. Be it as it may, we can only commend the paper for being willing to be introspective. As Maimonides laid out many years ago, the first step toward correction is recognition of one’s errors.
The collection of people who contributed to the special issue is impressive for its pluralism but also for who was not willing to cooperate. The writers were Golan Yochpaz, formerly at Army Radio as well as former CEO of Channel 10; Boaz Bismuth, editor in chief of Israel Hayom; Ilana Dayan, host and editor of Keshet’s Uvda program, which provides in-depth reviews and studies of issues that interest Israeli society; Prof. Rafi Mann, member of the Communications Department at Ariel University; Orly Goldklang, deputy editor of Makor Rishon; Alona Bar On, chairwoman of Globes; Doron Cohen, editor in chief of Maariv; Baruch Kra, legal correspondent for Channel 13; Shimon Elkabetz, station commander of Army Radio; and Ze’ev Chasper, deputy editor at Globes.
Our sensitive readers will have noticed two central absences. There are no representatives of Haaretz and Yediot Aharonot. Not that they were not invited, but they refused to participate. This is quite revealing, as we all know these media organizations have all too often colored their papers with their personal political and cultural aspirations, considering that objectivity, truth and fairness belong to the “old times.” We do not know if The Jerusalem Post received an invitation.
What may be learned from this special issue apart from the very fact that it exists?
First, some people just are not capable of introspection. A clear-cut case is Kra, who recognizes that nowadays there are many more right-wing oriented media agencies, but he accuses them of what he himself is responsible for, namely, in his words, that the right-wing media “has become power-drunk, belittling all those who do not think like them, are obsessed more and more with blaming the other and less and less with ideology, using the airwaves for propaganda, not even ideology and this for the sake of one person whose name is [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu.”
Kra exposed himself here very clearly as to what his own mindset is. We can only suggest to the powers-that-be in Channel 13 News that they should take Kra’s words seriously as they describe his left-wing ethos quite transparently. Should such a person be part of a TV news organization that respects its viewers and itself? Should the network balance him with a legal commentator with an opposing political outlook?
Contrast this with Goldklang of the right-wing Makor Rishon, who by her very words, negates Kra’s accusations. “What we journalists should do is take a step backwards from our personal opinion role and return to the period when journalists were observers,” she wrote. “We should look at Israeli society from above and report from a distance. In practice though, no one expects us to… be ideologically apathetic… What is expected from us… is to be professional in spite of our personal opinion… We should be able to review material even if the result is against our personal stance and even if we might pay a social price for doing this.”
Yochpaz follows in the same vein. He realizes that it is easy to beat on the breast of others, but that first one should look to one’s self. He blames himself and his colleagues for “being brave in criticizing any person or phenomenon on any issue but when it came to us, we shut up. Through our silence we enabled the white noise to dominate and now we decry the lack of public trust in us.”
Globes also published a follow-up opinion piece by Elad Malka (a former CEO of Israel’s Media Watch) who heads “Our Interest,” a lobby group active in the Knesset focusing on issues such as pensions, wages and free competition. One interesting observation he makes is that state-sponsored media outlets, which are funded mainly through public funds, care little about ratings. That reality leads them to ignore the public’s input. That in turn may often lead to an insular editorial policy or atmosphere in the station that can approach the infamous “the public be damned” attitude, which results in a broadcast output with little pluralism and, worse, a hardcore ideological outlook.
While there may be an inherent contradiction in his view as to why some commercial stations, very dependent on ratings for their income, are politically biased, we can only suggest that most viewers concern themselves with the entertainment content and simply have no choice but to accept the news they are fed without much sophistication or critical review.
We are not naïve. One newspaper issue, whose readership is limited, will not change the world. In contrast to too many Haaretz articles, the topics raised by the Globes special issue did not merit coverage on programs of the mainstream media networks. There was no “firestorm” as so often happens with other concerns the media can stir up, if it wants. Only here and there, as for example in the Army Radio late afternoon news interview program of Yaron Vilensky and Yaakov Bardugo this Monday, was any of this mentioned.
Yet even if there is no follow-up, the simple fact that such introspection took place is encouraging. It does show that there are many people out there in the media world who do try to pay attention to the public, its needs and its reaction to their work. If only the managers of the publicly funded Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation would pay attention.
The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch (