Why doesn't Israeli media care about public amid coronavirus crisis?

The bottom line is that Israel’s media have a responsibility, first and foremost to the public, in helping the government to protect us from the virus.

Protesters gather out the Prime Minister's Residence to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's COVID-19 response and the ongoing financial difficulties it has caused, July 23, 2020 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Protesters gather out the Prime Minister's Residence to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's COVID-19 response and the ongoing financial difficulties it has caused, July 23, 2020
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israel has become a hotbed of civic protest activity targeting the government and, more specifically, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Demonstrations follow upon demonstrations, and the media are not only covering them but promoting them with obvious sympathy, especially when they are pro-liberal, anti-conservative and, it goes without saying, anti-Bibi.
Perhaps the most egregious case was Aryeh Golan’s incitement to the police on Sunday morning to not obey orders and stop using water spray against their fellow citizens.
Yet, when we think about it, the demonstrations represent only a small fraction of Israelis, even though they fill up our television screens. They are funded by deep pockets – which, as usual, has been reported rather scantily – who are interested in political change in Israel of a liberal character. We need only recall the V15 operations in 2015 which interfered with the elections, which have by now morphed into the current Darkenu group.
These funds are flowing freely. The evidence could be in the number of buses, black uniforms, signs and advertisements in the papers, social media platforms, highways and more.
One would have expected the media to expose the sources of all this as well as the administrative structure supporting it in an investigative journalistic effort. But we have seen no such result. The numbers of participants fluctuate rather imprecisely. Are they reliable? Is the police violence worse than what was meted out to right-wing demonstrators, such as during the Zo Artzeinu campaign or the Disengagement period? Or to haredi protesters?
What are the themes of these protests?
Restaurant owners complain about losing their clientele and source of income. They clamor for government funding, and the media, accepting that their demands are just, play along. Restaurateurs are frequently invited and interviewed, allowing them to get tears from the public and money from the Treasury. Not once has one of these people been asked some simple questions. During all these years, you have exploited your waiters, relegating them to the minimum wage and living off tips. Why should you expect that now the public should support people who had no empathy for the weak when the business was going well?
Dining out in Israel is not for the poor. A wine bottle that costs NIS 30 in the store would go for NIS 100 and more in the restaurants. People had no choice but to pay. Is there any reason that we the public should really care about you in these days? Why didn’t you set aside some of your hefty profits for a bad day, something any responsible person does?
These same questions should be posed to the hotel industry. The price of hotel rooms in Israel was outrageously high. For the past 10 years, profits flowed; and now, in a period of austerity, why do these establishments even dare to think that we the public should pay?
But our media? They do not raise these questions at all.
Are fitness centers and pubs really a basic public need to the extent that health should be risked?
We do not forget the “cultural industry” also crying loudly, an industry that, with media assistance, is trying to convince us and the government that culture is essential for our lives, and therefore – even if nowadays we cannot use it – our taxpayer money should continue to fund it.
For sure, there are many within this branch who are suffering, being unemployed, and they should be, and are, helped like anyone else who has become unemployed. But no more and no less. There is not one good reason that cultural institutions should receive special treatment, not to mention that they have, to a large extent, been serving a narrow, secular, liberal worldview and not the public at large.
While this viewpoint may not be shared by all, and it does not apply to all of the entertainment industry, nevertheless, it should have become part of the media discussion when we the public are being asked to foot the bill.
It is all nice and good to be the angel of the downtrodden, as some of our icons consider themselves. But what about some charity? As businesses are not doing well, should then the media industry give a helping hand, for example, by providing free or less expensive advertising space for those who are really in need? Have media reduced their charges in the papers and electronic and digital platforms? Shouldn’t these same “angels” put pressure on their bosses to open up their pockets for the sake of those who really need it? What is more important: spending a fortune on a TV series – as KAN 11, the public TV station, is an expert at – or using that same funding to help businesses? Perhaps, if it would do so, there would not be a clamor to close down both the Army Radio station and the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation.
The university presidents clamor that Higher and Secondary Education Minister Ze’ev Elkin is usurping academic freedom. Not once have we heard any commentator ask them why they do not help their students in this time of need. Their 300,000 students are on vacation, they cannot go abroad and jobs are scarce. The universities could suggest how they could be put to good public use. Former defense minister Naftali Bennett suggested using them for epidemiological studies. We suggest another option: paying them to go around the city streets and warning people that they should put on masks and keep distance. This could be done also in the restaurants, shopping malls, etc. These students could document what is happening, enabling the authorities to impose fines.
Let us not forget that COVID-19 is, first and foremost, a killer. How many times have we heard of people putting their last penny into providing expensive healthcare for their loved ones? Why is it that, here, business and commerce come first, and health second?
As we wrote previously, democracy is important, the right of demonstrating elementary. But not harming others is paramount. Anyone organizing a demonstration of more than 50 people must get a permit, which lays down the law as to the conditions. If they are violated, the organizers are liable for hefty financial responsibility. Why is it that our media do not demand from the police that instead of arresting the unruly, the organizers should have to pay when their demonstration gets out of hand?
Thousands of people who do not wear masks and are too close to one another endanger themselves, but more so endanger the whole public. Why do the media not demand from the Health Ministry statistics as to the number of COVID people who could be traced as participants in the demonstrations? Aren’t our lives on the line?
The bottom line is that Israel’s media have a responsibility, first and foremost to the public, in helping the government to protect us from the virus. This is more important than any other cliché. Sadly though, the media are not capable of changing habits and, for once, doing the right thing: helping us in our struggle to get through these difficult times.
The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch.