Media Comment: A new age of pluralism?

We will not retract our previous conclusion that KAN is a burden on the Israeli taxpayer and should be closed. But we do note that currently, it is much more balanced.

FILE PHOTO: Employees work in the offices of Kan, the new Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation, in Tel Aviv, Israel November 3, 2016. (photo credit: REUTERS)
FILE PHOTO: Employees work in the offices of Kan, the new Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation, in Tel Aviv, Israel November 3, 2016.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As this article is being written in the days prior to Yom Kippur, it would be appropriate that we continue in the spirit of our September 12 column. Instead of criticism, we will report on what has been done that is good. The main message is that Israel’s media has changed and seems to progress with time. One aspect is the increase in media pluralism.
We have been critical of the KAN conglomerate, the Hebrew cognomen of the Israel Broadcasting Corporation (IBC). We have noted time and time again how its reportage did not bring to the forefront the different aspects of a story, or how its reporters used the microphone as their personal property, and other violations of the professional ethics code. We will not claim here that all this has been corrected. We will also not retract our previous conclusion that KAN is a burden on the Israeli taxpayer and should be closed. But we do note that currently, it is much more balanced and presents a broad spectrum on the issues.
In days past, a right-wing journalist such as Emily Amrussi could not get a foot in the studio as an employee of the public broadcaster, as she would have been considered to be too “right wing.” The same holds true for her colleagues Kalman Liebskind and Amit Segal, who host news programs on Reshet Bet radio. Going back to the old IBA, it was unthinkable that such “extremists” would receive a slot. It would have been considered unethical and not suitable; the branja media clique would have vetoed it. The IBC today even has a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) news presenter – Yaakov Eichler. 
The foreign news magazine has been returned to the more popular afternoon hours. The 5-6:30 p.m. Reshet Bet news magazine is no longer dominated by one person: It invariably has two people, usually including the former Shas MK Yigal Guetta. Even KAN’s TV Channel 11 has a daily news program with Kalman Liebskind and Erel Segal – the latter had to leave the army radio station due to his hard-hitting, right-wing views.
A similar change is occurring in the army radio station Galatz, no longer a left-wing monopoly on the news programs. In fact, the evening news show, from 5-6 p.m. has a “star” presenter, Yaakov Bardugo, who has raised the wrath of extremist left-wing organizations calling for his dismissal. Another haredi journalist, Kobi Arieli, shares the hosting of the 11 a.m.-noon program – “The Last Word.” National Zionist journalists Sivan Rahav-Meir and Yedidya Meir continue to present the Friday noon program, even though they are presently ambassadors of the World Mizrachi Organization in New York. Ehud Banai, star singer and a “returnee” religious person, also has a Friday program between 2 and 3 p.m. In preparation for Yom Kippur, the station had a full-hour broadcast with Rabbi Yuval Cherlow.
This pluralism extends also to the cultural and entertainment fields both in the form of the identity of presenters, guests and the programs. We also see many more reporters from the religious community such as Zev Kam, Yair Shriki, Uri Revach, Sarah Bek, Roi Sharon and Akiva Novick. Obviously, the campaign spearheaded almost two decades ago by Israel’s Media Watch – highlighted by the late Uri Orbach in his 1987 call, “the best to the media,” and pushed by the editor of Nekuda, Israel Harel – has led to the positive result that wearing a kippah or a modest dress is no longer a bar to being a successful journalist, rather than an occasional guest columnist. Israel’s media only gains from this pluralism.
The right-wing Makor Rishon newspaper has also been criticized by us in other venues for its too close association with the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI). Until 2014, it had published some excellent magazines, especially “Justice”, which exposed the ever-increasing bias in our judicial system and perhaps had a pivotal influence on the actions of former justice minister Ayelet Shaked to change it. It was edited by Yehuda Yifrach, and discontinued in July 2015. But then in October 2017, a special “Justice” supplement appeared, which was funded by the IDI and clearly biased in their favor. NGO-funded supplements are legitimate when they appear explicitly as advertisements, as for example are the occasional supplements of the Women in Green, which promote the annexation of Judea and Samaria to the State of Israel. But two years ago, and then again in March 2018, in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the state, the paper contained supplements which were joint publications with the IDI and were not presented as advertisements.
GLADLY, WE report that this, too, has changed this year. In its Rosh Hashanah edition, the paper again published a “Justice” supplement edited by Yifrach, which was free of any interested partners. The difference was striking. This year’s supplement, titled “Walls of Despair,” documents the mishandling of people who are arrested on suspicion of illegal actions, ranging from sexual violations to political ones. It is an important document, spotlighting the immense power of the police and Justice Ministry, which too often prevents a fair judicial process.
Any Israeli media consumer will readily recognize the following description:
“These two presenters have never made any secret of their left-wing and anti-Trump bias... [with]... eye-rolling and looks of exasperation when reporting on news stories... personal commentary on controversial news stories is surely going too far... They are employed as presenters, not political commentators, and as such should at least feign impartiality.”
That was excerpted from a complaint about remarks made by two BBC presenters. Indeed, infractions of media ethical standards are the norm, and not only in Israel.
This example is but one aspect of how the media circumvents logical and longstanding rules of professional ethics. Consider another one. Recently, a public figure, while expressing his support for “media freedom [and] objective, truthful reporting” as the “cornerstone of democracy,” nevertheless accused parts of the media of “waging campaigns against individuals with no thought of the consequences.” He declared that “the only thing to do is to stand up to this behavior, because it destroys people and destroys lives. Put simply, it is bullying, which scares and silences people. We all know this isn’t acceptable, at any level. We won’t and can’t believe in a world where there is no accountability for this.”
If you presumed that was Yair Netanyahu defending his father through Twitter tweets, you are mistaken. Those were the words of Prince Harry, explaining why he and his wife were instituting a lawsuit against the UK’s Daily Mail. And, he added, “There is a human cost to this relentless propaganda, specifically when it is knowingly false and malicious.”
Indeed, the continuous arguing, bickering and personal opinion remarks between presenters on various media outlets – as well as their use of the microphone to further personal pet causes – is still a serious issue and demands attention. But at least the pluralism we’ve described above is a blessing which we should all appreciate.
The writers are members of Israel’s Media Watch (