Media Comment: Acknowledging excellence

The goal of the Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism is to encourage journalists, pundits, public figures and organizations to contribute toward a critical review of the media.

Interview with Minister Yuval Steinitz  (photo credit: screenshot)
Interview with Minister Yuval Steinitz
(photo credit: screenshot)
It is relatively easy to criticize, as we do in this column almost all year round, but more difficult to praise.
The beginning of our campaign to reward ethics in journalism was 15 years ago when Dr. Yuval Steinitz, first president of Israel’s Media Watch, established a prize for media criticism. The goal of the Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism is to encourage journalists, pundits, public figures and organizations to contribute toward a critical review of the media.
Review and criticism are among the best ways to assure quality. A media which is given rein to exploit its power, without checks and balances, cannot truly serve the public. In fact, there is an inherent danger in such a press, especially during election campaigns but also when it comes to culture, social issues and even sports.
One of the topics that the Israeli media is loath to cover seriously is the Palestinian Authority. As has been documented all too often in this column, the Israeli media is dominated by those who believe that Israel’s future depends on the realization of the two-state vision. Our pundits describe PA President Mahmoud Abbas as a relative moderate, with whom one may cut a deal. This may be true or not, but the public deserves to know whether the facts support it.
Is Abbas a moderate? Is the PA under his rule a model of moderation whose only interest is to create a Palestinian state within the June 4, 1967 demarcation lines? The media’s job is to collect the necessary evidence and provide it to the public. One would think that this is at least as important as knowing the fate of empty bottles.
Unfortunately, our media has consistently shied away from this issue. We should never forget how difficult it was for then MK Benny Begin to have Israeli TV publicize the speech Arafat made 20 years ago in a mosque in South Africa. This same reticence continues to this very day. This is why Israel needs an organization such as Palestinian Media Watch. Its very existence is a stinging rebuke to Israel’s media.
The organization, founded in 1996 by Itamar Marcus, has during the past two decades reported on the PA. Its material is available to all, yet the Israeli media is very loath to bring to the fore some of the egregious hate incitement in the PA, condoned by Abbas.
This hate is not against the “occupation” per se, but is anti-Semitic. It encourages terrorism against Israelis and aggrandizes those who commit despicable crimes, such as killing infants in their beds, just because they were born to Israelis or “settlers.”
Why does the media ignore these warnings? One reason is that the idea of peace is so tantalizing that facts are not allowed to interfere. A more sinister motivation is racism – the Palestinians are not considered to be sufficiently civilized to be held to Western standards, and their behavior is discounted as that of primitives. Be it what it may, we at Israel’s Media Watch have found the Palestinian Media Watch and its founder and leader Marcus to be worthy of the media criticism prize this year.
PMW’s work both within Israel as well as in its presentations abroad, in the media, parliaments and other platforms not only provides the Israeli people and allies abroad with an essential service, but by its very existence constitutes a profound critique of the Israeli media. PMW’s work should have been carried out by the Israeli media.
Our talk shows, whether on radio or TV, are usually characterized by a lack of civility.
There are those, such as Oded Shachar of Channel 1 TV or Nissim Mish’al from Channel 2, who believe that a good discussion is one in which the participants shout at each other without being able to finish a sentence properly. They consider the medium in which they operate to resemble a boxing match than an educational presentation providin a public service, namely enabling the public to better understand different viewpoints on serious issues.
Very different is the approach of Ayala Hasson, who hosts radio shows as well as the Friday night news program on Channel 1 TV, the news division of which she is also the director of.
As Minister Uri Orbach has stressed many times, the best way to change the media is to bring good people to it. The best media criticism is actually to encourage those who do the job well. Hasson is a highly effective reporter who has brought to light many serious issues through her careful research. But in the present context, we note her civility, her willingness to listen, her understanding that her role is to bring to the fore the opinions of the people she interviews, while at the same time not letting them dodge tough questions. It is these traits for which Hasson was awarded the media criticism prize this year.
Good journalism should not be limited to political issues. Economics is the fuel that makes our society function, for Israel’s existence depends on its viable economy. But quality economic journalism is important on a personal level too. Nowadays, almost all of us have to make economic decisions.
We have pension funds, tax-free funds for “education” (known as Keren Hishtalmut in Hebrew), inheritances and what not. An educated public will tend to make educated economic decisions and this improves quality of life for us all. Quality economic journalism, which does not hesitate to tackle significant issues, even when they are not popular, is a resource which should be encouraged.
IMW’s economics prize committee, chaired by former Finance Ministry director general Shmuel Slavin, decided to award this year’s prize for quality economic journalism to Hezi Sternlicht, the economic correspondent for the Israel Hayom newspaper.
Sternlicht is one of the outstanding journalists who did not hesitate to criticize finance minister Yair Lapid’s zero-VAT program for housing for young couples. He exposed the fallacy of those who claimed that it is easier to finance life in Berlin than in Israel.
When various NGOs tried to convince us that our society treats its poor harshly, Sternlicht illustrated factually that the claims were wrong. Too often such claims are motivated by organizations that have an inherent conflict of interest; their survival depends on the existence of poverty.
In contrast to many of his contemporaries, Sternlicht’s reports are balanced and he always makes the effort to cover all sides of an issue, irrespective of his own opinion.
The prizes will be awarded in the presence of Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein on Sunday evening, February 15 at the Sokolov House in Tel Aviv. It is our hope that the number deserving journalists will increase to the point that the prizes themselves become obsolete.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (