Media comment: Is media regulation necessary?

If regulation were to be reduced and quality stations were to appear, the public just might prefer quality over the garbage purveyed today, and then the websites, too, would no longer be a problem.

IDF RESERVISTS watch television in a Kiryat Gat community center as they wait for orders. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
IDF RESERVISTS watch television in a Kiryat Gat community center as they wait for orders.
In many aspects Israel is an over-regulated country.
This is especially so when it comes to our electronic media. Due among other factors to the over-regulation, we have only three major TV channels. The law which created the Second Authority for TV and Radio (SATR) over 20 years ago and was later amended to allow also Channel 10 to broadcast made high demands of the concessionaires.
They were obligated to fund a news channel which operated independently of them. They had to pay large sums of money to the state for the concession. A sizable portion of their programming had to be locally-produced content. Of course, Channels 2 and 10 overcame the draconian content demands with relatively inexpensive reality junk shows. They also claimed that by transporting Israeli crews to Europe they were fulfilling the condition.
By any measure, our commercial TV stations cannot be regarded as high quality. It is fair to say that the legislation which was aimed at creating quality TV failed. There is almost no historical drama and certainly no national- value humor or satire programming. Only left-wingers can be funny. Even the news channels are nothing much to be proud of.
All this leads inexorably to the conclusion that regulation does not work. It would be better to have a free market, let anyone participate and let the best purveyor of culture, entertainment and news win. But is it so simple? There is no regulation of the Internet. Although channels 2 and 10 are highly regulated, their websites – Channel 2’s Mako and Channel 10’s Nana10 websites – are not.
The SATR law was formulated before websites became popular and so these remain unregulated. Any attempt at complaining about their content or unfair practices which reaches the complaints commissioner gets the true answer: “I have no power over this, the law’s jurisdiction does not include the websites.”
The Internet, as we all know, is highly competitive.
At least as far as channels 2 and 10 are concerned, the competition has led to anything but quality. Near-pornography and too much naked flesh is much more apt description of the results. That which is not allowed on the airwaves is the bread and butter of the Internet.
Consider some very typical examples: A short clip on Mako on September 7 showed a young man emptying a Jack Daniels whiskey bottle in less than 15 seconds. The headline was “the media and the experts decry the clip” – but why then did Mako show it at all? If one clicked on the information box appearing on the video screen, one was forwarded to another clip entitled “she undresses in the supermarket.”
Last week, it would seem that new lows were reached.
As reported on the Walla website, a condom manufacturing company opened a campaign by asking “Israelis” what their sexual preferences were. The “winners” were then photographed with a “beauty queen” realizing their desires. Mako described the campaign and publicized the pictures.
The item came to the attention of Tal Schneider and Vered Cohen-Barzilai, founders of the women journalists’ cell, which was actively engaged in assuring women’s rights in the media. Among other things, they demand an end to sexual harassment of women working in the media, and were the first to publicize that journalist Immanuel Rosen was suspected of harassment (the case against Rosen was closed by the attorney general due to lack of evidence).
Cohen-Barzilai is a social activist, feminist and pundit, and Schneider is a leading independent political blogger.
Both women can be identified as belonging to Israel’s political Left.
Schneider and Barzilai started a campaign against the item on Mako, accusing Avi Nir, the CEO of Keshet, and Drorit Vertheim, a representative of the owners of the network, of collusion with pornographers and the objectification of women. One may guess that what drove the item on Mako was money. After all, it was an advertisement for the condom company, which must have paid quite a fortune for the publicity. It took a day for Nir and cohorts to bow to the pressure and remove the item from Mako’s website.
There is a huge difference between websites such as Mako and Nana10 and the pornography industry. The latter are readily closed to viewers and parents can filter them out easily. But Mako and Nana10 are considered to be legitimate and open to the public. Youngsters as well as older people who enter the website for whatever reason are quickly exposed to, at the very least, soft pornographic content, alcohol and not a small measure of reporting on violent events.
Should we care? Isn’t it a free country? A commission charged with the task of defining anew the regulation of commercial media was appointed this year by Communications Minister Gilad Erdan. It is headed by Professor Amit Schechter of Ben-Gurion University. In an interim report, the commission recently recommended reducing the level of regulation of the TV industry. We at Israel’s Media Watch appeared before the commission and supported deregulation, but were we right to do so? A 2011 frequently-quoted research paper on the psychological effects of television programs asserts that many teenagers who have broken the law view TV programs that contain inappropriate content more often than their peers. The study defined inappropriate content as violent, self-abusive and erotic scenes. These depictions have negative psychological effects on teenagers and affect self-image, behavior, personality and social views. Choosing inappropriate figures as role models or imitating the behavior they display distorts youngsters.
Teenagers lose their grasp on reality, leading to negative emotions and actions.
Other studies, conducted as early as 1973, used measured skin conductance and blood volume pulse to establish that youth exposed to such programming undergo a process of desensitization which can, at times, lead to them themselves engaging in the acts they have watched. There is a proven danger on the TV screen.
To be fair, studies have found differences between television, video game and movie violence exposure based on the active nature of playing with intense engagement.
As for other improper content themes, such as sex, drug use and abuse of food, for example, the message is still a negative influence.
On the one hand, the natural inclination is to reduce the big brother effect and reduce regulation. On the other hand, if the websites of the TV stations indicate anything, it is that without regulation, the situation will become even worse than it is today.
There is, though, a third possibility. The Israeli public, because of over-regulation, is limited in its choice of TV stations and has no other recourse but these two websites.
If regulation were to be reduced and quality stations were to appear, the public just might prefer quality over the garbage purveyed today, and then the websites, too, would no longer be a problem.
The authors are vice chairman and chairman respectively of Israel’s Media Watch (