Media Comment: Managing the news

In this atmosphere, not only does the truth suffer, but the fate of the nation is also being affected - and not for good.

A Palestinian youth is silhouetted as he holds a toy gun and a Koran during a protest after Friday prayers on Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Palestinian youth is silhouetted as he holds a toy gun and a Koran during a protest after Friday prayers on Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last month, a leading politician tore into the media, pointing out that the mainstream media can be “sneering” and even “out of touch with the ‘real’ world.” He declared, “The media commentariat simply don’t understand it.
They report disagreements as splits, agreement as compromise... No sorry, commentariat, this is grown-up real politics where real people debate real issues.”
These were the words of Jeremy Corbyn, Britain’s new Labour Party head, on September 29. He further suggested that “it is social media that really is the point of communication for the future, we’ve got to get that.”
Media attacks on his predecessor he termed “tawdry.”
Such caustic tongue-lashing would, we think, be seen here in Israel not only as a declaration of war on press freedom but a subversive attack on the country’s very democracy.
Are there media persons here that could fit those negative remarks? Oshrat Kotler could.
Kotler presents the news on Channel 10 and anchors the network’s news roundup program on Saturday evenings. A veteran of Galei Tzahal and Channel 2, she has more than two decades experience on the air and in the editor’s chair. She knows how not to report the news but manage it.
Back in April 2014, Israel’s Media Watch (IMW) complained about her opinionated patter when introducing items in the main daily news show, interspersed with her personal views, citing the Second Authority Law which outlaws such activity. Her bosses responded with in-your-face bluster: “We do not believe in placard journalism and we will continue to broadcast a professional product, fair and balanced but also opinionated in places where required.”
That was a bald-faced cover-up for her very unprofessional and potentially illegal behavior on air.
Space limitations prevent us from providing here a list. Instead, we’ll just consider a recent example.
On October 3 this year, her general introduction, which attempted to fix in her viewers’ minds how they should think, appeared to blame Jews for that week’s spate of stabbings.
She asked, “Why are Jews still permitted to enter the Temple Mount?” thereby assisting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ propaganda effort.
Ma’ariv’s Kalman Liebskind was livid. The theme of “violence by both sides” is an agenda- setting manipulation, he wrote, and Kotler was its most prominent promoter. He quoted her declaring “the tempestuous rhetoric of Israel’s and Palestine’s leaders together leave us all marching on the edge of a gunpowder barrel with the match in the hands of the weird sideliners who no one really intends to halt, not by us nor by them....”
Kotler, he claimed, can’t figure out who started so it is all somehow “mutual bloodletting.”
They are murderers and so are we.
This past Saturday, Kotler introduced a 19-minute background item on the Temple Mount by correspondent Yinon Miles. The theme was to “prove” that the Muslim Arabs have a justified fear of a Jewish “takeover.”
A “bunch of crazies,” she called the Temple Mount activists. In referring to the anti-Jewish incitement, she rhetorically asked, “Did Israel really do anything to allay the fears of the Arabs states?” The item provided insight into the perception of what “proper balance” should be as conceived by the elitist left-wing media clique.
The resident expert who appeared multiple times throughout the item, for almost four minutes in total, was Dr. Tomer Persico of the Hartman Institute. Anyone following his comments on Facebook as well as his other media appearances and lectures is aware of his left-of-center views. Neutrality was thereby missing and there was no balance. Gershon Solomon of the Temple Mount Faithful who is banned from the sacred compound and whose activity is completely negligible for the past decade and is not at all connected with the new generation of activists, represented the “crazies.”
To further bury any semblance of proportionality, three more spokesmen appeared; Shas deputy Treasury minister Yitzhak Cohen, the rabbi of the Jewish Quarter Avigdor Nebentzahl and Rabbi Menachem HaKohen, former assistant to chief rabbi Shlomo Goren. All of them hold quite negative views on the subject of the right of Jews to be permitted to treat the holy site with reverence and respect, a right which is in full accordance with the Law for the Protection of the Holy Places as well as all High Court of Justice decisions for the past quarter of a century.
The 19-minute item, orchestrated by Kotler, perpetuated distortions about rabbinical support for a Jewish presence within the Temple Mount in this century (a time period intentionally chosen to distort the issue) as well as the rather complex halachic issues involved. Rabbi Goren’s own support for a Jewish presence, including his monumental volume on the matter, was glossed over.
Rabbi Chaim Hirschensohn, a contemporary of Rabbi Avraham HaKohen Kook, who engaged him on the possibility of entrance, went unmentioned as did many former members of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate Council.
We could imagine that the Temple Institute’s Rabbi Yisrael Ariel could have been interviewed, or his staff. That, however, would most probably have upset the object of the exercise, which was to condemn and censure the Jews who ascend the Temple Mount, without having to consider seriously the annoying facts.
This frame of reference that, somehow, the Jews must be guilty resonated in the studio of Orly Vilnai. Vilnai presents, together with her husband Guy Meroz, Channel 10’s morning interview show Orly and Guy.
The couple, who have adopted an Eritrean migrant child, were aghast on Sunday, October 10, when their guest, Bayit Yehudi MK Yinon Magal, suggested that terrorists threatening lives should be shot dead rather than arrested. Vilnai was also quite nonplussed as to how a female Arab student, who graduated Haifa University and was a graduate student, could be at all engaged in knife-wielding. It seems the situation just didn’t fit into her own world view, one she very much wanted to pass on to her viewers, just as her associate Oshrat Kotler was doing.
Razai Barkai of Galatz Radio also was pushing an agenda on October 6. Dealing with the Temple Mount as the cause of the latest round of terrorism, Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan was allotted 2:44 minutes of airtime, including, of course, the questions, MK Iman Oudeh was granted seven minutes, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat 45 seconds and a Jerusalem taxi driver 2:45 minutes.
Kotler and Company, as leading senior media personalities, being allowed to edit and produce their programs, are fashioning the news for media consumers and managing the public discourse rather than presenting the public with a fair picture of reality, one that is balanced and pluralistic. Their behavior is not only journalistically unethical but unlawful.
However, in this atmosphere they have created, convincing both their bosses and regulators that this is the “new wave” of media, one of personal input and drama, not only does the truth suffer, but the fate of the nation is also being affected, and not for good.
The authors are vice chairman and chairman respectively of Israel’s Media Watch (