MEDIA COMMENT: Media crumbs and specks

As hassidic rebbes stressed, there is more than the physical chametz (leaven) to which we are obliged to pay attention.

Passover (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
In this week of removing the leaven from our homes as part of the pre-Passover preparations, paying attention to the specks and crumbs of media misbehavior is quite appropriate.
As hassidic rebbes stressed, there is more than the physical chametz (leaven) to which we are obliged to pay attention. There is the chametz that drives attitudes of people.
In our columns we have noted that too often, media personnel, those who not only inform us of the news from the field but those at the news desks who send reporters out to collect the story, or who provide direction for their investigations; those who write up the texts for the broadcasters; those who edit; those who select the panels; the columnists and editorial writers and more assume they may intervene and even interfere in the reporting and interpret it for us. In doing so, they can insert elements of their own personal bias or political inclinations.
Even a small distortion is just like that little bit of chametz that can ruin one’s kitchen or prepared food.
Too often, too many people in the media presume that they are in some ways superior, different and above the criticism of the consumers who watch, listen and read their output. It is proper to recall what the outstanding journalist Gay Telese observed in his The Kingdom and the Power on The New York Times: “Most journalists are restless voyeurs who see the warts on the world, the imperfections in people and places.” Telese, by the way, worked for the Times and a good few newspapers before and after.
Being engaged in such a profession, too many can adopt disdain for their subjects which then evolves into unfair treatment of the subject. At the same time, too much adoration for your subject can also lead to bad journalism. It was Swedish professor Hans Rosling, and not a “right wing” Israeli, who, on Danish television last September, criticized the media for being “arrogant,” adding, “You can’t trust the news outlets if you want to understand the world.”
This past year, our campaign to amend elements of the new Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation Law, specifically the obligation that news broadcasts “avoid one-sidedness, prejudice, expressing personal opinions, giving grades and affixing labels, ignoring facts or selectively emphasizing them not according to their newsworthiness,” failed. Those in the studios and behind the microphones deem themselves, too often, as being above the rules.
A Kol Yisrael radio host can call a soldier under investigation for shooting an Arab terrorist a “terrorist” without worrying about the consequences.
Rino Tzror, a Galatz radio host, pontificated last week about the origins of this last half-year’s wave of terrorism. To his mind, “the ‘intifada of the individuals’...
began after a series of ascents by Jews to the Temple Mount. That was the match. It was ignited in September 2015... the flame consumed all... due to this Temple Mount festival....”
One would think, as Ma’ariv’s Kalman Liebskind noted, that a liberal and democrat like Tzror would at least blame those who actually committed the killings for their lack of tolerance and acceptance of the “other.”
But Tzror went one step further and blamed the Makor Rishon newspaper, and its weekly Temple Mount column penned by Arnon Segal, as a contributing factor to the Muslim violence. Tzror justified Islamist fanaticism and recourse to knifings and car-rammings by pointing to what, supposedly, causes it: the Jews. And Tzror is a “distinguished” and “admired” media person. And, in our opinion, full of chametz.
Yonit Levy is a prime time news anchor on Channel 2 who regularly uses her position to further her own agenda. As pointed out by Shimon Riklin on Facebook, on April 17, after reporter Guy Peleg broke the news that there would be a rally in support of Sg. Elor Azaria who will be tried for manslaughter, Levy had this to say about entertainers who originally agreed to appear: “A bunch of artists who follow the public sentiment to understand what they should be doing for themselves.” Or, in plain words, the artists who were to go, Eyal Golan, David D’or and Subliminal, were doing so to curry favor with the public, not because they truly support Sgt. Azaria.
Now, one wonders who heard Levy say the same about the artists who participate in Meretz-organized rallies. Indeed, Levy’s job is to report the news, not be the psychoanalyst of performers. We the public should stop listening to her; that would be the correct way to destroy this source of chametz.
Another media professional, Roy Baharir Perl, whom most of us had never heard of before, is another example. As reported on the INN website, in response to the planned rally in support of Sgt. Azaria, Perl wrote the following on his Facebook: “Dear Terrorists, On Tuesday there will be a large rally at Rabin Square. You are invited to carry out a terror act.”
Perl is an editor on the Walla news site.
He later retracted the offensive note, but consider what would have happened had a right-wing journalist made a comment like that with regard to a left-wing rally. The media would have ostracized her or him, and the person would been quickly out of a job. Not so at Walla. They do not believe in getting rid of the chametz.
Last week we all witnessed a non-story.
Heinz-Christian Strache has been chairman of the Austrian Freedom Party since 2005. As a reminder, the Freedom Party was headed by Joerg Haider from 1986 until then. Haider was a vocal anti-Semite, but Strache has disavowed anti-Semitism and disposed of many members of his party who harbored such prejudice. In the latest elections in Vienna, his party garnered over 40 percent of the vote and many are predicting that he could become the next chancellor of Austria. Strache is the leader of a right-wing party, so our foreign ministry, headed by someone who claims also to be the leader of a right-wing party, the Likud, decided not to grant Strache “official visit” status. Instead, he was invited by the Likud Party and secretly met with Likud ministers and MKs, as reported in Makor Rishon.
Was this story newsworthy? Should it have been up for public discussion of the pro and cons of such a visit? Should the media have asked the Foreign Ministry some tough questions, such as why Strache cannot be an official visitor of Israel while Western leaders such as Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom are worthy of official recognition? Strache is supportive of Israeli settlements.
Is this the reason he was considered chametz by our media? We wish you our dedicated readers a very happy and chametz-free Passover.
The authors are vice chairman and chairman respectively of Israel’s Media Watch (