Media comment: Mounting the news

Israel’s media for the most part lacks perspective when it comes to the Temple Mount.

King Abdullah (photo credit: REUTERS)
King Abdullah
(photo credit: REUTERS)
This past Monday morning, Barak Ravid of Haaretz provided his readers with a remarkable insight into the quirkiness of news reporting here in Israel when the platform, be it a newspaper, web site, radio or television station, is more interested in either spinning news or managing it, rather than fulfilling the first commandment of journalism: to tell it as it is.
In this case, the news was of the supposed, at the time, meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdallah II. Ravid wrote of the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida which was his source that it had “been used in recent years as a means for leaking and whitewashing information by sources in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office.
More than once, the newspaper has published stories on goings on at Netanyahu’s bureau that later turned out to be true. However, in other instances, its reports about Netanyahu’s office were proved false.”
A reader would reasonably expect that with the source having an approximate 50% success rate, the headline for that story would have been something like “Unreliable Arab newspaper claims Netanyahu-Abdallah meeting.”
But no, it was ‘Report: Netanyahu, Jordan’s King Abdullah secretly meet... has not been confirmed by the Israeli or Jordanian governments.” This is but another instance of “reporting,” where the media is not a channel for providing reliable information and proven data but an instrument for the brainwashing of the media consumer.
The evolving stories of Jewish rights to and on the Temple Mount, diplomatic relations with Jordan, Israel’s not-quite-a-process of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority were all dramatically heightened by the recent attempt to assassinate Rabbi Yehuda Glick of the HaLiba project, an incident which provided insight into the workings of Israel’s media.
As we pointed out in our column of October 6, 2012, Israel’s media for the most part lacks perspective when it comes to the Temple Mount. At that time, reports on the increasing level of Muslim fabrications concerning the Jewish presence on the Mount were meager.
The Islamist campaign of incitement intended to deny Jewish rights and foment violence was somehow “understood” and “accepted” by the press. Israeli Arab leaders were not called upon to condemn the Arab incitement and violence as are Jewish leaders upon every so-called “price tag” incident.
Earlier that year, on August 15, we noted that the lack of Israeli media interest in the Temple Mount story consistently resulted in the relegation of the Jewish side of the story to “eccentricity status.” Too often, our media does not accept that in the national struggle between Jews and Arabs there even is a Jewish side.
The attempted assassination of Rabbi Glick by a Muslim fanatic did make waves, but was it enough to change the attitudes of the editors, reporters and columnists who set the media agenda? A November 1 Haaretz headline read: “Not your typical Temple Mount zealot.” In the story, author Roi Arad informed readers that “Glick is an exceptional right-wing activist, who also befriends secular Jews and left-wingers” and “views the [Temple Mount] matter as a question of freedom of worship for members of all religions... [and] he doesn’t arouse anger among the Left....” While appearing empathetic, this narrative again reinforces the view that the issue of freedom of religion on the Temple Mount is “not normal” and not readily accepted by Haaretz’s readership.
And it isn’t just our media establishment.
US spokespersons and even Secretary of State John Kerry have demanded that Israel preserve “the historic status quo.” Would Kerry demand that America’s Supreme Court seek to preserve a status quo that discriminated against the blacks? Not one reporter informed Israelis that Muslims are acting just like the Christian activists at the Cordoba Cathedral in Spain which had been turned into a mosque and was returned to its previous status as a Christian place of worship. Muslims have traveled to the Cathedral from as far away as Austria to conduct pray-ins, but Muslims will not tolerate similar actions by Jews in Jerusalem who want to pray at their holy site. Neither will they consider adopting the arrangement that exists in Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs for the Temple Mount.
The media discourse on the issue is mostly shallow, and the media seems to find it extremely difficult to reflect Jewish values rather than seeking a non-partisan universalist framework.
The circumstances of the assassination attempt assured that Glick personally was treated (mostly) in a positive light, even in ideologically hard-left media platforms. Uri Misgav, who had published an article calling Temple Mount activists “abnormal nut-jobs” the very morning of the shooting felt the need to remove it – but only because right-wingers were “dancing on the blood” and exploiting it to further their cause.
The link between the “quiet intifada” in the capital, the attacks on Jerusalem’s light rail, the Jewish construction in the City of David neighborhood and the Temple Mount, together with a heavy-handed tone of condemnation emanating from the United States (not to mention outright slurs) clearly complicate the ability of reporters to deal with the theme professionally.
As it was when Ariel Sharon ascended Mount Moriah in 2000 and Gershon Solomon did in the 1990s, the media is more equipped to deal with a personal drama – currently Glick’s – than substantive issues, and in fact prefers that framework.
The media could review decades of decisions of Israel’s High Court of Justice to help media consumers understand the legal issues involved. It could include contextual information such as Middle East history and examinations of the “patronage” claim of the Hashemite kingdom over the holy sites in Jerusalem. Coverage should include diplomatic documents, deliberations in the Knesset plenum and its committees and those of Israel’s governments, as well as archaeological reports, Jewish history and more. The media should press Arab MKs, too, not just Jewish ones.
Editors need to be more informed, and real experts invited to serve as sources and panelists, rather than the usual boring public figures whose opinions are known in advance.
It would be better if the desk managers could direct their reporters to sources capable of providing varied angles on any given story.
The new TV Channel 20 treated viewers to a confrontational format coming from the nationalist viewpoint, which demonstrates that journalists can be better balanced and pluralistic and provide the media consumer with a better product. But if the atmosphere in the news rooms is uniform, it is difficult to go in another, more professional direction.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (