Media comment: Still impotent

Our sages always admonished us: “Wise people, be careful with your words.” But there is some distance between expressing yourself strongly and being suspended.

Microphone (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
It is a government’s duty to rule for the benefit of its citizens. Elected officials should be making the important decisions that affect our everyday life.
Unfortunately, this is not the case in Israel. Our government in certain areas is impotent, or at least seems to be. Consider the saga of TV Channel 20, which we have commented on more than once in this column.
The channel received a license to broadcast only via cable and satellite TV. This means that the channel is subject to the whims of the regulator, the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Commission (CSBC). The original license limited its broadcasts to Jewish programming. To survive, the channel knew that it must provide a broader spectrum of programs. Subsequently, in 2014 it received in principle the right to broadcast news, but in limited form. This was re-certified in 2016, but not implemented formally by the regulator.
In fact, Dr. Yifat Ben-Chai Segev, the CSBC’s chairperson, seems to be having the time of her life bullying the channel and forcing it into a Kafkaesque existence. At least this seems to be the conclusion of a recent Ma’ariv article by Kalman Liebskind, who also has a job at Channel 20. He described how Segev uses almost every opportunity to fine the channel. For example, it was fined for broadcasting too many news programs. It was fined for not giving the Reform movement sufficient attention. It was fined for violating the ethics code in a satirical program.
And the list goes on.
We all know that there is nothing original here.
Such violations were and are bread and butter for channels 2, 10 and 11. Satire in Israel is a holy cow – all the ombudsmen always defend it, claiming that even the sharpest satire is sacred – hallowed by the principle of freedom of speech. Only when the satire comes from the Right does it become unethical and do the fines fly.
Given the unflinching, firm character of the regulator toward the channel, it is facing closure. It cannot make ends meet by broadcasting religious rituals from Reform temples or by allowing the head of the Conservative movement in Israel to make speeches to fill the quota of programs demanded of it as per CSBC requirements. To survive, it must broadcast content which interests viewers. This includes news programs, satire, sports, general culture and much more. But the regulator nixes it all.
Ergo, closure.
Left-wing journalist Uzi Benziman wrote a scathing piece against the channel on the 7th Eye Internet media review site. He compared it to the settlement movement. The latter, he asserted, used any means to further its goals. It would receive a permit for an archaeological dig and lo and behold! The dig turns into a new town. Similarly, according to his perverted thinking Channel 20 took a license for Jewish broadcasting but never really considered for a minute that this was its goal. It used the license to create facts on the ground, Benziman wrote, and become a right-wing broadcaster which would compete with channels 2, 10 and 11.
Benziman suffers from amnesia, it seems. It was TV Channel 10 that committed itself to financial terms which it never intended to fulfil. The channel owed the government a billion shekels. But everyone (except for us), including Benziman, defended that channel and declared that the government must prevent its closure.
There is only a small difference between channels 10 and 20. The former is left-oriented while the latter is right-wing. Right-wing media organs seemingly do not have a right to exist, they should be closed, as in the case of the Arutz 7 radio station.
Left-wing organs, on the other hand, are the essence of democracy and must be supported even when they blatantly violate their legal obligations.
There is a fine thread connecting the crisis at Channel 20 and the recent Irit Linor soap opera.
President Reuven Rivlin was in the eye of a storm over what was apparently his call to the public to protest publicly against the corruption which supposedly typifies the present government. In truth, as also testified to by Makor Rishon correspondent Orly Goldklang this past Friday, his statement was misinterpreted and taken out of context. Given the public protest, Rivlin reiterated that he was not calling upon the public to demonstrate against a specific agenda.
But Linor, who works for the army radio station Galatz, and also Channel 20, reacted to the story Wednesday a week ago by castigating Rivlin. She said on air: “I will tell you what is intolerable, Mr. President. You are not a political player and when you were in politics you were a failure. The best you could do is become a minor minister. As a president and a symbol of Israel you call upon the citizens to go to the streets? For what? You are an insolent piece of work. Who are you? There are elections. Ruby Rivlin did not succeed to see the successful side of elections since he is such a failure. You should be ashamed.”
The reaction was swift. Shimon Alkabetz, the new officer in charge of the army radio station, suspended her for a week without even giving her a chance to apologize or explain. There was a public outcry.
Even the left-wing Citizens Rights Movement called upon Alkabetz to rethink the suspension, to no avail.
For sure, Linor’s words were sharp. Our sages always admonished us: “Wise people, be careful with your words.” But there is some distance between expressing yourself strongly and being suspended.
Linor, the recipient of the Israeli Media Criticism Prize in 2002, admitted that she should not have used such strong words, but so what? She attacked Rivlin from the Right, and the Right, as we know, does not have freedom of expression. After all, when it attempts to exercise that right it is invariably portrayed as obstructing the liberal left-wing democracy which is, the media tells us, so essential for this country.
Is this the first time a high official in Israel was publicly and fiercely criticized? Of course not. The prime minister is daily ostracized. On January 12, 2016, for example, TV Channel 2 “celeb” Amnon Abramovitch equated Netanyahu to North Korea dictator Kim Jong-un. Relating to primaries within the Likud which had only one candidate for prime minister, he noted: “You know this does not exist in any country, except maybe North Korea. This is Kim Jong Bibi, very strange.”
Did any official even dare say a word to Abramovitch? Of course not, for he belongs to the “enlightened” camp, along with Yair “mezuzah kissers” Garboz and others.
The conclusion? Democracy is but a one-way liberal street. Israel’s conservative camp remains unable to counter the unelected demagogues of the Left. If it could, Channel 20 would be the most popular TV channel in Israel and Abramovitch and his followers would be has-beens.
The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch (