MEDIA COMMENT: The army station that rules the airwaves

Pluralism may be developing at Galatz. Political and cultural objectivity, it appears, is still to be achieved.

A soldier broadcasts on Galei Tzahal, the IDF radio station (photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)
A soldier broadcasts on Galei Tzahal, the IDF radio station
(photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)
Jennifer Rubin, a prominent pundit who blogs at The Washington Post, recently commented on “the dangerous homogeneity of the media” which “is increasingly liberal, college-educated and urban.”
Her comment would seem to resonate with the media consumer in Israel. In particular, the army radio station, Galatz, has come under harsh criticism recently, notably from Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev (Likud). Her target: the playlist of Galgalatz, the station’s secondary channel which broadcasts primarily pop music and traffic reports (hence the station’s name; “galgal” means wheel in Hebrew).
Last July, she criticized Galgalatz’s programming.
She complained that most of the songs aired are not in Hebrew. Regev thought Galgalatz isn’t permitting “enough space for the variety of musical styles in Israel.”
This is not a new dispute. The station’s playlist has been attacked in the past, especially by the Mizrachi/ Oriental element among the country’s composers and performers.
In November, at a session of the Knesset’s Education Committee, Regev’s attack was sharper: “The defense minister seems to have forgotten that the IDF is the army of the people,” she said in the wake of reports that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon had decided to forbid meetings on the issue between the minister and Yaron Dekel, Galatz’s commander. Regev was quoted in this paper saying, “Galatz is an elitist station, it is no secret.”
At the same time an attempt to move Galatz from the administrative responsibility of the IDF to that of the Defense Ministry was stymied, due to “budgetary difficulties.”
Last week, head of the IDF Personnel Directorate Gen. Chagi Topolanski informed the station’s employees that they would remain within the IDF even as he told the civilian workers “what other country besides North Korea runs a radio station?” Technically he is wrong, as, for example the United States armed forces also have a radio and television network, but his point is well taken. The massive left-wing support the station receives is an indication of its unique status in Israel as a definer of cultural, artistic and political trends which are convenient for Israel’s liberals.
Music played a part in another incident which highlighted Galatz’s role in Israel’s social and political agenda.
A soldier and yeshiva graduate, Niv Wrobel, serving at the station, published an article in Haaretz without permission, the paper colluding with him by not identifying him as an employee of Galatz. Wrobel commented on the song that was played at the now infamous “stabthe- Arab wedding dance” video clip, the lyrics of which are taken from Samson’s last words, “God, that I may be this once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes” (Judges 16:28). He opined that Samson was “the first terrorist” and that the dancers were the “nice fruit of the education they received” in “the elite furrows of religious Zionism” and not just hilltop youth. Having violated standing orders, he was removed from the station’s staff.
The question that should be asked is whether the atmosphere at the station led him to assume that his action would be ignored. Did he think that he had a privilege, one that democracy awarded him, to express his personal opinion? Wrobel’s decision to publish his silly remarks in Haaretz is another indicator of the existing political/ cultural nexus the station’s employees presuppose.
Yehuda Glick of Temple Mount fame, who resides in Othniel and was himself a recent victim of an unsuccessful terrorist attack, brought to light another aspect of Galatz’s agenda. Glick claimed via Facebook on January 20 that in the aftermath of the murderous attack on Dafna Meir in Othniel he had been scheduled to be interviewed on Galatz. However, in the pre-show preparatory talk, he made it clear that he had no intention to attack the prime minister, so he was dropped. Instead, Daniella Weiss, an outsider from Kedumim and a fierce critic of Netanyahu, replaced him. The subject was Netanyahu’s directive to construct for defense purposes a perimeter fence despite opposition from within the community.
ON ISRAEL Media Watch’s a complaint appeared which was then addressed by Eran Elyakim, Galatz’s ombudsman.
The complaint asked whether the object was to discuss the pros and cons of a fence surrounding the community from within or to create a drama of “Yesha vs. the Prime Minister.” Elyakim wrote back that there was no intention to find someone a priori that would attack Netanyahu but rather “a wish to assure journalistic balance” and present a position that opposed the stand that wished to erect a fence.
While that may sound quite reasonable, Glick clarified that he wasn’t for or against a fence but informed his caller that whatever the community decided on by voting would be his position. Netanyahu wasn’t the issue, but rather the village’s security. True, a radio program should be interesting and lively as well as informative, nevertheless, it need not create crises.
Not all, of course, is bad. It never is. Our concern, though, is why is there any bad at all? The basic rules of ethics are not complicated. Here is one instance of a Galatz journalist and news presenter intervening in a Twitter battle between journalists outside his own station.
Shortly after the fire at the B’tselem offices this month, Omri Maniv of Channel 10 tweeted, “The building containing the B’tselem offices torched.” Channel 2’s Yair Sherki, a former Galatz reporter, responded, “torched?” With tongue in cheek he added: “I understand that the fire investigators ended their on-site work quickly.”
Maniv’s reaction? “Are you a journalist or a right-wing activist? Your empathy is odd, always from the same political side.”
The dialogue escalated with Haaretz’s Chaim Levinson, Peace Now’s Yariv Oppenheimer and former Yesha head Dani Dayan joining in. Oppenheimer retorted to Sherki: “A fire at B’tselem’s offices at this time is probably not coincidental.” Assaf Lieberman of Galatz then interjected, “Have you lost your minds? Sherki just noted that the situation is unclear. Why are you turning this into a battle of [political] camps?” Maniv eventually apologized, albeit with a bit of cynicism, but it required prodding from Dayan that he apologize to the Channel 2 reporter who correctly had relied on the police rather than the emergency services.
All this, and much more, has happened on the watch of Yaron Dekel, who has just finished a four-year term as head of Galatz. He was informed this week that his term has been extended by a year. On February 4, Dekel will preside over a ceremony to name Galatz’s main studio, Studio Five, in the memory of Uri Orbach, a former program host at the station, author and minister and icon of the National Religious Zionists.
Pluralism may be developing at Galatz. Political and cultural objectivity, it appears, is still to be achieved.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (