Media Comment: The art of silence

Liberman had no choice but to sue Yitzchak, which he promptly did on October 24, not as a personal libel case but as a demand from the Justice Ministry that they prosecute him for libel.

AVIGDOR LIBERMAN – a need to reinvent himself. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
AVIGDOR LIBERMAN – a need to reinvent himself.
Media ethics codes usually concentrate on what should not be written, said or broadcast. But silence is an old practice used to manipulate news and keep the public in the dark. The case of Yoav Yitzchak vs. Avigdor Liberman is a classic example.
On October 8, on his News 1 website, Yitzchak published an article titled “Liberman has a hysterics attack.” The gist of the article was that Liberman fears investigations by various authorities in Israel; the discovery of serious suspicions; that his business and bank accounts are being reviewed in Israel and abroad; and that even a senior police officer revealed to him sensitive information from within police investigations.
This was then followed by an additional scathing article published on News 1 on October 21, this time titled “Liberman’s Trap.” Yitzchak described what he claimed were some of the reasons underlying Liberman’s politics as of late. According to Yitzchak, Liberman was offered a rotation of the prime minister’s post if he would form a right-wing government with Netanyahu, but that Liberman could not accept the ensuing far-reaching mutual coalition concessions.
The main thrust was that Liberman understands he cannot enter a political agreement which would make him prime minister of a right-wing government, since that would force the Justice Ministry to open up a myriad of investigations against him and his family members. The cases include, according to Yitzchak, illegal funds; the Yisrael Beytenu file where many of the leading members of his party were accused and found guilty of bribes; the relations of his sons to one Moshe Yeshayahu; his relations to businessman Shmuel Chaik; the appointment of his son-in-law Jonathan Gallun to the lucrative job of head of projects and fund-raising in the British branch of the Jewish National Fund; and much more.
Yitzchak, calling Liberman a “mafioso,” claimed that the media are doing all they can to safeguard Liberman from investigations, since he serves the purpose of many within the media, which is to get rid of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. If he would do the opposite, that is, join forces with Netanyahu, his honeymoon with the mainstream media would end, and all of his legal cases would surface – and quickly.
Liberman had no choice but to sue Yitzchak, which he promptly did on October 24, not as a personal libel case but as a demand from the Justice Ministry that they prosecute him for libel. What exactly that libel is, is not known to us, since only the first page of the brief to the lower court in Petah Tikva was publicized. Besides this scrap of information, the mainstream media have ignored the essence of the case, a lesson in the art of silence.
The media have been doing all they can to convince the public that a third election campaign would be disastrous. Yet, Liberman, who holds the power in his hands to prevent a third election round this year, is not questioned about what Yitzchak asserts are his true motives.
IN A DIRTY election campaign in which the left wing claimed it was all about morality and trust violated by Netanyahu, one might expect that the claims of a respected journalist such as Yitzchak, who was instrumental in bringing former prime minister Ehud Olmert to justice, would be aired and discussed. But no, nothing – and, as claimed by Yitzchak, Liberman is getting the same “etrog” treatment as Ariel Sharon. As long as his politics serve the “correct purpose” – that is, removing Netanyahu – his actions, although problematic, are silenced. The public does not know. If it did, then one might expect that Liberman and his Yisrael Beytenu Party would disappear in a third election round.
The art of silence is almost a daily practice. When youths in Yitzhar attack the IDF, the headlines are big. When left-wing organizations attack a farmer in Mehola in the Jordan Valley, there is no comparison to the media “noise.” When “settlers” are accused by Palestinians and so-called human rights organizations for destroying olive trees, we are all informed. But when trees are destroyed in Efrat, the story is treated with virtual silence.
We are in the month of left-wing Rabin assassination festivals when the Right is bashed more than Rabin is remembered. But the silence surrounding the questions having to do with the assassination itself, and the lack of fervor in at least having some of those responsible for the lapse in security face justice, is deafening. Dr. Mordechai Kedar publicly stated that Amir was not the assassin, and the hue and cry was great. How dare he spout such nonsense?
However, do we really know everything surrounding that tragic act? We at Israel’s Media Watch were ourselves victims of silencing at the Justice Ministry when we demanded an investigation of the IBA for allowing Shin Bet agent Avishai Raviv to incite to murder the prime minister in the weeks prior to the assassination. All our attempts at that time to raise public awareness of the issues were stonewalled by the media.
Kedar did get to be interviewed by several mainstream media outlets, but the interviewers were aggressive and demeaning of him promoting a “conspiracy theory,” thereby ridiculing him, as if he had no right to advance his thinking.
CONSPIRACY THEORIES did not originate with Kedar. Think of Abraham Lincoln. Think of John F. Kennedy. Conversely, there are other “conspiracies” that the media do blindly accept, such as the meme of a “rightwing/rabbinical incitement” that led to the assassination.
On October 12, at the new weekly series of protests near Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s home, now sponsored by pro-Netanyahu groups, it was reported that several people were arrested. Channel 12 silenced the fact that they were leftists, opposing the demonstration.
Are we being too harsh on our media and the practices of media stars?
In England, expert witnesses appeared before a parliamentary committee reviewing complaints against The Jeremy Kyle Show, asserted that Kyle used a “bullying methodology” and “abusive language” to provoke participants on his program. The show was the most popular program in the ITV network’s daytime schedule for more than a decade. As recently reported, ITV is accused of “corporate failure of responsibility” over its treatment of its participants.
While this is what is termed as tabloid-style entertainment television, it is an example of the power media people possess. To be truthful, some of what we view and hear on Israel’s media echoes those charges of unethical behavior. When the practice of browbeating is employed together with assuring a disproportional amount of attention and coverage one item will receive, that is wrong. But arguably, a disproportional silence is even worse, for the media are acting against the public interest.
Silence is a dangerous weapon. The media must make daily decisions as to which items to report and which not. But sometimes, the decision to downplay an item is not good judgment but rather media manipulation. In the long run, especially due to modern social media, one would hope that the effectiveness of silence decreases. We predict that Yitzchak’s research will, if correct, significantly impact Israeli politics, silence notwithstanding.
The writers are members of Israel’s Media Watch (