Media Comment: The darker side of media bias

The media’s fulcrum is still way off-center, and the results of its framing and agenda-setting capabilities are overwhelmingly left-leaning.

Is Israel winning the social media war? (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Is Israel winning the social media war?
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
In Israel, the accepted wisdom is that the media must be protected, at all costs. Any government initiative for regulation or supervision is to be rejected. Investments by tycoons are suspect. Critiques from disgruntled and aggrieved media consumers, whether organized as in the case of Israel’s Media Watch or by columnists or individuals, are but part of a rightwing plot to undermine the country’s main pillar of support for democracy.
In fact, it is as if only the Left/liberal camp is allowed to operate NGOs that deal with civil society.
The media, as the absolute-truthers would have it, is the preserve of the political, cultural and ideological elite, to be used to further this elite’s causes and to champion the agenda of a very specific group of citizens.
It cannot be touched for otherwise “democracy will collapse.”
The media scene has, indeed, altered over the past two decades and there have been many changes in the personnel who direct, edit, broadcast and interview. Nevertheless, the media’s fulcrum is still way off-center, and the results of its framing and agenda-setting capabilities are overwhelmingly left-leaning.
The media arsenal is vast, and when used in concert can be quite powerful in the hands of a dedicated media elite. Examples are bias by commission as well as omission; selective reporting; placement in the news lineup; filtering of sources, subtly or otherwise; and promoting endorsements or condemnations.
Loaded political phrases are another tool. The power to label politicians, activists and groups and their activities is one of the media’s most subtle and potent powers. In a new academic study, the concept of “media endarkenment” has been suggested by Olga Lazitski of the University of California San Diego’s Department of Communication. This she defines as a “process of media influence that ultimately shrinks the potential for a vibrant public sphere where informed citizens debate crucial issues...[a] media influence...[whereby] both the intellectual level of the viewers and the number of informed citizens decrease.”
David Colquhoun wrote in The Guardian on October 5, 2007 that, “Enlightenment was beautiful...People cast aside dogma and authority.
They started to think for themselves...
[but] Endarkenment is matters when cultural endarkenment corrupts the highest reaches of media, government and universities....” The media has gotten very much darker here in Israel.
Here’s an episodic commentary on how things work in Israel. In 2010, Adi Arbel, then a Makor Rishon journalist, while researching an article on former Foreign Ministry director-general and ambassador to South Africa Alon Liel, discovered that he was married to Rachel Liel, who was and remains the New Israel Fund’s (NIF) executive director. Thinking that this was a scoop, he passed it along to a colleague at Yediot Aharonot, the newspaper which at that time had the largest circulation in Israel. The finding was not published, the Yediot reporter explaining that “everyone knew this”; it was defined as a “non-item.”
Did it ever occur to Yediot’s Council of Wise Men and Women that the general public was unaware of this connection and that it could possibly affect perceptions of both the NIF and the Foreign Ministry? Probably yes – that is likely why the item was nixed, Yediot being a left-leaning newspaper.
Last week, the chicken coop of Israel’s hard-core Left went into a tizzy.
Ilana Dayan broadcast a segment on her Uvda (Fact) investigative program, produced by Omri Ossenheim and Matan Gez, which highlighted problematic activity, both moral and criminal, of radical left-wingers with NGO B’tselem. Dayan, a darling of the Left for her media output, all of a sudden discovered that she had crossed a line.
Like Ariel Sharon, left-wing NGOs are protected “etrogs.” This was not only the position taken by the pro-Palestine pack over at Haaretz (Gideon Levy was invited to appear in the studio at the end of the Uvda program!) – others joined in, too.
Dayan came face-to-face with a factor that generations of centrist or non-involved media people have had to reckon with: why should a journalist endanger their professional standing or social status by furthering issues frowned upon by the “progressive” Left, who are well-entrenched not only in the media but the arts and academia? They dominate the scene when prizes are awarded, praise is heaped and fame shines. Will a journalist risk losing the chance to be profiled in magazines, appear in the gossip or society pages or eat at fancy restaurants when the “others” are present? Risk having the lucrative invitations dry up? To her credit, Dayan fired back in a column at Globes.
“We have news for you: we don’t work for you, not for Lehava nor Ta’ayush, not for the Hilltop Youth and not for B’tselem...our work is clear: to get the story, make sure it is truthful and fresh and important...
without fear or partiality.”
As Einav Schiff wrote in Yediot on January 15, the Left reacted as if “the Bastille had fallen.” Avner Hofstein, a Galatz news editor, termed it a “panic” on January 14. Alon Idan wrote the same day that Dayan was “clinically ill with ‘symmetritis.’” What most disturbed them was that the source for almost all the filmed material was a right-wing group, Ad Kan (We’ve Had It).
Quickly forgotten were the many times left-wing videos and other photographic “evidence” had been shown on television. Their material was broadcast not only on investigative shows but as hard news. Gone were the claims that their material had been edited or was suspect. As the saying goes, the hat burns on the head of the thief. They were familiar with all the dirty tricks and so, with alacrity, accused Dayan of doing the same.
The very idea that perhaps Dayan, knowing that she was going to face harsh criticism, actually checked her sources did not even occur to them.
Hofstein rightly called such double standards “hypocrisy.”
Doyen of the far Left Uri Avnery wrote on January 16 that Dayan, one of “Israel’s 100 most important women,” “in general...has always been considered as mildly ‘leftist.’” But this had now changed, said Avnery, since Dayan’s program granted a mantle of respectability to an Arab middleman for land purchases, and because a Jewish “fascist” group had recorded a death threat against him from a leftist. Dayan had contributed to making Israeli politics “uglier,” wrote Avnery, since “the right wing uses methods that remind me of what I saw as a child in 1933 Germany.”
Is it then surprising that the media does not often bring to the forefront news emanating from NGOs such as Palestinian Media Watch, NGO Monitor, Regavim and other organizations who have made it their business to protect Israel from the slanderous Left? Israel’s democracy deserves better.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (