Johan Galtung wrote the seminal 1965 paper, together with M.H. Ruge, about the way news media filtered events of the day, and the standards which determined what coverage was given to which stories in the news. He now thinks the media have become far too negative, sensational and adversarial. In a January 18 interview published in The Guardian, Galtung claimed, “If news continued to reflect the world in this antagonistic way, it would generate extreme negativity.”
Of course, negativity, raw emotions, confrontational situations and even violence are very often efficient ways to publicize the news. But is this positive? Not according to a recent academic study by Denise Baden of the University of Southampton titled “The Impact of Constructive News on Affective and Behavioral Responses.” Baden found that framing a story negatively “evoked [among media consumers] negative emotions, reduced intentions to take positive action to address issues, and resulted in negative affect.” In other words, audiences receiving sensational negative news feel helpless and less likely to engage in solving problems.
On January 17, a female politician appeared on a televised interview program. Her experience, she claimed, was one in which “a hostile atmosphere was whipped up, propped up by reports of inappropriate and sexist commentary in the audience warm-up session.” She then complained that “a public broadcaster... should be expected to be a model of impartiality and equality,” and that “the media must stop legitimizing mistreatment, bias and abuse against... a... woman in public life.” She was, she added, “jeered at and interrupted more times than any other panelist, including by the chair herself.”
The incident happened not in Israel but in Britain. And the aggrieved party was not Ayelet Shaked or Miri Regev, but Diane Abbott, a black woman and MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, the shadow home secretary for Labour. One need not be an Israeli right-winger to recognize media bias and complain about it. Not every media outlet or employee is a paragon of professional and ethical journalistic behavior.
These last two weeks in Israel, in the wake of the Effie Naveh story, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has been happily targeted by the media and portrayed as aiding and abetting criminal actions or, at the very least, facilitating unethical judicial appointments. The fact that sex was involved only seemed to drive some journalists’ emotions harder than their brains.
HAARETZ ONCE published an art work that portrayed Ms. Shaked naked. And on January 17, Amos Biderman’s caricature positioned her in her office, dressed, waiting for Naveh’s latest candidate. Only this time, it was the candidate who was drawn naked, wrapped in a sheet, arriving straight from Naveh’s bed to be appointed as a judge by Shaked, who smilingly approves of her. Why the other female member of the appointments committee, Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut, was not selected remains a mystery. We can only presume that for Haaretz, Shaked is to be pilloried, shamed and despised in its pages, or what Galtung calls negative journalism.
There is another female who most likely did commit a crime in this matter, but she is not an object of derision. That is Army Radio correspondent Hadas Shtaif. Her history is colored. She has been involved quite often in stories where sex was the central motif. In a Yediot Ahronot report dated November 18, 2017, she claimed not only that former prime minister Ehud Olmert sexually harassed her, but that during her career she was molested by 40 different men. However, it appears that despite her journalistic power, she did nothing to halt these unnamed persons. How many women could she have saved if she had used her position then to complain and prevent that molestation from happening again?
This time, she received stolen property – a cellphone. It belongs, still, to the above-mentioned Effie Naveh, who was the head of the Israel Bar Association. Ms. Shtaif’s retrievals from his phone’s memory led to his arrest. The entire system for appointing of judges in Israel is in greater disarray than the bedsheets at the locations for some of Naveh’s alleged interviews.
Whatever the political outcome of this affair, what particularly drew our attention was the simple fact that the cell phone was stolen property. In law, tainted evidence is information obtained by illegal means and is called “fruit of the poisonous tree.” Such evidence is not admissible in court. Shtaif could have handed over the phone to the police immediately, expressing suspicions. Indeed, her editors covered themselves by telling her to do just that, but they did not have the moral fortitude to prevent her from broadcasting the contents over the Army Radio network.
True, the police stated that their investigative work had followed proper procedures, and that “every step taken during the investigation was done so lawfully.” We will only really know after Naveh’s complaint is adjudicated. In a letter to Army Radio, Naveh threatened to sue its criminal affairs reporter and the station for the alleged invasion of his privacy. He also is demanding that Shtaif and the station apologize for their actions and compensate him in the amount of NIS 5 million, or he will consider filing a claim. On January 24, Shtaif tweeted, “Instead of Effie Naveh dealing with his truth, he should make an accounting and a mea culpa [but] he’s searching for other guilty parties.”
THERE IS another troubling aspect to this story. Allegedly, the Justice Department promised Shtaif immunity. This is the same department that day in and day out prevents people from putting themselves in situations involving conflicts of interest, real or imagined. But in this story there is no greater conflict of interest. The number of senior Justice Department officials who sit today on the bench of the Supreme Court is much too large. The officials there had an intense interest in getting rid of Naveh and smearing Shaked. They were clearly in a situation that involved a conflict of interest.
Another item that stirred up the media recently was a Likud election sign. Displaying the photographs of four anti-Netanyahu journalists – Amnon Abramovich, Ben Caspit, Raviv Drucker and Guy Peleg – the caption reads, “They won’t decide.” The cry of “incitement” was hurled at the Likud and its head by the Israel Press Council and opposition Knesset members. The message was, “This will end in murder.” Why incitement? Again, we can only presume it is because they are anti-Netanyahu. Indeed, it is true that only the voters decide.
In fact, Israel Prize winner Nahum Barnea agrees. In his Yediot Ahronot column on January 21, he wrote, “The text is not offensive or inciting. It sets a fact: It won’t be [they] who decide who will be the prime minister of Israel. It won’t be the media outlets they work for, either. That is the truth, and that is the desired and proper situation in a democracy.” In fact, he opined, “I imagine the four journalists who appear on the billboard are secretly pleased by the honor bestowed upon them.”
Thank you, Nahum Barnea. Indeed, the end does not justify the means.
The writers are members of Israel’s Media Watch, imediaw.org.il.