No surprises

Tell me who your reporter is and we know in advance what the outcome will be.

A MAN ENTERS BBC’s New Broadcasting House in London (photo credit: LUKE MACGREGOR / REUTERS)
A MAN ENTERS BBC’s New Broadcasting House in London
(photo credit: LUKE MACGREGOR / REUTERS)
To paraphrase a common saying, show us who the reporters and commentators are and we’ll know exactly how the story will turn out.
When we began our shared campaign in the framework of Israel’s Media Watch in early 1995 to assure that Israel’s media would conform to the guidelines for professional ethical behavior, we thought all that was required was consistent monitoring and then complaints tendered to either the ombudsmen or the other regulatory bodies. After all, the media itself had authored its internal rules, and others were the result of legislation passed in the Knesset. It was law that news had to be factual, balanced and objective.
The various media outlets, however, had another plan. They began to reinterpret the very clear definitions of what was required or what the violations were.
Bias need not be defended. Bias was the only possible way to present news since after all (so went the claim) objectivity does not exist, anywhere. Only narratives are available and they are by nature biased. In this post-modern age, who can claim with certitude that a fact is a fact?
And as for the requirement of balance, the stock reply was that one needed to review the broadcasts over a period of time rather than zeroing in on one instance. Balance is a long-time average.
The result of this played right into the media’s home court. The ombudsmen stepped back from asserting their powers. The Knesset exhibited fear of the real power of the press, which is the power to make or break a politician’s career. The courts, when we turned to them, declined to enforce the law. Even after showing that long-time averages of a specific program did not reflect balance, this was insufficient. Balance has to be related to all broadcasts and in any case, so they claimed, cannot be treated by quantitative means.
The truth is that there is no need to follow everything or balance everything. The ethos of a media channel and its biases are sometimes all too obvious. The Trump-Netanyahu and Trump-Gantz meetings were justifiably all over the news programs. Any media channel that respects itself and has the necessary funds wants to have an on-the-spot reportage of events. This makes a good impression on the media consumer and so helps advertising.
But consider the decisions made as to who will carry out the coverage. Channel 13 decided to send to Washington Mr. Barak Ravid. Channel 12 is sending Dana Weiss. Both are, of course, professional reporters. Ms. Weiss had to retract a personal attack made against the prime minister’s son Yair last March. She had uploaded a video to her Twitter account calling him a “zero” and a “shithead” and began to utter “aut,” presumably for “autistic” but stopped in mid-pronunciation.
Mr. Ravid expresses himself in nigh-rabid style against Netanyahu on his Twitter account by using all sorts of slurs. His appearances amount to the same, with a bit less bashing. Army Radio sent Ilil Shachar, known for her left-wing views and support of the Geneva conference.
Channel 11, funded by the public, flew over Moav Vardi and Michael Shemesh. Far be it from us to wonder about the financial outlay for this, but all these channels do have resident reporters in the United States.
IN ANOTHER, closely related event, something called the Second Conference of Independent Television held its meeting last week. The title sounds good. Independent perhaps of the existing biases? Forget it. According to a report on the Seventh Eye website, which was the sponsoring body, the distinct impression transmitted was that this gathering was but another group of left-of-center “activists.”
We could not identify anyone on the Right of the political spectrum, if any had even been invited. Their reports reflected their biases, and thus were rather boring. It all revolved about the political pressure on journalists, paying special attention to guess who? None other than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. People like Moses come out rather pure, they “never” told anyone outright what to write, at worst only what not to express.
Once the “opposition” to the mainstream media becomes identified solely as a radical left-wing collection of politically involved persons with a specific agenda to push, what we are left with (pardon the pun) are not issues of ethics and professionalism but of ideological bias.
In this connection, to illustrate how easy it is to plant bias, we need look no further than the venerable BBC.
Orla Guerin, the BBC’s international correspondent who has been caught out several times in the past expressing anti-Israel notions, interviewed Holocaust survivor Rena Quint as part of the coverage of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. The editors who sent her knew precisely what they were doing, just as the Israeli editors who sent Weiss and Ravid to Washington.
Guerin lived up to her reputation. Against the backdrop of images of Yad Vashem, including a shot of soldiers visiting the site, Guerin said, “The state of Israel is now a regional power. For decades, it has occupied Palestinian territories. But some here will always see their nation through the prism of persecution and survival.” Guerin provided proof of how “professional” her anti-Israel outlook was by inserting the issue of “occupied Palestine” in a story which had nothing to do with the current political situation, unless she had wanted to bring the pro-Nazi grand mufti of Jerusalem into the story.
Even Michael Grade, the former chairman of the BBC, and its former director of television Danny Cohen, voiced their criticism, calling out Guerin as being “unjustifiably offensive” by linking Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to the Holocaust.
Let us get back to people such as Mr. Ravid. Early Tuesday he tweeted, “The White House clarified to Prime Minister Netanyahu that it opposes one-sided immediate steps in the aftermath of the presentation of the Trump plan such as annexation of the Jordan Valley and other parts in the West Bank, this according to three Israeli and American sources who are deeply involved in the process.”
Furthermore, in his summary on Channel 13 news, the only substantial issue he had to note was that many people who were adamantly against the establishment of a Palestinian state actually are now backing it.
Having listened to both the presentations of President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu, Ravid’s account was not exact. The document released to the public is, in total, with appendices, maps, tables and charts, some 181 pages in length. Nevertheless, all the media began discussing and analyzing the plan with but little to go on besides the rather general remarks made. Instant gratification does not work well with such a complex issue. Commentary provided by mostly ideologically committed pundits is not very valuable.
Surprising? No. Tell me who your reporter is and we know in advance what the outcome will be. The bottom line: There is no need to blindly believe these people in such circumstances. We all still need to do our own research to gain the facts.
The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch (