Media Comment: Israel’s hidden excellence

We would suggest that an area in which Israel could prove its excellence, in addition to the spheres ignored by our media, is in journalism itself.

Ada Yonath, Lou Massa, Gila Ben-Har 370 (photo credit: Marian Goldman/Jewish Funders Network)
Ada Yonath, Lou Massa, Gila Ben-Har 370
(photo credit: Marian Goldman/Jewish Funders Network)
Agenda setting is not achieved by a single article, not even by five articles on a given topic. An agenda is set only dozens of repetitions. Our media know this very well. Any advertiser knows that it is wasteful to pay for a one-time ad. The ad has to be repeated multiple times, not only to assure that the vast majority of the public knows about it, but also so it remains in the public memory at least for a few days.
Agenda setting is a function of journalism that not only highlights issues that are important while relegating the less-important to an occasional mention, it can also downplay important issues, driving the subject or the persons involved into near-oblivion. The power of a news editor can be critical.
There are too many people in Israel whose identity is known to but a few, who have not only excelled in their profession and brought honor and dignity to the State of Israel, yet remain obscure. That obscurity is a matter of media concern.
Jewish excellence in music is known worldwide.
The former Israeli-turned-Israel basher pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim is a household name. How many of us, though, are familiar with 28-year-old pianist Boris Giltburg? He is a Russian-born immigrant to Israel who most recently placed first in the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition for piano, held in Brussels every three years and named after Queen Elisabeth of Belgium.
Giltburg is the first-ever Israeli to win this prestigious international competition, described by Wikipedia as being “considered over the world to be one of the most prestigious and most difficult.” In all the years of the competition, which started regularly in 1952, only one Israeli pianist, Shai Wosner, achieved respectable 4th place, in 1999. Ynet and Haaretz reported Giltburg’s success, but that’s about it. This achievement of Giltburg’s, by the way, not a one-time affair. Two years ago, Giltburg came in second in the prestigious Arthur Rubinstein competition.
Hi-tech is something Israel is not only proud of, for arguably it is one of the lifelines that keep our state functioning, and is doing that task well. Hi-tech without excellence in physics is virtually impossible and indeed, Israel has its share of excellent physicists.
One of these is Dr. Zohar Komargodski, a young scientist at the Weizmann Institute. The New Horizons in Physics Prize, awarded by the Fundamental Physics Prize Foundation, is given to three promising young researchers.
Each of the laureates receives $100,000. This year, one of the three was Dr. Komargodski.
The Russell Varian prize is named in the memory of the pioneer behind the first commercial Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectrometers and co-founder of Varian Associates.
NMR machines have evolved into magnetic resonance imaging machines, which most know is a life-saving technology which has aided many patients.
It so happens that some Israelis excel in the field of MRI. One of them, Professor Lucio Frydman, also from the Weizmann Institute, a member of one of our departments (EP), was awarded the 2013 Russell Varian Prize. The prize is arguably the most prestigious one in this field; its former recipients include Nobel Prize laureates and scientists who have made the MRI dream come true.
Jiu-jitsu, a well-known martial art taught, for example, to police officers, is not an Olympic sport, yet international competitions take place, both on national, international and global levels. Dudi Ben – Zaken, an Israeli, recently won the gold medal in the Jiu-jitsu European championship which took place in early June in Germany.
These are but a few examples, from various fields, which exemplify Israel’s excellence.
Besides ignoring such items, our media for some reason this past week or so decided, in an agenda-setting act, that it was important to revive the politically-motivated social demonstrations of two years ago.
It has attempted to do this several times recently. Last Saturday night, our TV stations had numerous live reports from Tel Aviv, with some reporters virtually pleading with people to come out to increase the numbers. This amounted to nothing of any importance and so we witness how prejudice can dominate out screens, all for a pitifully small number of persons. This is a case when some of our media, in an undemocratic campaign, decide for themselves what is important for us to know. But reporting Israeli excellence is viewed negatively.
OUR MEDIA’S failings go much beyond the simple exclusion of anything good about Israel. Headlines are made when Israel does not fare well in international tests. The education minister and other politicians and bureaucrats are put on the firing line, blamed for the results. But the media, which could contribute so much more to making our state even stronger in its innovativeness, are delinquent.
Consider Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI. How many of our readers know what really happens in such a machine? Are they aware that there is an even more brilliant future in store for it? Professor Frydman received his prize for his contributions to this important task. Providing deep coverage of an event related to MRI might just raise interest in the field and who knows, some of our brilliant youngsters might prefer to enter it, instead of perhaps journalism.
In fact, science programming is virtually nonexistent in our media. Even the Israel Broadcasting Authority does not have a weekly science program (it did, however), neither on TV nor radio. Have our media geniuses ever surveyed the public to find out whether perhaps it just might be interested in receiving more science-related programming, instead of the low-level reality shows which are fed to us? In fact, during 2010 and 2011 the Calcalist website had a series of science articles, some of which received extensive popular responses.
An example is their article entitled “What do mushrooms think about?” which had two million views, and close to 10,000 “likes.”
The PEW Forum, an American research center on issues of public life, published last week survey results which indicate that public appreciation for journalists in the US has dropped the most. Moreover, the decline is more pronounced among women than men and also cuts across partisan leanings, age and education level. The problem, then, is not only a local one.
We would suggest that an area in which Israel could prove its excellence, in addition to the spheres ignored by our media, is in journalism itself. That would be something to look forward to.The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (