Media Comment: Making prizes transparent

The Nobel committee failed to award the prize to deserving people, such as L. Meitner, A. Kramers and R. Franklin.

Prof. Dan Shechtman receiving the Nobel Prize 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Ints Kalnins)
Prof. Dan Shechtman receiving the Nobel Prize 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ints Kalnins)
Prizes seem to be a staple of the human endeavor. Rare is the person who, when awarded a prize, refuses to accept it, especially when it comes with significant monetary gain. Perhaps the most famous prize of them all is the Nobel Prize. Israel is rightly proud of its laureates, yet very little has been discussed in the Israeli media or in the world media about the secretive processes that lead to the award.
It is no secret that the Nobel committee has failed dramatically at awarding the prize to deserving people. Lise Meitner, Hendrik A. Kramers and Rosalyn Franklin are but a few of the spectacular failures. Burton Feldman in his book The Nobel Prize notes: “Like monarchy, the Nobel Prize surrounds itself with mystery and extraordinary secretiveness. Indeed, the media have more easily breached the privacy of the British royal family than that of the Nobel Institution.”
This tradition has influenced most major prizes awarded in Israel and abroad. The Israel Prize committee does not provide the public with a protocol of its deliberations, although it does publish an announcement asking the public to nominate candidates. The Sokolov Prize for journalism is awarded by a committee which meets secretly. The public does not know anything about the process and has no say in the makeup of the awards committee. All we know is that once a year the Prize is awarded to some journalists.
The same is true for the citations handed out by the Movement for Quality Government. Their “Knights of Quality Government” title is conferred without a quality control process. The public has no input to the process and cannot nominate candidates.
Another organization which takes pride in its struggle against government corruption is Ometz. The “Ometz Medallion” is awarded to individuals who the committee believes have made significant contributions in preventing public corruption. But again – the prize committee is appointed by the organization’s board of directors. The public can nominate individuals for the award, but deliberations are held in secret, the list of nominees is not made public and the public has no way of knowing how the decisions were taken. Suffice it to say that Ometz has awarded a prize to a person who in the past was convicted for inappropriate public behavior.
ISRAEL’S MEDIA Watch also awards prizes. The Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism is awarded annually to two people who have made “an especially valiant, significant and qualitative contribution to media criticism in Israel.” The award includes a citation and $5,000 in prize money. Until last year, the award process was not very opaque. The public was asked for nominations, but the deliberations and the decision making process, as with the other awards mentioned above, was made by a committee, without a public protocol. More than one candidate has felt in the past that she or he had unfairly been left out.
There is, of course, a problem in making the whole process public. Candidates would be often upset if their names were known as those who did not receive the award. It happens that some information on candidates must be kept private, to prevent harm to their good name. Any reviewing committee would find it difficult to discuss the various candidates freely, and in depth, if they knew that every word they uttered would become public. It is no accident that the deliberations of prize committees are universally not open to the public. Yet one has the uncomfortable feeling that too often the decision making process is far from objective.
To attempt and provide a partial solution, Israel’s Media Watch last year decided to open the voting process to the public. One of the two prizes is the result of a public vote. First, the public is asked to present nominations. This year, over 20 people were nominated. Since it is not realistic to ask the public to choose from such a long list, the nominations are presented to the prize committee, which then creates a short list, based largely on the number of nominations received by the candidates. The short list is then put up on a website and the public is asked to vote.
To ensure fairness, anyone voting must supply their ID and e-mail address, and multiple votes by the same person are disallowed. The vote is open to Israelis only, via the website
Last year, the award went to the Latma website led by The Jerusalem Post’s Caroline Glick. The Latma website was cited for its reportage of media failures and especially for its satirical broadcast “The tribal update” which mocks the Israeli media. The runner up received only half as many votes.
This year there are six candidates. They include two past winners – Matti Golan of Globes and Ben-Dror Yemini from Ma’ariv. Both are publicists who have repeatedly expressed their criticism of the Israeli media in their articles and other forums.
Rabbanit Shulamit Melamed is the founder of Arutz 7, which runs a website and weekly newspaper in Hebrew (Besheva) which has made significant contributions to media criticism by presenting the Israeli public with a right-wing point of view which balances to some extent the liberal bias of most of Israel’s major media outlets.
Dr. Dror Eydar is an important columnist, who writes extensively on media wrongs in the Israel Hayom newspaper.
Ms. Ayalet Shaked established the Yisrael Sheli movement and website, which among others, broadcast a clip describing a left-wing post-Zionist bias on the Army radio station Galatz.
Last, but certainly not least, is Ms. Dvorit Shargal who edits one of the most influential media blogs in Israel – Velvetunderground, in which she frequently exposes media bias, inaccuracy and unethical behavior.
It is in the nature of our society to encourage those people who we feel are deserving. Providing a public award is one way of saying thank you. It is also part of an educational process. By pointing the spotlight at the achievements of those who receive the prize, we hope to inspire others to follow in their footsteps. The Abramowitz Israeli Media Criticism Prize has been awarded to some of the most outstanding journalists in Israel. We hope that the process will also set an example to be emulated by others. Prizes are to be cherished, not hidden.
The authors are vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch. Voting for the Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism is currently underway at 2012/index.html