Media comment: Our prayer for a better media year

Our prayer for a better media year

Orthodox haredi man reads newspapers media news 390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
Orthodox haredi man reads newspapers media news 390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
As the Hebrew year 5773 came to an end, the media looked more and more like a battlefield. On the pages of newspapers, on television and computer screens and over the airwaves, the lines are drawn, mobilization for this or the other side is being conducted, reports from the field are passed around and decisions are being made.
All are reporting on and discussing what is happening in Syria and all are frivolously telling the political leaders what to do. And the lines between fact and opinion are being blurred.
At a dinner two weeks ago in honor of the visit of US Republican Congressman David Reichert, Shlomo Ben-Zvi, owner and publisher of Ma’ariv and Makor Rishon, addressed the issue of a possible American military response to the gassing of civilians in Syria. He was blunt and expressed his view that Israel cannot ignore its own moral responsibility and expect that only America should be attacking targets in Syria. He said that at an editorial board discussion earlier that afternoon, he suggested that his newspaper publish a leader demanding that Israel consider its own independent position based not only on military and security concerns but foremost on Israel’s moral obligation as a civilized nation.
On the other hand, in the International Herald Tribune on August 30, Nahum Barnea, senior columnist for Yediot Aharonot, published a piece titled “Israel should not take action.”
Noting that Israel could intervene and stop the horror, he nevertheless concluded “it shouldn’t, and it won’t.” He was sure nobody expects Israel to intervene and observed that “nobody would thank it if it did.”
In his line of argumentation against Israel employing force, he writes of “internal and tribal rifts and realities of violence and economic despair” in Arab countries, despite the hopes raised by the Arab Spring – itself a slogan invented by the media – and further expounds that with religion playing a negative role in Syrian and even Egyptian domestic conflicts, “we would be foolish to believe that these two countries could adopt democracy in the Western liberal sense.”
Whatever happens, or doesn’t happen, with regard to the West’s response to Syria, any objective media consumer should be asking: why does Barnea not apply the same logic to the much-closer- to-Israel Arab entity, i.e., the Palestinian Authority? If he is so knowledgeable about Arab culture and political behavior, and as a leading media personality who shapes our perceptions and attitudes, why does he not express these same doubts when it comes to Israel’s “peace partner”? Or is it not really about logic, but rather: “I know what is good and right, therefore do as I tell you.”
A recent example of the poor quality of commentary we are exposed to came in the Saturday night broadcast on the IBA’s Reshet Bet news radio station, which preceded US President Barack Obama’s press conference announcing the delay on any military action in Syria. The IBA’s commentator, Chico Menashe, knew in advance that the US would undertake military measures against Syria “within 24 to 48 hours.” He complimented the Israeli government for not getting involved in the Syrian mess.
A commentator’s job is to provide his listeners with facts, round off the story and fill it in, so that the public gets a better understanding of the various aspects affecting the decisionmaking process. His job is not to tell us whether the decision makers are “good” or “bad,” and certainly not to try his hand at prophecy. It would seem that Menashe was so full of admiration for President Obama that he could not conceive that the president would backtrack on the explicit statements of his secretary of state, John Kerry.
The files of Israel’s Media Watch provide extensive documentation of how partial and biased agenda-setting is implemented in Israel’s media.
Between mid-October 2012 through January 1, 2013, Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On was interviewed 16 times on Reshet Bet.
This number is out of all proportion to her relative significance within the political spectrum. It is especially striking when compared to the lack of exposure received by other MKs from parties with similar parliamentary strength. In simple English, this is favoritism at its best.
The Mussaf interview show, usually hosted by Geula Even, follows the Mabat central news program on TV Channel 1. Even has perfected, on too many occasions, not only the fine art of expressing her personal opinion, but of bypassing the elementary right of the person being criticized to respond to her charges.
She famously attacked Histadrut leader Ofer Eini without giving him the opportunity to respond to her accusations. In Even’s vocabulary, a Palestinian who helps Israel’s security services is considered a “collaborator.”
Her colleague, Oded Shachar, calls such Palestinians “shtinkerim,” or snitches. Their views override our right to news.
In previous columns we have noted the terminology reserved for but one side of the politicalideological divide. Only in the camp of the right-of-center are there “extremists.” In other instances, the Likud party is portrayed as the party of “fascists” or “illiterates.”
Peace activists, even when they use violence against the IDF, remain “peace activists.”
By definition, activists which identify with Israel’s right wing cannot be “peaceniks,” even when in real life, many “settlers” – another negative epithet – contribute more to peaceful coexistence between Palestinians and Jews than anyone who lives in Tel Aviv and visits the territories only for the sake of “peace” demonstrations.
The Jewish high holidays are a period of reflection and atonement.
In our columns, as well as in this one, we are rather critical of the Israeli media. We have painted a picture of our media as shallow, opinionated and not fulfilling its duty to the consumer.
We have not shied from criticizing specific people, and as is the nature of a personal opinion column, we have not provided the right of retort (although when corrected, we were not afraid to publicize the corrections).
Our efforts are motivated by love of Israel and Zionism. We view the media as an essential part of the puzzle which is the Jewish State of Israel. It is our dream that just as in the sciences and other spheres, our media will be a positive role model for the world. This can be achieved through the cooperation of all involved – the media itself, the media consumer and the media reviewers. We only hope that the journalists, editors and commentators, as well as you, our reading public, accept that our criticism is meant to be constructive. We look forward to a year in which our media continues to provide us with the information and entertainment which makes our lives so interesting. Shana tova! The authors are, respectively, vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (