The decade that was

There are many reports of the various negative things that have happened throughout the decade, yet there seems to be no mention of the positive things that have also taken place.

2020 VISION: An Israeli holds balloons on King George Street in Jerusalem. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
2020 VISION: An Israeli holds balloons on King George Street in Jerusalem.
A decade ended this week. If one is to believe Israel’s media, which followed the narrative of the world media, this decade was fairly disastrous.
The Times in Britain summarized it so: “That was the decade that was, and somehow the EU is still standing. Crises over migration, sovereign debt, Brexit and rebellious eastern member states tested the European Union – sometimes, it seemed, almost to destruction.”
Julie Burchill at The Telegraph asked, “Was the 2010s the decade that was characterized by self-delusion?”
The Guardian’s Simon Reynold’s was concerned that “streaming has killed the mainstream: the decade that broke popular culture.” And the list goes on and on.
Here in Israel it was not much different. TV channel 12 summarized on its website: “During the last decade, the State of Israel led a prime minister, a president and ministers to jail and ended with a prosecution of another prime minister.... The feeling is heavy and oppressive... this is a huge embarrassment to our nation. Let us hope that this will not recur in the next decade.”
The publicly funded Israel Broadcasting Corporation, KAN, noted, “At the end of the decade it is very easy to note what did not happen: A historical end to the bloody war between us and the Palestinians did not take place; Iran’s hand on the nuclear button was not cut off; Hezbollah’s missile threat from the North was not removed and the Hamas rocket fire has not been paralyzed.”
Is that all that happened?
Media reports and headlines aside, reality is a bit different. Jeff Jacoby’s December 29 article in The Boston Globe was headlined: “What was so great about the 2010s?” In it, he notes, “Just open the paper or tune in to a news program, and you’ll encounter no end of dismal and discouraging information... but amid all the bad news, there’s even more good news. Or there would be, if journalists were as inclined to report tidings of comfort and joy as they are to dwell on what’s wrong.”
Among the positives Jacoby discusses he notes that during this decade, the world life span grew by three years, extreme poverty retreated and has fallen below 10%, middle-class comfort became typical, and more than half of mankind has enough discretionary income to be considered middle income or rich. Girls became more educated and global malnutrition is at an all-time low. He sums up: “Additional examples of the decade’s good news could fill another column.”
Here in Israel, the same kind of progress can be reported as summarized aptly by Haim Yoavi-Rabinovitz in his newsletter, sent to 20,000 or so recipients. Life expectancy in Israel is at an all-time high of 82.4 years. The number of cars passed the 400,000 level – remember the dream of a car for all employees? Israel per capita income has crossed $40,000, Israel’s defense expenditure is only 5% of the total budget, and inflation has never been as low as its current annual 1%. Israelis are happy as compared to other nations – it is 13th in the World Happiness Index. Actually, we all know this. Our lives are better, our economic stability has improved, and we enjoy the communication revolution.
Why then do our media deliberately portray a different, almost alternative reality? Is it due to the competition from social media platforms which have brought the traditional media business into a crisis mode, and for many, failure and bailouts? Is it the natural inclination of news organizations to dote on the negative rather than the positive? Perhaps it is a combination of all that.
THE NEW decade is also problematic for media consumers. Perry Parks, in the latest December issue of Journalism, argues that straightforward scientific research, i.e., objective and obliged to facts and statistical findings, has “deprived citizens of the ethical tools necessary to make humane political decisions.” He suggests there needs to be “a humanistic reconceptualization away from journalists’ role as political interpreters toward a comparable role as moral interpreters.”
In other words, the media will not only control the ability of the citizen to receive the news in a pluralistic, fair and balanced manner – or not, but the press will instruct the public how to think and judge what news it allows you to know.
Parks’s Michigan State University faculty page informs us that his “research focuses on how taken-for-granted news norms and values unnecessarily limit news content and people’s perceptions of what is civically and personally possible.” Thirty-six years later, are we on the edge of a media-controlled 1984 situation?
This brings us back to the Israeli media’s negative attitude toward the past decade. We would guess that there is something more sinister and worrisome. After all, Israel again stands before a third election campaign with a tight race between Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benjamin Gantz, leader of the Blue and White Party. Providing Israel’s public with a feeling of satisfaction, of never having our lives being as good as they now are, would imply that actually Netanyahu could not be all that bad.
The dire statements about the immense harm to Israel caused by a prime minister under indictment as a central element in causing people to change their voting patterns might not hold up. Does the public really care whether Netanyahu smoked good cigars or made some wheeling and dealing with media moguls such as Noni Mozes? Certainly a large segment of the public does worry about this. But another, perhaps larger segment may not.
This same situation exists in other countries. Donald Trump has been president of the United States for the past three years and the world did not come to an end. Quite the opposite. America’s economy is flourishing. But Trump is not a liberal nor a Democrat, so the mainstream left-oriented media in the US will not go out of its way to give the public a feeling of success, especially as the country enters an election year. Similarly, Conservatives have ruled Great Britain for the past decade. Prime Minister Boris Johnson pushed Brexit, while attacking the media and still overwhelmingly defeated Labour and its antisemitic leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The decade-that-was did have its ups and downs. Immigration has become a Western world challenge, Russia’s heavy-handed occupation of the Crimea took place and there is fighting in eastern Ukraine. North Korea and Iran are still upcoming nuclear threats. The free world did not do enough. Yes, all these ills should be cured and one always hopes and strives for a better world. But in Judaism there is the principle of gratitude.
A Jew is guided to thank the Lord for the good things that have occurred. Indeed, worldwide, religion is at an all-time low. This may be good or bad depending on one’s point of view, but the Jewish attitude of being thankful should serve as a guide to our media. You do not need to love Netanyahu or Trump or Johnson, but one should call a spade a spade. Whoever does not, risks losing the public trust.
The writers are members of Israel’s Media Watch,