The radically flawed methodology of Freedom House

Freedom House must know that there are some Israeli journalists who do publish freely against government policies, even during times of war.

Israel Hayom newspaper (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel Hayom newspaper
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Only limited international media publicity has been given to the fact that the US-based watchdog organization Freedom House has recently downgraded the Israeli media scene from “free” to partly “free” in its 2016 report. At the same time, Israel as a country remains in the “free” category. One reason given for the downgrade was “due to the growing impact of Israel Hayom, whose owner-subsidized business model endangered the stability of other media outlets, and the unchecked expansion of paid content – some of it government funded – whose nature was not clearly identified to the public.” Israel Hayom, a free daily widely distributed in Israel, is owned by Sheldon Adelson, a wealthy American supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Other arguments given by Freedom House for the downgrading of the Israeli media scene included the “increasing use of unmarked advertising and branded content in major media outlets, including the most popular news website, Ynet.”
Netanyahu’s decision to serve as communications minister while simultaneously being prime minister was yet another reason given.
Freedom House was founded in 1941. One of its main activities is the classification of nations based on political and press freedoms. If Israel had a counter-propaganda agency dedicated to the systematic study of attacks and incitement against the country, the downgrading by Freedom House would have offered an ideal occasion for it to react forcefully.
Freedom House could have been put in its place through highlighting the major flaws in its ranking methodology.
In addition, the downgrading would have provided an opportunity to expose the warped media manipulations in a number of countries categorized as “free.”
With regard to Freedom House itself, its methodology and objectivity, it is well known that print media are only one of several major sources of news and information in Western societies. A multitude of TV channels and social media provide information as well, and are often more important than print media. Freedom House must be aware of this. In addition, Freedom House must know that there are some Israeli journalists who do publish freely against government policies, even during times of war.
The Israeli government is frequently and heavily criticized in major dailies such as Haaretz and Yediot Aharonot.
No comparable criticism toward their own governments, either in frequency or in severity, is evident in the print media of countries such as Norway, Sweden or the Netherlands.
In many of the so-called “free” countries, some major TV channels are state-owned. This often translates to “government-owned.” For example, the state-owned NRK is the dominant TV and radio channel in Norway, with a large share in the ratings. It produces heavily biased news about Israel.
I have personally experienced NRK’s biased approach to reporting.
After an NRK journalist interviewed me she claimed the recording had been lost. She subsequently cobbled together a fabricated interview which had little in common with the actual one. She began by “borrowing” a few seconds of what I had said on the Internet to somebody else, and continued with several quoted remarks which I had never made, and then proceeded to analyze the false quotes she had attributed to me. This earned her the Dishonest Reporting Award of the media-watch organization Honest Reporting, probably the only international award for a Norwegian journalist in a long time. She is still employed by NRK.
Lawyer Trevor Asserson undertook in-depth, detailed studies of BBC reporting. He demonstrated, for instance, how similar military actions by the UK and Israel are reported in radically opposite ways.
Freedom House has indeed stirred up a hornet’s nest, undermining its entire methodology in the media field.
Another issue: How can journalism be free in countries where there is one national press agency which provides international news to the local print media? Does the third largest press agency in the world, Agence France-Presse, a public chartered corporation set up by the French government, provide exactitude, equilibrium and objectivity? A study by French journalist Claude Weill Raynal shows that as far as the Middle East is concerned, the AFP does not demonstrate these qualities. With the increasing cutbacks by media of foreign correspondents, including in France, the reliance on AFP’s international news has increased there even further.
And what about self-censorship of media? Surely this should be an indispensable consideration in Freedom House’s ranking process.
And what about the preponderance of left-of-center journalists in media in many countries? All the above should be turned in a detailed, damning essay. Freedom House has set itself up as the arbiter of what is and what is not “free,” based on faulty methodology and blinkered observations. The Israeli government has once again given an institution a free anti-Israel lunch, and has also missed an excellent opportunity to expose the widespread anti-Israel bias of many media in “free” countries.
The author is the emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, and the International Leadership Award by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.