This post-Rosh Hashanah column begins with some meanderings about teshuva – the process of considering the wrongs of the past and attempting to right them in the future.
At times, this column may have been too forceful, attacking people without giving them the right to defend themselves. Yet our criticism is meant to be constructive. Even the best of professionals profit when their activities are reviewed dispassionately.
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It is no accident that journalism is not the preferred occupation of religious Jews. The Torah instructs us: “Don’t go about as a gossipmonger amidst your people” (Leviticus 19:16). On the other hand, modern society cannot sustain itself without news. The middle way is to strive to abide by the journalistic code of ethics. This we will try, to the best of our ability, to stay true to the lofty ideals of journalism.
We are grateful to The Jerusalem Post and the opinion page editors for their confidence and support of our column. We are also grateful to our readers and especially those who comment on our column on the website. Your critique is essential to us; please continue.
WORLDWIDE, THE media focused this past week on the anonymous New York Times op-ed in which a White House insider harshly criticized US President Donald Trump. We cannot judge what is true, who the writer is and so on. But this event had a very positive side to it. It brought to the fore the dilemma of citation of anonymous sources. Most professionals agree that the writer of the article should expose herself or himself and resign from the position they are holding in the White House. Anonymity on important issues in the public sphere is unacceptable.
Here in Israel, anonymity, too, is a problem. This past week, the Trump administration decided to stop all payments to UNRWA. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded the decision. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman kept mum. Both were doing the right thing from their point of view. But too many news outlets cited anonymous Israeli military sources claiming that the decision was dangerous and would lead to serious unrest within the refugee community. The defense sources may be correct, although similar dire predictions regarding the US Embassy move to Jerusalem were wrong, but hiding behind anonymous sources is unacceptable. Our media did not press the issue, as was done with the New York Times. Why?
On Sunday, September 2, Monica Lewinsky appeared at the Influencers Conference of Channel 2 in Jerusalem. After a short presentation, she sat down to talk with Yonit Levy, the main television news presenter of the network. Levy opened with the question whether Lewinsky still expected a personal apology from former president Bill Clinton. She responded by leaving the stage, having been asked, she claimed, a question that violated the “clear parameters about what we would be discussing and what we would not.
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In fact, the exact question she [Yonit] asked first, she had put to me when we met the day prior. I said that was off limits.” Lewinsky indicated what she was asked was “with blatant disregard for our agreement, [and] it became clear to me I had been misled.”
Alon Shani, the company spokesman, thought differently. His response was that “the question asked was legitimate, worthy and respectful, and in no way deviated from Ms. Lewinsky’s request.”
Was Shani or Lewinsky lying? But in this sad story, one voice was missing – that of Levy. Lewinsky claimed that in her discussion with Levy she made it clear that such questions were off limits. If this was not so, why didn’t Levy accuse her of being untruthful? Why is she hiding behind a spokesman? Veteran journalist Ya’akov Ahimeir took to Twitter to defend Levy’s right to ask the question (perhaps before Lewinsky’s clarification), writing, “what did [Lewinsky] think? That she’d be asked about climate warming? America’s space program? The Palestinians? She’s surprised? Nu, really.”
Ya’akov, we beg to differ. If there was an agreement, it should be honored. The public has a right to know what really went on between Levy and Lewinsky. This is not a question of gossip. Levy is a central figure in the Israeli media, anchoring Israel’s most popular TV news show. She should be a model of ethics and fairness, and as she well knows, one should not sacrifice fundamental ethics for the sake of a story.
Can things be different? Yes. Let’s look at Facebook.
Its founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, assured all in March 2017 that “if you want to have a company that is committed to diversity, you need to be committed to all kinds of diversity, including ideological diversity.” However, in the same above-mentioned New York Times, the public learned that Zuckerberg’s assurance is questionable.
On August 28, the paper informed readers that a missive written by Brian Amerige, a senior Facebook engineer, and headed “We Have a Problem With Political Diversity,” was making the rounds inside the social network. Amerige claimed that at Facebook, “We are a political monoculture that’s intolerant of different views…. We claim to welcome all perspectives, but are quick to attack – often in mobs – anyone who presents a view that appears to be in opposition to left-leaning ideology.” One hundred fellow employees expressed their identification with that content. Amerige did not hide his identity. Was he dismissed from Facebook? We think not, and perhaps that is a compliment to the company.
WE HAVE used this column time and again to commend journalists for their good work and defend them. There should be nothing special about this. This is normative practice. For example, these past two weeks the media highlighted the conviction of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo in Myanmar who reported on the Rohingya killings, in an attempt to defend them. Are we doing the same here in Israel?
Khaled Abu Toameh published in the Gatestone Institute bulletin that Arab journalists working in the Palestinian Authority assert that their media are not free. Quoting the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms, he wrote that both the PA and Hamas “silence their critics and deter Palestinian journalists from criticizing their leaders.” The center conducted a survey that revealed the thinking of over 300 PA journalists: 76% believe that Palestinian media laws do not promote freedom of the press; 91% said that Palestinian journalists are subjected to violations related to their work; 90% said they practice self-censorship and 83% believe that the Palestinian media is not independent.
We call upon the Israeli media to do what is right for the sake of their fellow journalists, for the sake of their own standing – as they often inform us – as paragons of democracy and morality and for the sake of any future peace: expose the PA’s abuse of the freedom of speech and defend your fellow colleagues!
Israel’s media have become more pluralistic this past year, due to the legalization of private channels such as TV Channel 20 and I24. We would hope that this would also reflect upon media ethics and solidarity.
The writers are members of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imediaw.org.il).
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