Truth from Edinburgh

It might appear to our readers ironic, and you’ll pardon the pun, to quote favorably words of Jeremy Corbyn, British Labour Party’s head and out-of-the-closet antisemite. Nevertheless, we call attention to his Alternative MacTaggart speech delivered at the Edinburgh television festival Thursday last week.

First, we approve of a basic media consumer principle he declared, one that we fixed when Israel’s Media Watch was founded in 1995, to wit, that “the public realm doesn’t have to sit back and watch.” Media consumers should be involved in all levels of response, from monitoring, to making complaints, to assuring that the media institutions – and especially those of the state-sponsored networks and outlets – bear responsibility for their product and to campaign against ethical and professional violations.

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Second, Corbyn offered a remedy for media consumers who are assaulted by biased and even illegal media behavior. He suggested that those who pay the license fee, which is actually a radio tax, should have the right to elect representatives to the ’s governing board, potentially handing power to critics of its news output. In all humbleness, IMW proposed that basic idea more than 25 years ago here in Israel with the old IBA. The IBA may be gone, as is the Educational Television channel, but there still exist similar broadcast bodies, like Galatz, the Israel Army radio, as well as the KAN Israel Broadcasting Corporation, whose output is funded by the public, for the public and in the name of a public – but which refuses any public involvement, including that of the minister who is to supervise their operations.

Involvement, they assert, is interference. “Just give us the money and be off with you” seems to be the dominant attitude. The media personnel, directors, administrators, editors and reporters are the experts; they control who appears and for how long they talk, who balances them from an opposing viewpoint, if at all, and they demand the right of editorial discretion, including airing their personal opinions and observations.

As an example, we can point to how Channel 10 took advantage of the fact that the religious and traditional public do not watch television on Shabbat. The Tzav Echad organization complained last week about the channel’s coverage of a recent incident involving religious soldiers who had turned their backs to their female instructor when she exhibited a certain maneuver. The studio commentators chose to attack the fighters one by one and to prefer the instructor’s version. Presenters Ayala Hasson and Oded Ben Ami, who were supposed to maintain a neutral position, joined the unrestrained attack that disregarded all semblance of basic journalistic fairness and ethics values.

Unfortunately for the soldiers, (who it turns out were commanded by their officer to turn their backs) the instructor is the daughter of Ilan Shiloah, of McCann PR agency and a minority shareholder of Channel 10. Her mother is Shira Margalit, who was previously with Reshet and now with INTV – Innovation in Television. To top it all, she is the granddaughter of veteran journalist Dan Margalit and so the incident moved to center stage. Grandfather Margalit, so incensed that MK Betzalel Smoterich defended the soldiers, tweeted that the Jewish Home parliamentarian was a racist, fascist, a hater of the rule of law and a disgrace to humanistic Judaism.

For his part, Tzav Echad chairman Amichai Eliyahu demanded that the news companies be properly represented by the religious and traditional public and its positions, which remind us of Corbyn and IMW’s idea above. But no, the extreme to which our journalists go to was exemplified by left-wing Galatz radio presenter Yael Dan. In an interview in the left-wing Yediot Aharonot newspaper, she was quoted: “I envy right wingers, who are allowed to enter the various media outlets, supposedly under the guise of balance. They promote a very particular agenda. They do not come as journalists, therefore their weight is equal to 10 like myself and Razi [Barkai]. We are journalists and see ourselves first and foremost responsible for balance, objectivity and veritable conduct.”

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Wow! Yael Dan is balanced and objective and we never knew.

Veteran journalist Ya’akov Ahimeir took her seriously and therefore took her to task. But to no avail. Her unrepentant retort was, “Comrades, calm down! I did not mean right-wing journalists, I was only implying certain people who were brought to balance with their political agenda and therefore their weight is heavier than any journalist who does not promote a political agenda.” Our interpretation: there are no right-wing journalists, only politicos.

In the Globes August 21 edition, Matti Golan demanded to know why a High Court petition has not yet been submitted to remove Geula Even, married to former Likud Minister Gideon Sa’ar, from her broadcasting job at Kan. The matter would be worthy for deliberation if only he had appealed in the past against many other media people who had returned to the jobs after serving politicians. The above-mentioned Oded Ben-Ami is a prime example, having worked for Ehud Barak.

Indeed, right wingers in the media are treated much more harshly than their left-wing colleagues, such as Dan and Barkai. Friday a week ago, Eyal Berkowitz used his program to lambast the Arab MKs. As reported in Yisrael Hayom, the tempest arose due to the fact that the Arab MK’s refused to come to Berkowitz’s joint program with Ofira Assayag. The latter asked Berkowitz what he thinks about this and he retorted, “Trojan horses… We don’t want you here in studio. If they come, I go. No chance that I will interview them. This is not racism, it’s just that they hate Israelis, they are terrorists who sit in our Knesset.”

Sharp words no doubt, but not sharper than prominent left wingers equating right wingers with Nazis or fascists and the like. But Keshet was quick to judgment and the program was canceled for the next Friday. The freedom of expression in Keshet’s view belongs only to those journalists like Dan and Barkai.

We add that anyone who has observed these Arab MKs in the plenum Knesset sessions or on the Temple Mount or in Naqba rallies or in their latest complaint against Israel lodged to the United Nations about the Nation-State law, would be nonplussed as to why one person’s freedom of expression is to be defended while another could lose his job.

We can only sadly sum up with the words of James Delingpole, who wrote on July 21 in The Spectator, “Gone are the days – if they ever existed – when political interviewers were dispassionate seekers-after-truth on a mission to get the best out of their subjects. Now, it’s mostly activism-driven, the aim being to advance your preferred narrative.” It seems that we sorely need to change the traditional power structure especially at the public funded media.

If the public would vote every five years for the members of a broadcasting public council, then at least the council would have to pay attention to what the public wants. That would be better than the present situation.

The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch www.imediaw.org.il.

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