(Yisrael Medad, Eli Pollack)
Which is worse, a government-controlled media or a supposedly free media that uses its power to undermine democracy?
In 2002, CBS 28-year veteran journalist Bernard Goldberg published Bias, a book which highlighted the liberal bias he perceived in mainstream media. The problem, Goldberg detailed, includes group think, a lack of newsroom intellectual diversity and mono-perspective outlooks that dominate how the news is filtered and presented to the media consumer. He provided dozens of examples of how reporters dealt with issues by simply regurgitating the propaganda of pressure groups they favor, how political correctness in network newsrooms puts “sensitivity” ahead of facts and how fairness, balance and integrity have disappeared from network television.
Over the past weeks, echoes of many elements of his theory could be seen in the Israeli media’s extensive coverage of the “social justice” campaign which has filled our streets – and our newspapers, television screens and radio waves.
Several days before the opening event of the “July 14 movement,” triggered by Daphni Leef’s desperation at being unable to locate a flat in central Tel Aviv, the print media were already reporting it.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, although commenting that the protest was quite real and genuine, was typically blunt in his criticism, saying on August 11, “The media has to check itself, their coverage of the protest is very one-sided and brutal... I see people at the different protests and I see that they are opportunists, along for the ride.”
Ma’ariv columnist Ben-Dror Yemini was even more critical of his colleagues, writing, “more than any other protest, this is one of the media. Perhaps millions are being invested in organization, adverts, posters and loudspeaker cars, but not one agora (cent) is diverted for the media because most of the media have allowed themselves to become the broadsheets of the protest.
Never in Israel has there been such a mobilized media.”
Uzi Benziman in The Seventh Eye noted that “the media fell upon the protest with great appetite because the media milieu is part of the wave of revolt, because many identified ideologically with the demonstrations and perhaps mostly because it was a good story that photographed well and lasted for a good few weeks.”
It is a fact that media personnel assisted in focusing the overwhelming anti-Netanyahu messages early on by personalizing the headlines. The message to the public was primarily that Netanyahu was responsible.
That this was the “largest demonstration ever” was repeated ad nauseum. The media conveniently “forgot” the 1982 Sabra/Shatilla rally, the pro-Golan Heights rallies in 1995, the 1999 ultra-orthodox demonstration against the Supreme Court or the 2005 anti-Disengagement rallies. No one mentioned the September 1993 anti-Oslo Rally in Jerusalem or the pro-Jerusalem demonstration in 2000, all larger. From the outset, there were violent incidents at the “tent camp” but they were either downplayed or faded out of mind with no followup at the police or district attorney’s office. Ben Hartman reported on July 23 in The Jerusalem Post that demonstrators were arrested by police after blocking an intersection with mounted police clashing with protestors, using smoke grenades to clear the junction. MK Miri Regev was physically attacked and others were verbally berated. The media response was muted, especially compared to the pasting recieved by members of the national- religious camp whenever one of theirs steps out of bounds.
Another aspect was the extensive live-feed coverage of several of the main protests. On at least two Saturday nights, for some three hours there was nothing else one could watch. On Kol Yisrael, they almost forgot to air the advertisements.
THE JULY 14 movement was anything but a grass-roots campaign. This “elephant in the room” was ignored journalistically, with the exception of a Dror Eydar column.
Indeed, another of the criteria by which one could measure media bias was the media’s treatment of those who strayed from the well-trodden path. Sharon Gal, who hosts Channel 10’s daily financial news show, was excorciated by his colleagues for daring to ask Daphni Leef “hard” questions about her upper-class background and lack of military service. Margalit Tzanani, actress Anat Waksman and others who even so much as hinted at criticism of the demonstrators, were promptly put in their place by the media and forced to recant.
Social media group MyIsrael publicized a Rotter net scoop and uploaded a 2002 petition bearing Leef’s signature demanding that soldiers and those enlisting refuse to serve in the IDF. Did this end Leef’s stardom? Did the media crucify her as it did Dr. Gabi Avital for daring to question some aspects of global warming and the theory of evolution? Of course not.
Some journalists did remain true to their profession.
Ma’ariv’s Kalman Liebeskind discovered that Stan Greenberg was involved last March in helping lay the groundwork for a possible protest that would be facilitated by various radical left-wing groups. The memo drawn up demanded “action, not thinking, constant action.” He also showed that the numbers game was patently false and that reports on the number of participants could not be trusted. Guy Maroz and Orly Vilnai exposed the political bias behind the demonstrations and especially the financial backing of tycoon Daniel Abrahams. Additional independent research uncovered that 80 percent of the movement’s leadership are professional left- and far left-wing activists partially supported by the New Israel Fund.
Yet the media did not uphold equal standards. Nationalist camp demonstrations typically involved youth.
This was criticized on educational grounds. Parents were admonished for exposing their children to the reality as they saw it. Yet baby carriage marches were organized as part of the “social justice” campaign, with even infants being exploited by their parents. If that’s legitimate for one side, it should be for the other side, too.
The media was not caught ruminating about the fact that at the end of the day even a few hundred thousand demonstrators are a minority. The media should not attempt to undermine a democratically elected government whose election platform promised a free economy.
The media should have noted that the Netanyahu government, in contrast for example to the Sharon government, is making an effort to answer at least some of the complaints of the demonstrating public. Sadly, the past six weeks have demonstrated yet again that Israel’s democracy is shaky.
Eli Pollak and Yisrael Medad are, respectively, chairman and vice-chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il)