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As I Read It: Media Notes by Judy Lash Balint

Israeli journalists have now weighed in on the debate whether to remove CNN from being carried on Israeli cable stations. In a passionate memo, the National Federation of Israeli journalists told the Council for Satellite and Cable Broadcasting that removal of the international news channel would be “giving in to anti-democratic influences [that are] dangerous to freedom of information.”

Are the Israeli journalists implying that CNN’s news is so unique and unavailable anywhere else? Cable companies already carry Britain’s Sky News and BBC World, and one company has even signed up FOX News…so where’s the
lack of information? The journalist’s statement goes on to state: “Even if CNN is sometimes unbalanced this does not justify removing this important channel.”

A far more serious challenge to freedom of information took place in the studios of Voice of Israel Radio a few weeks ago. Some thirty employees of the Israel Broadcasting Authority burst into an on-air broadcast of the popular talk show It’s All Talk (Hakol Dibburim) and demanded that host Pe’er Lee Shahar stop the show. Why? Because the employees objected to guest host Uri Dan (a veteran journalist and close associate of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon). Voice of Israel director Amnon Nadav had given Dan an extra hour of air time and the arbiters of political correctness were outraged. Of course, past use of another guest host, Gideon Levy, the extreme left-wing Haaretz journalist, raised no similar outcry.

Those breaking into the studio—which caused the station to be taken off the air for thirty minutes after they refused all requests to clear the studio—included some of the most prominent names in radio broadcasting: Dakia Yairi, Amikam Rotman and IBA military affairs correspondent Carmela Menashe.

To understand the background to the sorry affair requires a long lesson in the arcane relationship between the Israeli government and its broadcasting arm. Suffice it to say that at present, Prime Minister Sharon has decided to leave responsibility for the IBA under the umbrella of the Prime Minister’s office instead of turning it over to a Labor minister as per the current coalition agreement.

That decision caused Nachman Shai, chairman of the IBA board to resign.
(Don’t worry about Shai—he has another lucrative post as Israel director of the United Jewish Communities)

Respected media commentators, Yisrael Medad and Eli Pollak noted in a recent column that “The firing of moderators for ideological reasons is not new at the IBA. Yediot Ahronot journalist Menachem Michelson was fired in 1995 when it became clear that he was unhappy with the Oslo process. No one defended Michelson and no IBA office was taken over.”

Shai surfaced in another context recently. As part of a panel at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, Shai struggled to explain “what life in Israel is like now” as the other panelists—an American, two Brits and an Al Jazeera correspondent, turned the discussion to the problems of reporting in military zones. In a Jerusalem Post column, Shai writes: “I wonder what happened to our ‘story.’ Why is it failing to penetrate the grim atmosphere?” Maybe the question should be why Israel sent the retired director of the IBA, who hasn’t been a front-line reporter for years, to do battle on a media panel with current correspondents with first-hand experience.

Meanwhile, at another media conference at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken stepped forward to receive the school’s medal of honor “in recognition of its long tradition of fiercely independent and balanced reporting under the most difficult of conditions.”

Schoken used the opportunity to deliver a lecture on his newspaper’s mission. Schocken expressed satisfaction at the fact that Haaretz is considered a reliable source on the region and is frequently quoted by foreign media. But a slight note of remorse crept into his remarks as he noted that often, the Haaretz articles are taken out of context and actually do Israel harm.
“…when such a report (of hardships inflicted on Palestinians) is taken by itself and reprinted in a European newspaper, the context is not there, and the conclusion of the European reader might be that in this conflict Israeli conduct is reprehensible, and even Israeli journalists say as much.”

On a lighter note: Just before Yom Kippur Shinui MK Yosef Paritsky called on the same Council for Satellite and Cable Broadcasting not to halt movie broadcasts on Yom Kippur. Paritsky’s concern was that movie deprivation for one day “would harm the secular population.” He further called on the companies to compensate their subscribers for loss of service. Paritsky’s proposal did actually make it to the Knesset Education Committee for discussion—where the idea was promptly round-filed.