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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Israel Radio admits to its biases

An Israel Radio news editor claimed today that he and two other broadcasters - all of whom are still heard regularly on Israel Radio (one of them is still the principal IDF correspondent) - used their positions with the government-owned radio network to bring about the IDF's flight from Lebanon seven years ago. In any other western country this would probably shake the media establishment to the core. But here in Israel it's only being covered by Arutz Sheva. And for those of you who don't see the irony in that, let me enlighten you.

Arutz Sheva was the only politically right wing radio station for many years. It also did not have a license - it skirted the requirement by keeping its equipment in a boat off the coast. At the time, there was no way to get a license if you were not Israel Radio or the IDF. (Today, it is possible to get a license, but the license must be auctioned off - there is no fixed price). As a consequence of its opposition to the 'Oslo Accords,' the left set Arutz Sheva as a target, vilified it (Arutz Sheva was blamed by much of the left for the Rabin assassination) and managed to get it shut down as a commercial radio station. Arutz Sheva has been limited to broadcasting on the internet for the last several years. Many other pirate (unlicensed) radio stations exist in this country, some of which interfere with radio frequencies used by commercial aircraft at Ben Gurion Airport. But only Arutz Sheva was forced off the air. More here.

But back to Israel Radio:
Dr. Chanan Naveh, who edited the Israel Broadcasting Authority radio's news desk in late 1990's and early 2000's, was particularly bombastic about his pervasive reach: "The morning audience, stuck in traffic jams or at work, is simply captive - they're ours." He also mentioned, with no regrets, two examples in which he and his colleagues made a concerted effort to change public opinion:
"Three broadcasters - Carmela Menashe, Shelly Yechimovich [now a Labor party Knesset Member - ed.], and I - pushed in every way possible the withdrawal from Lebanon towards 2000. In our newsroom, three of the editors had sons in Lebanon, and we took it upon ourselves as a mission - possibly not stated - to get the IDF out of Lebanon... I have no doubt that we promoted an agenda of withdrawal that was a matter of public dispute." [Carmela Menashe is still Israel Radio's chief military correspondent. CiJ]
At this point, Army Radio broadcaster Golan Yochpaz interrupted, "In my opinion, that is just super-problematic - super-problematic." Naveh did not miss a beat and said, "Correct, I'm admitting it, I'm not apologizing, I'm just saying this is what happened. It came from our guts because of the boys in Lebanon, this is what we did and I'm not sorry... I am very proud that we had a part in getting of our sons out of Lebanon."

It is widely accepted that the withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 under then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the lack of attention paid to the northern border since then led to the Second Lebanon War of last summer and its accompanying 160 military and civilian casualties.
In any other western country in the world, that kind of admission would be scandalous. Not in Israel:
Naveh's boast came towards the end of the panel discussion and was not widely addressed. However, just seconds later, retired Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner [and I have to tell you all that we have a problem with the Supreme Court here? CiJ], the president of the Israel Press Council, summed up and said that the journalists must show courage and not allow outside influences to affect their ability to influence public opinion:
"You determine the daily agenda and you have the power; the problem is that in your profession, it can't be dealt with properly and ethically without civil courage... You have the power, so use it also to ensure that there is freedom of speech - of course, with the limitation that you must act ethically and not create hostile public opinion, because there is nothing that affects freedom of speech more than hostile public opinion." [In other words, "freedom of speech for me but not for thee". CiJ]
Moderator Dalia Ya'iri, a former anchor of the widely-heard Israel Radio afternoon newsmagazine, opened the panel by saying, "Thank you for the applause; we and the radio truly deserve it; it is good that it is realized that in essence, without us, there is nothing! Even the television takes from us..."
Do any of you wonder why we have arrogant politicians?

And so none of you thinks this is an isolated incident....

Israeli journalists have previously admitted that the media was largely enlisted on behalf of the Disengagement/expulsion from Gush Katif and northern Shomron. "I have failed. We have failed," wrote Kaveh Shafran, political affairs correspondent for Israel Army Radio shortly before the expulsion was carried out. "As a diplomatic correspondent, I was among those who in the past year were supposed to tell the public exactly what is the Disengagement Plan, why it was created, how it will be implemented... The media's conspiracy of silence protected Sharon when he fired cabinet ministers who did not support disengagement..."

Similarly, respected Israeli journalist Nachum Barnea admitted that most of the Israeli media acted more like the "guard dog" of the Disengagement Plan rather than that of democracy. Writing in the monthly media publication "The Seventh Eye," Barnea stated that Israeli journalists made a mistake that must be acknowledged, and that there is "no argument that the tone in the Israeli media is pro-disengagement."

The only other place I've seen this story discussed is here. But the discussion makes two mistakes. First, it's not discussing the first Lebanon war, which took place in the summer of 1982. This story is talking about the late 90's when Israel was maintaining a 'security zone' in southern Lebanon but was not at war. More importantly, the blog discussion implies that Israel Radio's journalists are honest. They are not. They were bragging and Naveh probably had no expectation that his words would be published anyplace outside the room. After all, none of Israel's print media will touch this story.


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