Following the failure of the first episode of Channel 10's "Survivor" to live up to network expectations, the series of "investigative reports" by Channel 10 news about pedophiles delivered the goods: 16 percent, the highest rating the channel has achieved in the past three months. But the sensational investigation by Dov Gilhar goes far beyond the success or failure of a television channel. It signals the Israeli media's loss of direction.
The "tribal bonfire" has been replaced by the gallows in the city square. The investigators, the judges, the preachers and the hangmen are disguised as journalists who have lost the boundaries of their vocation. The newscast, which should abstain as much as possible from ratings considerations, has become a voyeuristic reality show, which instead of reporting the news is busy creating semi-fabricated news itself.
Television is heroic against the weak. It rarely produces worthy investigative reports about the big-time operators in society - on the connection between the very rich and government, on corruption, on the occupation and discrimination. It's easier to deal with extremely serious but less central phenomena. After all, who is in favor of pedophiles? Who doesn't think they are disgusting? We'll catch a 62-year-old sculptor in the act and stamp out the phenomenon. This is voyeurism, the semblance of an investigative report in the shiny wrapping of "Candid Camera," and seeking, above all, a sacred goal: guaranteed ratings.
And the means? They are all justified. Against pedophiles, anything goes. You can expose their face at the moment of their opprobrium, you can solicit them to commit a crime, you can convict them in front of the nation without a trial, without granting them the basic right of self-defense.
Are they really serial offenders or were they seduced for a moment to leave their shameful fantasy worlds with the active help of a television station whose researchers acceded to their courting? Maybe they never touched a girl wrongly? Maybe some of them did not intend to do so this time, either?
Pedophiles, too, can be considered victims, and they also have basic human rights. What would have happened if the investigative report had been conducted without revealing the suspects' faces? The ratings would have plunged, but the dignity of television and its victims would have been preserved. After what television did to these suspects, all that remains is to stone them in the town square. That would also draw high ratings. The punishment already inflicted on them is worse than any imprisonment. No one deserves it, not even them.
The horrific scenes recurred every evening this week, and at their peak Gilhar was seen facing the captured suspects: "Why a 13-year-old girl?" he asked-and-preached, while the hidden camera emerged from one door and the police entered from another, to create a perfect show.
It was one of the lowest points ever seen here. From that moment the lives of the deviant men were destroyed, along with those of their children and their families. Who needs the court, who needs the police? We have Gilhar, part-entertainer, part-journalist, now also preacher and executioner.
Israeli television entered a vacuum left by a flaccid police force. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as boundaries and rights are preserved. No one asked Avi Dichter, the "shocked" public security minister, about his responsibility for a police force that has recourse to a show like this. Self-righteously, the Channel 10 news department, including the anguished faces worn by the anchors, tried to claim they were acting in the best interests of Israel's children. Really? And what about the children of the suspects?
Now the success is crowned with glory: Indictments have been handed down against the suspects, the new underworld kingpins, with record speed that is untypical of the judicial system. The offenders are likely to be convicted, and in any event they already have been sentenced. Pedophiles and the other perverts will be careful for a while, and then everything will revert to what it was. The deviants will deviate, the police will remain impotent, and we will be left with a very bad taste, that of a shabby media.
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