Earlier this month, Keren Neubach was fired as presenter of the investigative news program "Mabat Sheni" ("Second Look"). According to her bosses, she didn't "come out well on the screen." The claim that her looks, enunciation and ponytail weren't suited to Channel 1 viewers seemed so outlandish that you had to read the announcement a few times to believe it.
After the smear-filled announcement (to which Neubach was not allowed to respond), claims were made about the chauvinism of the channel's executives who are empowered to decide based on age and appearance whether a woman deserves to host a television program; that is, according to criteria that would never be applied to a man.
The allegations about Channel 1's chauvinism are warranted. They also say something about the Israeli public television channel's progress over the past 30 years. In September 1981, "Mabat Sheni" director Micha Limor informed Carmit Guy that she would be allowed to present the program only once a week. At that time, Haaretz reported that while Guy was excellent, "Dalia Mazor looks better." Well, at least nobody spoke in euphemisms three decades ago. Once upon a time, the men who ran Channel 1 simply said "she doesn't look good."
Today, they hide behind a phrase that sounds marginally more politically correct, as though it were taken from the professional lexicon. Yet even if the sexism allegations about the Neubach decision are true, it appears this consideration was secondary.
True, the chauvinism draws criticism, but it actually plays into the hands of Neubach's former employers. They might have even sought this effect: It's always better to be perceived as a coarse, unsophisticated man than an outright bully who undermines the essence of democracy. When the channel's managers say Neubach doesn't come out well on the screen, they're articulating the maxim "be beautiful and keep quiet." What's important to them is not so much the woman's looks, but that she keeps quiet.
Neubach was fired from Channel 1 during a week when an attempt was made to dismiss the director of her radio program. This happened to Neubach not because she was a woman, but because she was a professional journalist with a cogent political-social viewpoint and a critical approach. And as is imperative in her profession in a democratic country, she's not afraid to express her views.
This is what the heads of the Israel Broadcasting Authority who appoint journalists can't stand. So perhaps chauvinistic sentiments permeated the calculations of Amir Gilat, IBA chairman and a former spokesman for Benjamin Netanyahu, when he pulled Neubach off the screen. But when he and his colleagues made this move, they delivered a veiled threat to their other journalists: We expect you to refrain from voicing your opinions as Neubach did. In general, it's better if you don't harbor any opinions at all.
Neubach and her IBA colleagues are not the only ones being targeted by the authorities. The authorities are trying to pull the plug on Channel 10. (It's no accident that Raviv Drucker, like Neubach an opinionated journalist sometimes critical of the government's acts and policies, was cited as the figure responsible for Channel 10's possible demise.) Anyone who dares release a penetrating news report should be prepared to pay a price.
What is to be done against the effort to silence Neubach, Drucker and hundreds of their colleagues? The answer is simple: There should be an outcry. The time has come for Knesset members who believe in a free press to do what they were elected to do. And the time has truly come for journalists to protest and show solidarity with their colleagues. The voices of people who speak out for democracy are being muffled - so it's time to be beautiful and make some noise.
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