The espousers of secular democracy in Israel are deeply frightened: The groups competing in the tender to become franchisees of Channel 2 are trying to strengthen their traditionalist and nationalist image, and this is liable to affect the character of the commercial channel.
In truth, there is no cause for concern. It's not as if Channel 2 is enlightened and liberal and is about to undergo a metamorphosis. Nor did Channel 2 cease to be enlightened following the arrival of Mordechai Sklar as director general of the Second Authority for Television and Radio, which oversees Channel 2. Channel 2 was never enlightened.
An internal memo from Telad, one of the current franchisees, which expresses the apprehension that the next step will be putting on tefillin (phylacteries) in the offices of the Second Authority, reciting psalms to conclude the morning show and broadcasts from the settlement of Ofra, is not meant to be taken seriously. (The document was published last week in Haaretz by Anat Balint.) The real danger does not emanate from the recitation of psalms in largely unwatched programs; it comes from what Channel 2 has broadcast - and omitted - in prime time since it went on the air.
History will be the judge of the tremendous damage that Channel 2 has inflicted on Israeli society. Anyone who watches tapes of the channel's programs a few years from now (apart from a few exceptions) will not be able to understand what happened here or the background to the terrorism or how deep the distress in the society ran.
Mind-numbing entertainment programs that distort reality, bits of lukewarm satire, investigative reports about ludicrous marginal issues and vulgarized human interest stories dominate the screen and convey a uniform political voice. It is a voice that blurs, blinds, addresses the lowest common denominator, whips up passions and generates irrational fears.
Channel 2 has cultivated a narrow, provincial, nationalist, tribal atmosphere, which is insensitive to the suffering of the other, oozes self-satisfaction and almost always toes the line with the consensus. And what is the consensus? The sanctification of what exists. The occupation exists and is therefore consensual, and any attempt to cast doubt on its rightfulness is considered heresy. Isn't the marathon fundraiser for the soldiers of the occupation part of the consensus? That's why it's on Channel 2. The only things allowed to outrage us are road accidents and the weather.
Exploitation of foreign workers? Discrimination against Israel's Arab citizens? Those subjects don't get the ratings, do they? Channel 2 excludes from its programming people who are perceived to be different or weak. Haredim (ultra-Orthodox Jews), Arabs and new immigrants are barely represented. How many times has an Arab researcher appeared in a context other than Arab-related subjects? Or a Russian intellectual who didn't talk about the problems of the new immigrants? How about a Haredi who didn't talk about the budgets of the yeshivas?
The same pattern is seen in relation to unconventional opinions. Over and over the identical opinions held by the majority are voiced by the same over-exposed people who shy away from anything controversial that might make people angry. A few months ago, Physicians for Human Rights wanted to air a series of public-service spots dealing with how residents of the territories and foreign workers are denied medical treatment, but this was categorized as "controversial" and was not approved for broadcast. "The scenarios are contrary to the rules of ethics of the Second Authority," Telad explained.
In contrast, the reality show "The Ambassador," a second-rate propaganda program dealing with the selling of Israeli occupation policy in the international community, is not considered "controversial." One of its guiding lights is Jacob Perry, a former head of the Shin Bet security service, which tortured many Palestinian detainees - during Perry's watch, too. But it has a prime-time slot.
The news and current events programs on Channel 2, in contrast to the brave and more open programs on Channel 10, the other commercial channel, declaim the positions of the defense establishment and are very careful not to cite critical or alternative views. The reporters will join an army bulldozer but won't show what the bulldozers leave behind. They will proudly present new weapons but will not show the viewers what the weapons do. Channel 2 treats bereavement with great reverence and devotes a great deal of time to it only when the victims are Jews.
When was the last time Channel 2 broadcast a story about a Palestinian family whose child was killed for no reason? How will you know what is really happening between Jenin and Rafah? Does anyone in the news department wonder whether every "armed person," "terrorist" or "wanted individual" really deserved to die? How much time did Channel 2 devote 10 days ago to the tank shell that killed seven children in Beit Lahia in the Gaza Strip? Did you see the images of the four children who lost their legs? Were you shown the story of the father who lost three children and a grandchild? We deserve to know what the Israeli army is doing in our name, irrespective of our views.
There is hardly any government censorship in Israel. Channel 2, though, has something far worse - self-censorship. No one will ever get incensed over that. If this were only an intellectual deficiency, it wouldn't be so bad. The problem is that Channel 2, because of its high ratings and status, is responsible for shaping the prevailing public outlook. It reflects the consensus, but it also plays a crucial role in creating the consensus. Anyone who is nourished solely by the information provided by Channel 2 cannot but help being persuaded of the justice of the occupation and of the logic of hating and fearing Arabs. If the new tender brings a few more religious programs to the channel, or even live broadcasts from Ofra, not much will be changed.
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