While 64 percent believe Al Jazeera, only 4 percent believe Channel 2
A profound crisis of faith exists between Israeli Arabs and the Hebrew language media. This breakdown in communication is reflected in the proliferation of satellite dishes on rooftops in Arab communities.
Israelis are ravenous consumers of media. A large proportion read a newspaper every day, and many watch television and listen to radio. This media consumption is regularly measured by surveys and research institutes. But they normally fail to cover the Arab sector, for practical reasons. Surveys are usually commissioned by commercial organizations interested in finding out where to spend their money, and the Arab public is not considered to be a big enough market to warrant such examinations.
A new survey was initiated by the Aalam center for Arab-Israeli communications to address this gap. The results are surprising. According to the survey, there is a severe credibility crisis in the Arab-Israeli community regarding the Hebrew-language media, at least concerning coverage of the Arab sector and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The results are definitive: Arab citizens believe Arabic-language media to a much greater extent than Hebrew-language media.
The IDF Spokesman reports
During the first intifada, the media often reported that Palestinians had been killed in a certain city in the territories. While Hebrew media described these deaths as "work accidents" occurring during the preparation of a bomb to be used in a terrorist attack, the Arabic media reported another "assassination" by the Israel Defense Forces.
Arab citizens apparently do not accept the IDF Spokesman's version of such events. According to the survey, 64.4 percent of Israel's Arab citizens would believe Al Jazeera, the most popular Arabic television channel, when presented with a case like this. Only 4.3 percent of these citizens would believe the account presented by Channel 2, the most popular Hebrew television channel. These statistics reveal a clear lack of faith in the Hebrew media on the part of Arab citizens, who believe that Hebrew media over-represents the interests of the Israeli establishment.
Conducted between December, 2004 and January, 2005, 594 people were questioned, divided by education level, religious affiliation, ethnicity and geography. Every subject was asked 255 questions in a face-to-face interview that took about an hour and a quarter to complete. Dr. Amal Jamal of the Tel Aviv University Department of Political Science led the study. According to him, this is the first time that such a comprehensive study has been conducted. Therefore, it was impossible to measure changes in Arab-Israeli society based on this investigation, but the study represented a broad research base which will make this possible in the future.
Much has been written about the Arab communications revolution during the last decade. The Qatar-based Al Jazeera network, which began broadcasting in the early `90s, has changed the face of media in the Arab world. It shattered the information monopoly of the governments, who operated and have continued to operate antiquated stations that refuse to address real problems in Arab society.
The influence of the media on events in Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt has been decisive, but the influence of Arabic-language satellite stations on the Arab-Israeli public has not been investigated in depth. Anyone who sees the proliferation of satellite dishes adorning the rooftops of Arab settlements might note the level of penetration of these channels. Many Arab villages completely lack cable television infrastructure. Yet, any resident can buy equipment that provides access to dozens of stations for a few hundred shekels. How has this influenced the connection between Jews and Arabs in Israel? What influence has it had on the sense of belonging to this nation? Dr. Jamal said that this communications revolution has allowed the Arab public to reconnect with what he calls "the Arab depth."
"Many subjects stated that the Arabic-language satellite stations have a profound influence on their sense of belonging to the Arab world, their identification with its problems, and also their self-esteem as Arabs," Dr. Jamal said. According to him, Arabic stations that enter their homes tear down fences that have existed for years between Arabs in Israel and their brethren beyond the borders. The official or virtual state of war between Israel and various nations no longer interferes with the ability of the Arab sector to follow what is happening there.
The survey proves that the Arab public in Israel turns to the Arab world in matters pertaining to its pan-Arab identity, which are nonexistent in Hebrew-language media - for example, art and entertainment. A total of 67.5 percent of Arab citizens prefer Arabic-language satellite stations in these areas, while only 3.6 percent prefer Hebrew-language art and entertainment broadcasts.
Like a normal person
This data can be interpreted in a variety of ways. One might choose to look at the half-full or half-empty cup. Those who are interested in emphasizing the differences between the Arab and Jewish populations might stress the lack of trust, on the part of Arab citizens, in Hebrew-language media, and their preference for Arabic-language channels. On the other hand, those who are interested in seeing coexistence might examine those areas in which Arab citizens turn to Israeli media.
These are areas in which both sectors of the population share an interest, like finance or health. Arab residents clearly receive services in these areas from Israeli, rather than pan-Arab, providers, and they therefore turn to local media for related information.
Sports represents another area of this type. It is difficult to find coverage on Arab representatives in the upper echelons of Israeli soccer, for example the members of Hapoel Bnei Sakhnin, on Al Jazeera.
"The Arab public in Israel combines two media arenas - they watch Arabic-language channels to meet their identity needs, and rely on Hebrew-language stations to meet their day-to-day existential needs," Dr. Jamal said. "This is smart consumerism that takes advantage of the variety of options available."
Despite this, anyone who views the joint destiny of Arabs and Jews in this nation with a skeptical eye cannot ignore the discomfort engendered by the following statistic: More than 50 percent of the subjects said that they would believe a report by the Israeli Arabic-language newspaper Kol al-Arab stating that an Arab-Israeli citizen had been killed by security forces for no reason, while only 8 percent would believe a Yedioth Ahronoth report stating that the citizen was shot while endangering the life of a policeman.
"The Arab citizen does not exist in most of Hebrew-language media until he represents a security threat or is engaged in criminal activity," Dr. Jamal said. "In other words, they create a very negative image of him, and that is the source of enormous disappointment on the part of the Arab citizen."
A majority of Arab citizens believe that the Hebrew media does not represent them at all, that it represents the Israeli establishment. But given this statistic, it is difficult to understand Arab-Israeli reading habits regarding to Hebrew-language newspapers. About 17 percent of Arab citizens read a Hebrew-language daily paper. More than 80 percent of them name Yedioth Ahronoth as their paper of choice. Maariv is in second place with 12 percent of the Arab reading public, and Haaretz is in third place with 2.3 percent. However, Haaretz is considered by this population to be the most reliable Hebrew-language newspaper.
The survey reported additional expressions of this alienation from the Jewish majority. While the majority of the Arab public gives high marks to the media regarding its coverage of events in Jewish-Israeli society, these marks decline when events in the Arab sector are concerned. More than half of those interviewed said that the Hebrew media was not at all objective in its coverage of issues pertaining to the Arab sector.
"If the Hebrew media wants to recover the trust of the Arab consumer, it must treat him like a normal person," Dr. Jamal said. "Why are Arab experts not invited to talk shows to discuss their areas of expertise? Why are Arabs only invited to discuss Arabs? The Hebrew media treats them as `Arabs' rather than people, when it could be fulfilling a constructive function on both sides."
Who will the survey serve? Who will it threaten?
Lutfi Mashur, publisher and editor of the Nazareth-based A-Sinara newspaper, says that the results of the survey are unreliable. "There was no survey done here," he said last week. "We have been looking into this matter for several days, and we have come to some very harsh conclusions regarding the way this was conducted. Why can't we receive a copy of the questions that were asked? Why is a political association standing behind this survey?"
Mashur says that the Aalam Center and other organizations that supported the survey placed a political spin on the results, a spin derived from their identification with the Balad (National Democratic Alliance) political party. Balad is led by MK Dr. Azmi Bishara, who has been frequently taken to task in Mashur's newspaper for years.
Mashur is particularly troubled by statistics relating to the rating of Arabic-language newspapers by the Arab sector in Israel. These statistics may have significant economic implications deriving from their influence on vital advertising sales, which are already at a premium in the Arabic-language press.
According to the survey, 29.5 percent of the subjects read Kol al-Arab as their first choice, and 26.1 percent read A-Sinara as their first choice. The Panorama newspaper came in third with 15.8 percent of those surveyed.
Kol al-Arab placed the results of the survey in a prominent location in its newspaper last Friday, while Panorama published the results of its own survey, according to which it was the most popular newspaper in the Arab sector.
Dr. Amal Jamal says in response that his survey meets all the tests for a survey of this type, examining methodology and statistical significance. Aalam director Hanin Zoabi responded, "As a well-known, professional, nonprofit organization, we stand behind all of the published statistics."