Prominent journalists pointed this past month to the need for self-examination. The media too, in their opinion, revealed its flaws during the war, and would do well to check itself, as though it were unfair to project one's own flaws onto politicians and generals.
The Israel Press Council, which came to life at long last and even managed to elect a new chair, retired justice Dalia Dorner, also decided at its first meeting to appoint an internal committee to determine "rules for ethical conduct at wartime."
Whenever influential forces want to perform an in-house cleaning, they ought to be encouraged. Perhaps the media defaulted and failed, and perhaps it did not - either way it is important to examine and correct. But I am not at all certain that the directions shaping up so far for review are truly the right directions. There is burbling everywhere about alleged recklessness in reporting, which might have aided the enemy in the midst of battle; some claim Hezbollah benefited from the media's lack of restraint.
Had this been the media's main problem, the gut-wrenching soul-searching could be dispensed with in advance. In the next war, censorship will be tightened and the deep secrets will be well concealed in the belly of the authorized defense bodies. What need is there for a committee on the obvious?
The real question the media must ask itself is where it stood "in real time," when the thunder was rolling.
And it stood for the most part among the national chorus, like in a tragedy, and went along as usual with the government and the chief of staff. It did not set its own tone; it usually played according to an official score composed and dictated by ministers and generals. The reservations it expressed were trivial reservations - is it better to attack like this or better to attack like that? In the early days, before the war lengthened and grew complicated, not many wondered whether it would be best not to attack at all.
The media in July looked like the Knesset, which silently listened to Ehud Olmert's recruitment speech; and it had the same look about it as public opinion, 90 percent of which unconditionally supported the opening moves of the war - onward, onward - and the functioning capability of Olmert, Peretz and Halutz. The troika watched the polls in disbelief: It never imagined it would be such a leading and popular troika.
This should therefore be the first and primary recommendation of the review panel: In the first days of war, of any war of choice, the media must must provide a platform for skeptics and disputers so that a different stance may be heard among the clarion calls, the cheering and hoorays. It is always worth remembering and reminding that nearly every war begins with the air of a feast and ends with the air of a famine. How many have died with the chorus' singing, with the glory freezing at once on their lips? Even if it is unpleasant for the audience to hear or see, and even if the executive fears for the ratings, "ethical conduct" has no choice but to adopt completely new rules, and not just for democracy's sake but also for safety's sake.
Sometimes we hear people speaking here out of jealousy. They are envious of the United States, whose media, in contrast to ours, behaved responsibly when the war in Iraq broke out. What is there to envy? First of all - the self-censorship did not exactly help America in its endless, failed war, and secondly - the American media has long since been flagellating itself for its evaporation and gullibility in believing all the administration's falsehoods. And if we are already mentioning Bush's war against the Iraqis, it is worth mentioning the fact that the Israeli media was also swept up in March 2003 in the euphoria of the American adventure, which exposed Israel to unprecedented threats. Here too they were quick to celebrate the victory, the mission accomplished and the emerging Iraqi democracy.
High ratings are not only very low, they are also very dangerous.
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