Citizen Journalism Leaves Netanyahu Tilting at Windmills

The Israeli prime minister may not have heard of Dikla Amram Cohen, but she and millions of Israelis like her hold the future of journalism in their hands.

An illustration of a woman holding a telephone.
Eran Wolkowski

Dikla Amram Cohen was passing by a shopping mall in Ramat Gan last week when she spotted an old woman tied to a fence. Amram Cohen did everything a journalist is supposed to do: She noticed an unusual event, inquired as to the circumstances, sought reactions, took pictures and reported on it. Within a few minutes, she had received hundreds of thousands of reactions straight to her cell phone.

She doesn’t know it yet, but Amram Cohen just became a journalist. She works in the new media. The new journalist roams around everywhere, finds stories and reports on them in real time. This time, it was an old woman left tied to a fence by her carer; tomorrow it will be the police chief’s car on the sidewalk. It’s not just a housewife armed with a cell phone who can report; so too can the deputy CEO or the office manager. Not just photos, but also documents and recordings.

There is no need for editors. You saw something. You took pictures and reported it. And it’s all for free – without individual contracts and without a dismissal hearing. Not everyone loves new journalists. Old journalists definitely don’t love them. The old ones are the blacksmiths who make horseshoes yet no longer have a horse, or video technicians without tools. Now their merchandise goes directly from the producer to the consumer, with no fee or commission.

The regime doesn’t like this new kind of journalist, either. The regime doesn’t like any kind of journalist, but especially not the kind that roams in its backyard without even knowing that it’s a journalist. The regime doesn’t like people rummaging among its dirty laundry, counting its bottles and totting up the costs of the flights for it and its wife.

It’s not simply that it doesn’t like them. It fights them. It fights the media and pays no heed to the fact that it is tilting at windmills. It assaults them with the fury of Don Quixote, enveloped in fogs of self-importance, and makes claims with a hatred bequeathed to it by a gloomy and hurt father. With that quixotic madness and logic, it attacks and, ultimately, crashes. Always the same way. That’s how it was with the Iranian nuclear bomb, and that’s how it was in Operation Protective Edge in 2014, in the Gaza Strip. And it will end this media war, too, with its tail between its legs.

No one thought to tell the regime that it’s not Dulcinea in control now, but rather Dikla Amram Cohen. It will have a hard time silencing her and her colleagues’ three million smartphones. It will bust intrigues, promulgate laws and make regulations. But, in the end, it will find itself facing windmills. Disappointment will not be long in coming. When the regime takes control of the television studios, it will find empty rooms and discover no one there; that the media aren’t there any more. They have moved to the internet, Facebook and Dikla Amram Cohen’s phone.

The regime will stand there like a putz, clutching stacks of laws and regulations, and scratch the back of its neck. They’ve only just told the regime that on Facebook there are no sinecures to hand out, and there is no need for paid confidential advisers. Forget it, they say. Relax. After all, in any case, it’s all yours.

But control isn’t enough for the regime. It needs love. Doesn’t just seek it (that strict father again!) – it wants the state television presenter to look into the camera lens and say in a strong, confident voice: “Bibi, we all love you.”

For this not to happen, say the politicians slyly, we need public broadcasting. They say “public broadcasting” and we salute as though it were a paradise of cultural pluralism. We’ll give the public what the public likes, they add in a voice as soft as strawberries and cream. “Ah,” we will say, crestfallen, “what the public likes? It gets that on Channel 2.” “That’s correct,” they whisper, covering their mouth with their hand. “We don’t mean ‘The Amazing Race’; we mean journalism.”

This isn’t as awful as it sounds. After all, what has happened? We’ll have yet another institution for laundering sinecures. Who cares if the treasurer of the Ashkelon party branch is appointed the deputy director for content? Who cares if the journalists there will be driven by ethnic, nationalist and political and religious groups? We aren’t looking for journalism in casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s freebie daily Israel Hayom, so why should we look for it there?

The luxury of public service journalism is reserved for Amnon Abramowitz at Channel 2 TV News and Raviv Drucker at Channel 10 TV News, both of them on commercial channels. Good journalism reveals what the public needs to know and what the government wants to hide. In public broadcasting, that isn’t going to happen – and it is clear why: Even a journalist eager to expose still has to pay the babysitter. Now, when he knows that Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev is the boss, he knows what she wants revealed and what she wants concealed. When you know who the boss is, you also know how to handle their press release.

No one looks for the truth in Pravda, and no one will look for it in public broadcasting. You will be getting the news on your cell phone, especially if Dikla Amram Cohen stumbles across something interesting on her way to the supermarket.