From the outside, it appears that Israeli democracy is in the midst of a fateful battle. On the agenda is the very future of public broadcasting. The call has been made: public broadcasting – independent, courageous, free, high-quality and fulfilling its mission – is in danger. Powerful, influential and popular, it could fall into evil hands. The day it falls into the clutches of the heinous one – namely, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – will be the end of press freedom.
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Truth be told, public broadcasting in Israel has never fulfilled its mission. It has declined in importance since commercial media started to thrive. Commercial media is what counts; it is more or less free, and of its own free will is the greatest abuser of its role. It contains the greatest danger to democracy and freedom of expression. It brainwashes, fawns on the masses and is a slave to ratings, with or without Netanyahu. It is also the greatest collaborator with the occupation, whitewashing most of its crimes.
It’s true that the prime minister’s intervention in the establishment of the public broadcasting corporation is worrisome, but anyone who fears for press freedom should engage with a more influential media than ours, where incitement, distraction, concealment and destruction take place.
Public broadcasting is marginal. Channel 1 is negligible; Israel Radio is state radio in the worst sense of the word; all that’s left of Educational Television is a building; the power of Army Radio comes mainly from the fact that it’s the most destructive journalism school in Israel. Army Radio raised generations of journalists of a uniform type, witty of language and balanced of path. The media owes some of its worst ills to Army Radio. Now Netanyahu wants to silence those who were silent in any case: the new broadcasting corporation – the offspring of graduates of Army Radio, who were never paragons of brave journalism.
Netanyahu is about to fire them, after all the legislation and the contracts, a serious matter in and of itself. But the corporation they were to have established would not turn the map of journalism on its head. It would be more of the same, with minor improvements.
The Israeli media is in cahoots with the government. The chief censor is its audience; it works slavishly for and fears it. The media believes its function is to make things pleasant for its consumers, to entertain them and amuse them – but not, perish the thought, anger them. It focuses on telling them what they want to know, and especially on not telling them what they don’t want to know. No intervention by the authorities is needed to ensure such a cowardly media. It is voluntarily militaristic – the public likes it – and hardly covers Israel’s ugly backyard, from the occupation to asylum seekers. The public doesn’t want to know, so why bother it?
Netanyahu is not needed in order to persuade commercial media to adopt the dominant narrative. No pressure is needed to mediate the lies of the security establishment to the public. It is not Netanyahu who determines the shameful dehumanization of the Palestinians in the media, the fearmongering and incitement against them. It is not MK David Bitan (Likud) who determined that Channel 2 News looks like it does – a combination of feeble news and lots of propaganda, populism, entertainment and consumerism. The government did not determine that Channel 2’s flagship investigative journalism program, “Uvda” (“Fact”), would broadcast such a despicable “probe” into the Arab and Jewish political activist group Ta’ayush. The journalists chose to do so of their own free will, which makes the situation much worse. Don’t tell stories about the censor and pressures. Nobody forces mass-circulation dailies Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel Hayom and Ma’ariv to look like a particularly poor edition of the old army magazine Bamahane. No one forced them to turn into such low-culture trash.
The fight for public broadcasting is important. It is far from being the really important fight for the media, as people are trying to portray it, to create the false impression of a fighting media. If you want to fight for the image of the media, you should first approach Channel 2.