Viewpoint / Pushing an Agenda, and Proud of It

The profession of journalism is an easy mark for quacks. There are no academic requirements for a reporter before getting accepted to his first job. There is no law allowing the journalist to act that might also impose obligations and limitations. Ethics, which are supposed to guide journalists in their trade, are loose rules at best, barely enforced. Other than fear of libel suits, there is no external force that can rein in the cub reporter. So it happens that young people, with little education and less life experience, take up a pen and see it as a license to "write to kill."

The power is inebriating for the hand that holds the pen. It is seductive, but there is another way. Journalism can be seen as a calling. The calling of those who write not for their own egos but in order to promote important civic values. "The watchdogs of democracy" is a value that reporters the world over hold dear in covering general and political news. Financial journalists should in parallel hold dear "the watchdogs of efficient markets, minority rights and public coffers."

In any case, those are the values that we hold dear ourselves. We have appointed ourselves warriors for Israel's markets, that they be free and competitive for the good of the consumer, warriors for the public shareholder against the oppression of controlling shareholders, and guardians of public coffers - the state treasury - against waste, corruption or other improper use.

We appointed ourselves, without asking anyone's permission, because we thought these values and goals deserved fighting for. We believed that since we had been given a pen, it was our duty to make worthy use of that pen.

Yes, we are press with an agenda. We are of course committed to balanced news coverage, but along with balanced coverage we feel obligated to express our position when a value of public importance hangs in the balance. We feel obligated to invest extensive reporting resources when a subject of public importance is on the agenda. We "run campaigns" supporting matters of weight, and we do so proudly with the sense of fulfilling our civic duty.

Promoting reform of the financial markets, better known as the Bachar Report, is just such a campaign. The recommended reforms, if they are accepted, will revolutionize two of the three areas we feel called to cover. They will move ahead market efficiency by light years, releasing the market from the stranglehold of domination by the two largest banks and, for the first time, open them up to real competition. We will no longer be prisoners of those two banks.

In the same breath, the recommendations will advance minority rights, giving the minority power it doesn't have in un uncompetitive market dominated by goliaths.

The Bachar Commission Report is a revolution Israel has awaited for 21 years, since the bank share crash in October 1983. We had one crash that essentially toppled Israel's banking sector. We had another, 10 years later, in which the banking sector embroiled the public in collapsing credit to buy mutual funds. We had five years of crippling recession, which exposed the economy's dependence on bank credit and just how haphazardly that credit is managed - the banks handed out that credit to cronies and the wealthy, leaving the rest of the country in a credit crunch. There is no need to wait for a fourth crash. Now is the time to act to decentralize the major banks' power. That is our agenda, and if anyone thinks we are fanatic about it, so be it.