In defense of Uri Porat
by Jonathan Rosenblum
June 5, 1998
The best defense is a good offense, as every sports fan knows. And that is clearly the strategy adopted by the Nationa Federation of Journalists in response to Israel Broadcasting Authority director-general Uri Porat's dismissal of two senior Mabat news editors for splicing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's appearance at a Betar Jerusalem rally to make it appear that he was encouraging calls of 'death to the Arabs."
'Orwellian thought control,' charged one of the dismissed staffers; 'McCarthyism" chimed in Labor MK Uzi Baram.
The truth, however, is that Porat has done nothing more than to remind IBA staffers that national TV and radio are not their private property, and they are not free to promulgate their personal views in any way they see fit.
The Betar Jerusalem rally was presented in a deliberately distorted manner to support the standard Left line that the Right of the political spectrum is inhabited exclusively by neo-fascists.
The clip showed Netanyahu speaking, a cut to the crowd with the racist chants on the sound track, and a cut back to Netanyahu waving and shouting 'Yalla, Betar.' Viewers did not see that, preceding his final wave, Netanyahu had been speaking for 46 seconds about Betar chairman Moshe Dadash. The clear impression created was that he had smiled and waved in response to the chants.
The doctored clip was shown not once but twice during the Mabat show to highlight its significance. After the second screening, Even, who was lucky to escape with a mere reprimand, completely shed her role as news presenter to add her own partisan commentary: 'They'll claim that only a small group was chanting and they did not hear, just like...'
She did not have to complete the sentence to raise the association to the October 5, 1995 Zion Square election rally in which a poster of Yitzhak Rabin in SS uniform was allegedly displayed while Netanyahu was on the balcony. (It has long since been established that the poster was distributed to the press by Avishai Raviv, whom the Shamgar Commission found to be a General Security Service operative and to have effectively acted as an agent provocateur, and it is highly improbable that Netanyahu could have seen it.)
As in the case of the recent fabrication out of whole cloth of a rape story by former Yediot Aharanot reporter Moshe Suissa, one must assume that such a blatantly tendentious use of the film of the Betar rally was part of a larger pattern at IBA. And indeed it is easy to multiply similar examples.
In another recent case, novelist and Kiryat Arba resident Nomi Frankel was interviewed about the feelings of betrayal of some on the Right toward Netanyahu. Asked how she would vote if the government fell, she replied, 'Certainly not for the Left, which has been the greatest disaster of the 20th century." When the interview aired again 45 minutes later, the reference to the Left had been deleted and she appeared to say, 'Netanyahu has been the greatest disaster..."
IBA staffers are correct that something has changed at IBA. Under Porat's predecessor, Mordechai Kirschenbaum, they were encouraged to think of the IBA as a private radio and television station that they were entitled to use to advance their personal political agendas. The day after the Rabin assassination, Limor Livnat was on Popolitika and stoutly defended the Likud against charges of complicity in the murder.
After the show, producer Aaron Goldfinger lambasted regular Tommy Lapid for not having knocked Livnat down, and concluded his tirade, 'As long as I'm producing this show, there will never be another show in which the Right comes out on top."
Though the remark was widely reported, Kirschenbaum let Goldfinger off with a letter of apology. It did not occur to him that someone with such a biased perspective might be unfit to produce the top-rated opinion show.
Kirschenbaum himself consistently refused to acknowledge any limits on his own discretion. When IBA plenum member Gabi Butbul questioned the propriety of some of the Cameri Quintet's double entendres, Kirschenbaum, Goldfinger, and two other top IBA officials ordered Popolitika staffers to try to dig up dirt on Butbul. This time it was Kirschenbaum himself who was let off by plenum head Rina Shapiro with a mild apology, and disciplinary proceedings against Goldfinger were dropped in return for an innocuous apology.
Many at the IBA cannot grasp the basic distinction between a private newspaper entitled to promote any views it wishes, within the constraints of libel and obscenity statutes, and a public broadcasting authority, which has a duty to fairly present a range of views. Thus the left- leaning Amnon Abramovitch was for a long-time the sole commentator on Friday night TV. When the IBA was sued in the High Court by Israel's Media Watch, for having violated the 'fairness doctrine' enunciated in its governing statute, the court urged compromise.
That compromise turned out to be 85 percent Abramovitch, a smattering of non-political comment, and an occasional commentator from the Center or Right. When the parties returned to the court, the court contented itself with an expression of confidence that the IBA would act in accord with the duties imposed upon it by statute. Thus the Barak court had found the one governmental body whose decisions it was not eager to review from scratch and reverse.
No doubt some at the IBA are aggrieved that Uri Porat does not share the court's confidence in their rectitude, and they will not take lightly being taught the responsibilities of a public broadcast authority. Their loss, however, will be the public's gain.
Related Topics: Israeli Society
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