Israeli Backlash: Legislation aimed at leashing out of control Media & Polling

Who’s in control here? It is no longer clear

It might seem like I’ve been beating a dead horse covering the polling situation in Israel for well over a month now, slamming our big media endlessly for what I have called ‘agenda ridden polling’ and pushing their own views to shape public opinion in their own image, within Israel and abroad.

I apologize if it is tiresome, but I’ve been doing so because it has become more than clear that entirely unqualified & unelected media have had a skewing effect on state affairs for some time now in the realm of national decision making. It needs to stop and now MKs from both Israel Beitenu & Likud are proposing legislation to curtail influence by law. This is a small measure of vindication and allows me to get away with yet another post on this topic..

JPOST: ‘Ban publishing exit polls before voting ends’- Shelly Paz
(reproduced in full, I normally don’t do that but I digress on this topic)

MK Yisrael Hasson (Israel Beiteinu) will hold a special session of the Economic Affairs Committee on Wednesday to discuss banning the publication of exit polls while the ballot boxes are open for voting. Hasson chairs the panel.

“The meeting was set following the profound questions that have arisen regarding the media’s conduct and its influence on several crucial events in the Israeli reality; the disengagement [from Gaza in 2005], the Goldwasser-Regev-Kuntar swap deal [in July] and the Kadima primary last week,” Hasson said on Sunday.

It was important to examine whether the media had became the decision-maker, he said. “In other words, to check whether the watchdog of democracy has turned against the landlord.”

Hasson’s initiative is a result of allegations against the Israeli media and the way it covered the primary, accusations that went as far as to say that new Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni won the race thanks to media coverage that was clearly biased in her favor.

It has also been claimed that the publication of exit polls while the ballot boxes were still open, as well as in the days immediately before the primary, influenced the final result.

Also on Sunday, Likud MKs Gilad Erdan and Moshe Kahlon announced on they would soon introduce a bill that would ban the publications of polls in the two weeks before general elections and party primaries.

“Some would say that the intensive coverage of abducted soldiers increases the pressure on the decision-makers, who give in and agree to pay high prices, but that is impossible to quantify,” Erdan told The Jerusalem Post.

He added that he expected decision-makers to be able to withstand such pressure. “However, the general public can be influenced by polls, trends and the general mood that is created by the media.

“The media creates trends and they obviously affect the voters, who lie to pollsters and don’t feel comfortable revealing their real choice, and sometimes they are even discouraged by the polls and don’t even bother to go and exercise their rights at the ballot box,” Erdan said.

Dr. Yariv Ben-Eliezer, director of media studies at the Lauder School of Government at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, said that banning the publications of polls and surveys one or two weeks prior to primaries and general elections would help restrain the media’s eternal struggle for ratings.

“It’s not an exact science, but in general, the function of the media is to report, and when a TV channel or a newspaper commissions a poll, they’re not reporting anymore, they’re creating the news, and that is a failure of the media – where it deviates from its proper role,” Ben-Eliezer said.

Once the media commissioned polls and published them, it no longer reflected reality as it was but rather shaped it. “People are influenced and they can be affected by it [polls], and they may want to join what seems to be the stronger [political] group. I don’t say they do it intentionally, I believe that this is a result of the fight for ratings,” Ben-Eliezer said.

Indeed, Israel is a small country. A vibrant Democracy needs a vibrant free media, but at what point does it become clear that media, ‘elites’ & select opinion is now driving the national agenda? With today’s power in media that point in Israel has not only been crossed it has become untenable, this past week bordering nearly on criminal behavior with the Kadima Primary fiasco.

Crossing the line?

Now our national media pushes an agenda, and then when it is done doing so our media figures drop all pretense entirely and simply get themselves tacked onto party lists where they have already engendered favor through bias in reporting, and become Knesset MKs! Shelley Yacimovich of the Labor party, who was a vocal & visible journalist / activist put into Knesset this past session is a prime example. A number of Haaretz journalists have also recently left to pursue local & national politics as well, it kind of reeks.

Of course, journalists are free to enter politics by all means, but it seems that politics has also been entirely too free to enter Journalism here as well.. It’s time to reign them in because the people need to elect its governments and drive popular issues, not a handful of talking heads. This phenomenon has pushed Israel’s decision making farther to the left overall, while its electorate is solidly majority center and center right. The right is slandered, smeared & deligitimized by a cadre of illegitimate media, oh the irony.

  • I was getting ready to write: how do you know that the cure won’t be worse than the disease?

    Not allowing the publication of exit polling early, might not be bad, but other rules can be used just as easily against the good guys.

    When Barak beat Netanyahu, I heard a talk show ask if this was good or bad. So I called in and asked, “If the NY Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal all opposed President Clinton on both their news pages and editorial pages would he have survived the Monica scandal?”

    He answered “no.” I said that’s pretty much what you had in Israel with all the major papers (except for the J-Post) actively campaigning against Netanyahu, it was virtually impossible for him to win again. It’s really a  bad state of affairs, but are press restrictions likely to make the case better or worse?

    Better encourage unofficial journalism (like blogs) and break the media stranglehold like that rather than trusting regulation to do the job.

  • It would be easier to grant a pass if there was some regret or absolution calls coming from the pollers & some media, but they defended their work staunchly despite how absurd it made them look. We are dealing with three primary polling outfits in Israel, each paid and commissioned by 3 or 4 large media outlets all pushing the same shoddy work.. Media takes the polling they commission / pay for and use it to reinforce their agenda message endlessly, as a sort of justification.

    Ben Eliezer’s comment above was very striking – This is no longer reporting but creation of the narrative & news in a vicious circle of justification which propels & feeds itself. Something must be done, people may think I am over reacting but the feeling in Israel by media outlets even themselves this past week was and I quote channel 1 – “We have altered the democratic process”.

    That’s a very serious admission. They will still flog their own agenda, but at least now perhaps they won’t be tempted to back up a fictitious narrative with fictitious numbers & literally alter the democratic process in Israel. They have become so gallant as to call the election and go home before voting has even ceased based on their own sampling!! NO VOTE COUNTS! This is despite any reservations totally untenable. This is not an isolated case here or there, but every single poll and all three major media outlets, that is collusion similar to the need for RICO laws imho. Organized attempts to alter elections processes are in fact against the law, I don’t see a need to grant a pass to these efforts by media, on the contrary I am willing to try to reign it in even it it backfires - at least an effort to marginalize it was made. Please understand between our corruption which clearly goes all the way to the top, our media, our coalitions, and now this media twisting in a small country people feel rather helpless, robbed of their voice. This is totally unacceptable in a Democracy. Media feels untouchable here, its time to send the message they can be more than touched, they can be thrown in prison like the Prime Minister himself.

    If the left merits legitimate wins so be it, same for the right I think, good or bad guys it is time people’s vote be respected, right now people feel they shouldn’t even bother, because they are facing an onslaught as media is all powerful in this day and age in this country. These are much smaller markets here, try and absorb the all powerful effect it has that every single outfit parrots the same fake information over & over again day in & out.. It’s like 1984, literally big brother programming the result. it happened with Olmert too, forecasted 44 SEATS!! real result 29 – This is obscene. Despite the reservation we have to try..