Media blog

Israel is 112th in the world freedom of press index: why should we care?

On Freedom of the Press in Israel

March 31 2013

 


 

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Every year Reporters without Borders publishes its annual World Press Freedom Index. Out of the 179 countries which were assessed, Israel was placed 112th, the lowest in its history. This is a decline of 20 places from last year, when the survey was already being derided by the government press office.

In an article which was written by Arik Beker, Chief Executive of the Israeli Union of Journalists, wrote:

"But the question is what is Reporters without Borders' view of reality, when they banish Israeli journalism to the depths of the Middle Eastern sewers, and place it in 93rd place in the world, lower than Kuwait, Albania, the UAE, and the Central Republic of Africa...truly they have no borders, these journalists in Paris. It's difficult to know what they were thinking when they were sending their surveys around the world, and when they were analyzing the results they received."


Later on, we'll deal with the parameters themselves and how they were chosen, but to our mind the central question isn't whether or not Israel should be placed before or after Albania, but what's the true status of freedom of the press in Israel.

The natural tendency of the Chief Executive of the Israeli Union of Journalists was to accuse Reporters without Borders of lacking objectivity. This is similar to the response of most Israeli spokespersons who accuse critics of Israel of anti-Semitism or being anti-Israeli. Sometimes this is done without properly examining the existing problems. In this case we are talking about the problems of freedom of the press in Israel.

One of the main reasons there has been a decline in Israel's standing is because of a series of attacks on media buildings in Gaza during Operation Pillar of Defense. During these attacks three journalists working for Palestinian media outlets were killed and eight other journalists injured, including a number of people working for the British network Sky.

Following these attacks Mark Regev, the International Spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister, was interviewed. It left us quite perplexed:

 


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One of Regev's main claims is that journalists working for certain media outlets are not legitimate journalists, because they serve political interests, and therefore it's permissible to harm them. This claim, which is often used by the government as an excuse for harming journalists, is simply not acceptable in the Western world. Just as we dismiss the excuse that attacks on some journalists in Russia are acceptable because they are serving Chechen interests, or the Iranian excuse that some journalists can be targeted because they serve Western interests, the world doesn't accept Regev's excuse as an explanation for harming journalists. This is shown clearly in the interview, and in the current decline in Israel's status.

This example, even though it's particularly harsh, isn't the only one: foreign journalists have been detained over the past few years and have even been imprisoned in Israel, because of their news reports. Anat Kam was put on trial and now sits in jail, and Uri Balu was tried for spying because he published information that had been approved by the censor. All these examples, without exception, hardly led to any protests by the Israeli media – despite the fact that they constitute an attack on the freedom of the press.

Is the index reliable?

In the last few years we have all been living in a world which tries to measure and compare everything. Parameters in almost every sphere of life have become a nearly unique sign, even if a little superficial, of reality. Therefore it's important to properly check these different parameters, and to deal with the phenomenon they represent, rather than just the specific results.

Reporters without Borders current measurements are made up of a number of parameters. Some of them are objective, such as the number of journalists who were killed, injured, or detained, and some of them are subjective, in which journalists set a number of characteristics of the media in a given country (pluralist, lacking professional reliability, independent censor, transparency, legislation affecting the media, media infrastructure).

Because of these subjective components, it could be that Israel's 112th place doesn't optimally reflect the situation of the media in the country. Along with this, one has to remember that the ranking is a combination of the media's situation during times of clam and during times of war. As we showed in our research over the past few years, the Israeli media's tendency during times of war not to investigate events in real-time damages its credibility. The military censor, along with closing areas to journalists, the reliance on the IDF Spokesperson, and – in extreme cases – the detention of journalists – this hurts freedom of the media in Israel even more.

But these patterns of media coverage, which are tilted because of media interests, do not only relate to security incidents. As we have shown over the last few months, there are similar patterns in the coverage of domestic and economic issues, whether it be a report on poverty, the cost of food, or television programs about Muslims in Europe.

Therefore, it's good that the current measurements will lead to some soul-searching in the Israeli media. Instead of focusing on our place in relation to Albania, it would be good if we dealt with the reasons for the decline in Israeli freedom of the press and its independents – because that's what truly needs to worry us.

 

Daniel Argo and Shiri Iram (Keshev)

 

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