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Media Notes
by Judy Lash Balint
June 26, 2002

Israeli reaction to CNN's miserable coverage is heating up. Last week, there were widely publicized calls by some Israelis to take CNN off the air here.

In response, the YES satellite network, with 310,000 subscribers, quickly began airing Fox News Channel. Even FOX network's own executives who had applied to have Fox shown here were surprised at the speed of the decision.

Doug Murphy, Fox's vice president of international distribution, said he expects to be added to all three Israeli cable systems soon.

Meanwhile, top CNN exec. Eason Jordan, was dispatched to Jerusalem to try to make amends. On Friday, Jordan visited the sites of the two most recent terror attacks in Jerusalem--where his reporters had informed viewers that victims were "settlers." Eason was also scheduled to meet Israel's Communications Minister Ruby Rivlin, who had harsh words for the network after the inaccurate and insensitive reports were broadcast.

But not all Israelis are disturbed by CNN coverage, or the inane remarks of CNN backer Ted Turner who equated Israeli action against terror with the terrorists themselves. Haaretz correspondent Gideon Levy, whose beat is the refugee camps, where he faithfully reports verbatim every Arab allegation against Israel, wrote a column justifying Turner's accusations. "What [all] these statements have in common is that they reflect the true frame of mind that exists almost everywhere in the world, apart from the United States," wrote Levy. "Even if the motives of the critics are not always pure and innocent, that does not mean that Israel is not providing reasons aplenty for criticism."

At the World Editors' Forum in Belgium, Levy's boss, Haaretz editor-in-chief Hanoch Marmari delivered a thoughtful speech on the challenges of Mid-East coverage. Marmari revealed to his peers that his paper is often criticized for its "obsessive" coverage of the Palestinian side, and that the "ongoing public storm about our coverage is worrying..." But with a circulation inside Israel of less than 10 percent of the market, Marmari admits that it's the international audience with access to the paper over the Internet, which causes him the greatest concern.

In a candid statement, Marmari concluded his speech by noting that his paper is sometimes used to legitimize anti-Israel propaganda. ""perhaps there is a fifth major sin in running a paper in this region: The sin of naivete."

Naive is not a word that would describe Hardball's Chris Mathews of MSNBC, who spoke at a media conference at Tel Aviv University
recently. Mathews provided a fast-paced, hard-hitting analysis of current US media interest in the Middle East. Decrying the lack of solid, in-depth coverage, Mathews said, "Most people are only reading or watching the people who back up what they already believe. They're not learning anything," he added. Mathews took issue with Jerusalem Report editor David Horovitz over whether interviewees could get away with not answering antagonistic questions. Horovitz referenced his experience with CNN's Jim Clancy after the IDF incursion into Jenin. The Jerusalem Report editor told the audience he felt it was important to reframe the argument and leave Clancy's hostile questions unaswered. Mathews retorted that audiences quickly see through that tactic, leaving Horovitz to shrug and continue with his presentation.

At the same conference, International Herald Tribune editor, David Ignatius, unwittingly shone a light into the murky business of how op eds in the major papers are commissioned. Perceptive readers will have noticed that former Israeli ambassador, Itamar Rabinovich, now rector of Tel Aviv University, may often be found on the pages of the Herald Tribune. In his speech, Ignatius acknowledged Rabinovich as one of his good friends, from the Israeli's days in Washington.

Over at the Jerusalem Post, Israel's venerable English language daily newspaper, rumblings of publisher/staff dissatisfaction are being heard loud and clear. Long-time managing editor, Avi Hoffman was fired last week after he recommended pulling an ad that included language he felt would expose Israel to charges of war crimes. New Post editor Bret Stephens apparently agreed. Publisher Tom Rose was furious and ordered Hoffman fired. The full page ad appeared last Friday. According to Aviv Lavie writing in the rival Haaretz English edition, senior staff at the Post turned to Stephens who told them he would back Hoffman in the dispute. Stephens, 28, was in the US during the fracas, and can't be looking forward to returning to a confrontation with his publisher.

Over on Israel Radio, Oslo architect Ron Pundak could be heard in an interview with Ilana Dayan last week, trying to show his sophistication by peppering his comments with English phrases. This is a phenomenon quite frequently practised by Israel's cultural elites. On the day of the Gilo bus bomb, Dayan asked Pundak whether he had any second thoughts about the Oslo process. Pundak responded using the words "soul searching." As to Arafat's English language condemnation of homicide bombers, Pundak said "It was too little, too late." Finally, indicating his complete lack of English sophistication, Pundak used the word "bullshit" in asnwer to one of Dayan's more probing questions.

On a more serious note, the most prominent feature of Israel's newspapers over the past week has been the thumbnail pictures and bios of victims of the incessant terror attacks plaguing our citizens. The weekly Iton Yerushalayim chose to replace its traditional front and back pages last Friday with black bordered death notices. Inside, the news section was devoted to page after page of detail about the lives of those murdered.

Maybe the Foreign Ministry should be translating the local papers and sending them around the world. After an announcement from Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior last Thursday that the ministry's PR budget of 40.8 million shekels (around $8.2M) has been exhausted, it would be better than nothing.