A former Israel Broadcasting Authority news editor admits: "We slanted the news towards a withdrawal from Lebanon - because we had sons there."
Speaking at the Haifa Radio Conference on Monday, several former and current news broadcasters on Voice of Israel and Army Radio discussed the tremendous influence they nearly all agreed they had on Israel's national agenda.
Dr. Chanan Naveh, who edited the Israel Broadcasting Authority radio's news desk in late 1990's and early 2000's, was particularly bombastic about his pervasive reach: "The morning audience, stuck in traffic jams or at work, is simply captive - they're ours." He also mentioned, with no regrets, two examples in which he and his colleagues made a concerted effort to change public opinion:
"Three broadcasters - Carmela Menashe, Shelly Yechimovich [now a Labor party Knesset Member - ed.], and I - pushed in every way possible the withdrawal from Lebanon towards 2000. In our newsroom, three of the editors had sons in Lebanon, and we took it upon ourselves as a mission - possibly not stated - to get the IDF out of Lebanon... I have no doubt that we promoted an agenda of withdrawal that was a matter of public dispute."At this point, Army Radio broadcaster Golan Yochpaz interrupted, "In my opinion, that is just super-problematic - super-problematic." Naveh did not miss a beat and said, "Correct, I'm admitting it, I'm not apologizing, I'm just saying this is what happened. It came from our guts because of the boys in Lebanon, this is what we did and I'm not sorry... I am very proud that we had a part in getting of our sons out of Lebanon."
It is widely accepted that the withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 under then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the lack of attention paid to the northern border since then led to the Second Lebanon War of last summer and its accompanying 160 military and civilian casualties.
Naveh's boast came towards the end of the panel discussion and was not widely addressed. However, just seconds later, retired Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner, the president of the Israel Press Council, summed up and said that the journalists must show courage and not allow outside influences to affect their ability to influence public opinion:
"You determine the daily agenda and you have the power; the problem is that in your profession, it can't be dealt with properly and ethically without civil courage... You have the power, so use it also to ensure that there is freedom of speech - of course, with the limitation that you must act ethically and not create hostile public opinion, because there is nothing that affects freedom of speech more than hostile public opinion."
Moderator Dalia Ya'iri, a former anchor of the widely-heard Israel Radio afternoon newsmagazine, opened the panel by saying, "Thank you for the applause; we and the radio truly deserve it; it is good that it is realized that in essence, without us, there is nothing! Even the television takes from us..."
Popular Army Radio broadcaster Razi Barkai said, "There is no doubt that the morning shows and what they broadcast determine the agenda of the rest of the day."
Only Golan Yochpaz, who anchored an Army Radio morning newsmagazine for several years, said, "We must not overestimate our influence... We have an influence, but it often lasts only until the next news show. And often, don't forget, the politicians use us; we fall victim to their spins... It is also not true that we come in with a specific agenda to push. We - at least I - come in with the goal of making a good show."
A phone message left for Chanan Naveh, hoping to clarify his remarks at the conference, was not immediately answered. Similarly, MK Yechimovich's aide said that she would not be able to address this matter today.
Israeli journalists have previously admitted that the media was largely enlisted on behalf of the Disengagement/expulsion from Gush Katif and northern Shomron. "I have failed. We have failed," wrote Kaveh Shafran, political affairs correspondent for Israel Army Radio shortly before the expulsion was carried out. "As a diplomatic correspondent, I was among those who in the past year were supposed to tell the public exactly what is the Disengagement Plan, why it was created, how it will be implemented... The media's conspiracy of silence protected Sharon when he fired cabinet ministers who did not support disengagement..."
Similarly, respected Israeli journalist Nachum Barnea admitted that most of the Israeli media acted more like the "guard dog" of the Disengagement Plan rather than that of democracy. Writing in the monthly media publication "The Seventh Eye," Barnea stated that Israeli journalists made a mistake that must be acknowledged, and that there is "no argument that the tone in the Israeli media is pro-disengagement."