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Leading Journalist: Israeli Media Dropped the Ball

Voice of Israel's ex-director Yoni Ben-Menachem says that better Israeli coverage before the flotilla arrived could have revealed ambush.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 6/6/2010, 2:57 PM / Last Update: 6/6/2010, 3:02 PM

Flash 90

Yoni Ben-Menachem, veteran journalist and five-year Director of Voice of Israel, says that better Israeli media coverage before the flotilla arrived could have prevented the ambush.

“It is likely that professional and accurate coverage of the preparations for the flotilla,” Ben-Menachem wrote at the end of last week, “would have helped reveal the ambush that the IHH activists planned for the Israeli commando forces above the ship.”

Though the press is considered the “watchdog of democracy,” it’s time to admit the truth, Ben-Menachem writes: “In this story, the Israeli press fell asleep on the watch – and after it woke up, it re-entered the same conception in which Israel’s defense establishment was mired.” 

Specifically, Ben-Menachem rails against the fact that though PA and Turkish media had been talking about it for three months, “the Israeli media did not see fit to cover the preparations for the flotilla – even when the PA media publicized widely the fact that Hamas planned to send 100 boats with children from Gaza to greet it. The Israeli press simply went into a deep coma, while the Turkish, Arab and Hamas media continued to deal with it extensively.

Ben-Menachem also feels that the Israeli government decisions regarding how to deal with the flotilla once it arrived could have been influenced for the better had the media paid more attention: “The Israeli media also barely covered the governmental discussions on the flotilla that was about to arrive. The mini-Cabinet made a decision to keep the story on low-profile, and it succeeded in this very well.”

He further noted that though Israeli journalists with foreign passports occasionally enter Arab countries and return with in-depth, daring stories, "How did it happen that not one Israeli journalist reported from within Turkey on the send-off of the Marmara ship? Nor did any Israelis manage to penetrate the IHH and report back about the organization and its members? And the biggest question: How could it be that not one Israeli media person was able to penetrate the ship with 600 passengers, even with a false identity?”

Nor did any of the Israeli journalists think to challenge the official estimates as to the level of violence: “When the IDF briefed the reporters on its evaluations that the worst violence that could be expected would be ‘spitting’ on soldiers, why did not one journalist think to ask, ‘And what will happen if there is worse violence? Is the IDF prepared?’ The words of the IDF officers were received as if they were Torah from Sinai.”

Furthermore, Ben-Menachem asks, why was there no coverage of the PR efforts under the auspices of Minister Yuli Edelstein’s office, and its ties – or lack thereof – with other governmental advocacy bodies? “The media is now preparing its knives for all those responsible for the 'mistaken' action – but what about its own mistakes, and possibly even cooperation with the political and security echelons in keeping the story on a low flame?”

“It is very likely,” Ben-Menachem concludes, “that if the Israeli media had carried out their job properly, with a series of investigative pieces and reports from the field before the flotilla, they could have revealed who the IHH really is, and who really were the ‘activists’ on board the Marmara. They could have thus exposed the ambush in advance, and possibly even helped Israel’s PR efforts about the real role played by the Turkish government in supporting the flotilla.”

INN, however, it should be noted, was not the focus of his criticism. It covered the planned arrival of the flotilla and profiled the terrorists who appeared at the sendoff immediately, as well as exposing  IHH days before other Israeli news sources.