Veteran Channel Two broadcaster Nissim Mishal will get a “pass” over his treatment of Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett in a television interview two weeks ago, despite the dozens of complaints filed against him for what many viewers considered to be unfair, even nasty, treatment of Bennett.
But, said David Regev, the ombudsman of the Second Broadcasting Authority, he had instructed Mishal to “go easy” on political candidates in future interviews.
In the interview, Mishal, who has been working in news journalism for over three decades, concentrated on the issue of IDF soldiers disobeying orders they felt uncomfortable with. In the interview, Bennett said that while following orders – in the context of evicting Jews from their homes, as the government is attempting to do in several new communities in Judea and Samaria – was important, it would be understandable that soldiers might feel uncomfortable with those orders, and if that was the case, they should tell their commanders that they are unable to fulfill those orders and asked to be transferred to another unit.
Dozens of viewers complained to Regev about Mishal's badgering of Bennett during the interview, his attempting to push the Bayit Yehudi leader for yes or no answers without letting him discuss the context of his response, and failure to give Bennett the opportunity to answer questions. In addition, the viewers said, Channel Two took statements Bennett made out of context, displaying half-answers as headlines and attributing to him statements and views he did not hold. It was, in the words of one complainant, a “hatchet job planned by Mishal to make Bennett look bad.”
While he didn't use that term, Regev said that there was “a great deal in the interview to make me uncomfortable.” In a letter outlining his decision on the complaints, Regev said that “Bennett was being badgered by Mishal during parts of the interview. He did not let Bennett answer questions, and frequently cut him off.”
The result of the interview was a media firestorm, in which Bennett was accused for nearly two weeks of advocating that IDF soldiers disobey orders if they are asked to remove Jews from their homes in Judea and Samaria in new communities (termed “outposts” by the government) that the government is attempting to eliminate.
In a press conference several days after the interview, Bennett sought to deflect the accusations, saying that he had just been trying to express the difficulty soldiers face when being asked to throw anyone – Jewish or Arab – out of their homes. “An order to uproot an Arab village or a Jewish community is a fatal blow to the most basic of human rights, and it places the soldiers before a heart-wrenching dilemma between human rights on the one hand, and the obligation to obey orders on the other,” he said.
Regev said that it was understandable that an interview would want to “uncover” the real views of someone like Bennett, who “according to polls is set to lead the third largest party in the next Knesset,” Regev said. However, he said, a balance needed to be reached. “Even if the interviewee is a public figure, interviewers must preserve the dignity of those they are interviewing, so as not to demean him in the eyes of viewers.”
In response to the complaints, Channel Two responded that Mishal was a veteran journalist with a confrontational style, and that he was just doing his job.
Although there was a great deal in the interview to justify the complaints, Regev said he was not taking any action against Mishal. Nevertheless, he added, he expected all interviewers to “go easy” on future interviewees.