In the wake of Ynet's refusal to abide by a ruling issued by the Ethics Court of the Israel Press Council, Yishai Goldflam, editor-in-chief of Presspectiva, CAMERA's Hebrew site, authored a column in the Seventh Eye. Published by the Israel Democracy Institute, the Seventh Eye covers Israeli media issues and is closely followed by Israeli journalists. CAMERA's translation of Goldflam's July 21, 2011 column follows:
Findings of the "Israeli Democracy Index 2010," carried out by the Israel Democracy Institute, reveal that the public's trust in the media is steadily declining, and 2010 marked a nadir (only 34 percent trusted the media). The following story may demonstrate why.
Several weeks ago the Israel Press Council's Ethics Court ruled on complaints filed by Presspectiva and two other individuals against the Ynet news site. The ruling dealt with a false and baseless claim in an article by reporter Elior Levy about the arrest of a Palestinian minor in [the West Bank] village of Nabi Saleh.
Presspectiva filed the complaint only after Ynet ignored, week after week, the organization's three appeals. On the day of the hearing, representatives for the complainants attended, but not one representative from Ynet appeared. The head of the Ethics Court explained that Ynet appealed to the Press Council requesting the right to bring a lawyer to the hearing. When the council refused, as per its guidelines, Ynet announced that it would not attend the hearing.
And thus an absurd scenario arose, in which the Press Council took it upon itself to represent Ynet as opposed to doing its own work -- to be a judge and arbitrator between the defendant and the complainant.
The Ethics Court nevertheless ruled in favor of the complainants, finding that "defendants violated clause 4a of the Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics, dealing with the publication, either knowingly or negligently, of untruthful material. All the more so considering clause 5a of the aforementioned code, according to which, prior to publication of any material, its veracity should be checked with the most reliable source, and this source, after all, was in the defendants' own hands and used in the very same article."
In conclusion the court ruled, "we have decided to impose only a warning, in the form of publication of this decision on the [Ynet] site with appropriate visibility" (all emphases appear in the original.)
Don't bother looking for the suitably visible published ruling on Ynet's site because it's not there. After Presspectiva followed up with the Press Council multiple times asking how it intended to enforce the court's ruling, the secretary general decided to request that the NRG Web site [belonging to Ma'ariv] publish the ruling, and indeed yesterday it appeared there (July 19, 2011).
The first question to be asked in the wake of this story is: what's the purpose of the existence of the Press Council's Ethics Court? What's the point of a body which has no authority or ability to enforce a ruling blatantly flouted by a leading Israeli media outlet? Who needs a toothless outfit? How does it serve Israeli news consumers?
Another point deals with Ynet itself, whose behavior perhaps testifies to the backwardness and immaturity of the Israeli media. Why the blatant disregard of readers' legitimate concern? Why the chutzpah in refusing to appear at a hearing of the Ethics Court and in upholding its ruling? And, most importantly, why the conceit in not correcting, never mind apologizing for, a demonstrably false factual error that had appeared on the site?
Unlike in Israel, the most important newspapers around the world have a regular column for corrections, clarifications and apologies. This is so because those papers have enough responsibility and self-confidence to acknowledge when they are wrong. After all, who doesn't err at times? In Israel, by contrast, most of the clarifications are published following threats of lawsuits (or following rulings by the Press Council, but, as it appears, even this is not a given.)
As noted, the public's trust in the media is at a low point. Newspapers and sites in Israel, Ynet among them, would do themselves a favor to raise their maturity level to that of international media oulets, by acknowledging without hesitation when they err, and apologizing. Not after the fact, but from the beginning. It will only strengthen the public's trust in them and chip away at the media's ever-worsening negative image.
Yishai Goldflam, Editor-in-Chief, Presspectiva
In response to the Seventh Eye's query, Yon Feder, editor-in-chief of Ynet, declined to explain why he had decided not to publish the court's ruling. He did say that the decision was not made based on any principal against cooperating with the Press Council, but rather was a decision dealing specifically with this case.