Israel State TV’s best known anchorman, Chaim Yavin, caused a small stir in Israel over his controversial, subjective documentary about Israeli settlements. Yavin has made no pretense of delivering an objective documentary. Rather, he has used his celebrity as Israel’s “Mr. Television” to publicize his own personal indictment of what he calls Israel’s “occupation.” In the five-part documentary which he filmed by himself with a hand-held camera, Yavin states, “Since 1967, we have been brutal conquerors, occupiers, suppressing another people.”
Newspaper reports have quoted critics of Yavin’s series condemning his “one-sided, negative portrayal of the settlers, bound to create widespread antagonism,” and calling for his dismissal from the post of news anchorman, claiming that his continued serving in the objective newscaster’s position “constitutes a blow to media ethics and professional integrity.” Yavin, in turn, has defended his film as a “personal travelogue” insisting that “as a citizen” he has “every right to express his opinion.”
NBC Nightly News devoted a short segment to Yavin’s documentary on Monday, June 27, 2005. But rather than examine the broader questions about journalistic ethics such filmmaking raises – for example, is it ethical for a journalist to capitalize on his celebrity while abandoning his journalistic neutrality to present a personal viewpoint – the message of the NBC segment is to present Yavin as a courageous journalist who is finally exposing the hidden truth about Israel’s misdeeds. NBC anchor Brian Williams’s introduction compares Yavin to Walter Cronkite:
Now we turn to the situation elsewhere in the Middle East and a journalist who is speaking out about it. Our jobs generally are to call balls and strikes, report the story and maintain objectivity. But in rare cases, journalists have said “enough” and have taken a stand. When Walter Cronkite did that on Vietnam, President Lyndon Johnson famously said that if he’d lost Cronkite, he had lost middle America. Now the same thing is happening with an anchorman in Israel.
Yavin himself immediately expands on the idea that he is revealing the reality of the situation in the Middle East. He emphasizes:
What they saw was the objective anchor getting out of the box and telling them the story like it is.
Most of the segment is devoted to Yavin’s perspective on what correspondent Martin Fletcher terms “Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians”, with Fletcher emphasizing Yavin’s viewpoint that Israel is inflicting “daily miseries” on the Palestinians. Fletcher clearly implies that Yavin’s documentary is forcing Israelis to face the ugly truth about Israel. He says:
…Chaim Yavin’s documentary series though, is making Israelis sit up and take note.
Historical revisionist Tom Segev (who has rewritten Israel’s Zionist history to present it as contemptible and dishonest) is identified in a caption only as a “journalist” as he states about Yavin:
He’s showing more and he’s saying more than Israelis have ever seen on their own television.
But settler council member Bentzi Lieberman’s brief sentence arguing that Yavin should be fired because he is no longer an objective journalist is introduced by Fletcher as “reaction from the right wing.” Why is Segev’s viewpoint not similarly identified as “from the far left”? The implication is that Segev is neutral and mainstream while Lieberman is a reactionary right-winger.
Yavin – however well-known he is to television viewers – represents one man’s perspective on a contentious issue about which the country is split. It is a position disputed by large numbers, if not the majority, of Israelis. For NBC to champion Yavin’s position by presenting it as the truth finally being revealed raises questions of its own on journalistic ethics.
Why does the segment represent Yavin as finally revealing the ugly truth to his fellow Israelis and the world, when it is a highly subjective “truth” that could have been easily rebutted with reminders of how the Arabs created their own plight by repeatedly attacking Israel, by rejecting Israel’s existence, by walking away from Israel’s generous peace offer at Camp David in 2000. Mr. Fletcher could also have included commentary about how Israel’s security measures have always been in response to Palestinian terror, not for the purpose of malice or gaining land (which Israel had already agreed to give up at Camp David anyway!). These are common, mainstream counter-arguments regarding the “it’s all about the occupation” perspective, and they were nowhere to be found in Fletcher’s report.