Media blog

Coalition Wars

The first spin after the elections has arrived: Is Netanyahu using developments on the security front for party political purposes?
28 January 2013

Just days after the elections, newspaper headlines proclaim a war footing. A Keshev investigation examined whether menacing messages are soundly based and trustworthy.

 


 

>> Next war is afoot: Ynet continues to publish scary headlines (Hebrew, 12 February 2013)

 


 

Israeli citizens woke up this morning to headlines of war. Israel's largest-circulating newspaper Israel Hayom picked "The danger and the state of readiness" for its main cover heading. The words were juxtaposed next to pictures of aeroplanes and burning buildings, alongside the logo of chemical weapons The impact of the message is clear. Each one of us is beginning to wonder where is the nearest shelter.

Other newspapers - Yedioth Acharonoth, Ma'ariv and Haaretz also devoted their headlines to the old-new threat from the north. They all relied on a series of events and quotes as harbingers of a forthcoming operation in the north. Individually, each such marker could be marginal or coincidental. But put together they created a threatening image.

But a Keshev examination has come up with a surprising result: many of the apparently factual accounts widely cited in the newspapers, did not occur at all.

 

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Here are the facts for your consideration:

1) Israel Hayom subheading on its main front page story stated: "Defence Minister Ehud Barak brought forward his return from Davos". A similar heading appeared on the double-page spread of pp2-3 in Yedioth Acharonoth: "An indication: Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who was in Davos, has bought forward his return to Israel."

In reality: the defence minister spoke at the Davos conference on Thursday as scheduled (without mentioning the Syrian WMDs), and returned to Israel afterwards. The conference ended on Saturday anyway. Military reporter Amir Rappaport, in a commentary piece in Ma'ariv wrote that "the reports that owing to the situation the defence minister returned from Davos ahead of schedule were wrong". But the newspaper headlines chose to emphasise the defence minister's return to Israel as an indication of tension.

2) All the papers highlighted, through both their headlines and photographs, the placement of an Iron Dome system in Haifa, and tied the location [in the north of the country] of the battery to the prospects of a forthcoming war..

But military sources who responded to queries said [Hebrew] "this is a scheduled placement during which we are examining the system and the event is not related to tension in the region". And in fact the moving of the battery to Haifa a few days ago was part of a "series of pre-planned testing out of the system" [Hebrew].

3) Israel Hayom and Ma'ariv emphasised in their main heading s that the rebels were closing in on the largest chemical weapons base. Israel Hayom also mentioned, the source of the reports in two different places across the double page spread naming them as Arab TV networks Al-Jazeera and al-Arabiyya.

In fact in the last days, there were no reports of battles in the area around the al-Safira base -- not on al-Jazeera nor Al- Arabiyya, nor on any other network. Battles in that region took place between 20 and 21 December 2012, and have been widely reported in the international media. On 23 December 2012, after several days fighting in the region, the government of Russia, which has commandoes stationed in Syria, made a dramatic announcement that Syrian chemical weapons were secure and all these weapons were concentrated in one or two closely monitored locations. The picture that Israel Hayom chose to publish on the front page was indeed taken in that region, but three weeks ago..

Two unusual events did take place, and it seems that they led to the media's engagement with the issue. These were the remarkable statement on the subject by the prime minister during the Cabinet meeting, and Minister Silvan Shalom's interview with Army Radio on that very day.

Shalom's exceptional leak revealed that a day after the election, Prime Minister Netanyahu called a special meeting of the various defence chiefs to discuss chemical weapons in Syria. Shortly afterwards, in the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu made the connection between the Holocaust, the situation in Syria and the need for a broad coalition. This out-of-the-norm statement, alongside additional quotes furnished by Netanyahu about Israel's need to defend itself - and a series of deliberate leaks about tension along the northern border - created the image presented in the papers on Monday: Israel is on the brink of military action in Syria.

 


War in the North or war with Lapid?

When Netanyahu tied together the need for a broad-based government to the security threats, he subconsciously hinted that what was involved was spin. Or as Amos Harel wrote in Haaretz today:


"One could thus see the prime minister's announcement as an answer to both Syrian President Bashar Assad and Lapid: Only a broad government can respond to the sensitive security situation. With 15 ministers from Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu, including Yuli Edelstein and Limor Livnat, none of our enemies would dare start up with us.

"So which came first? Is Netanyahu exploiting a security development for political purposes, or is there an even worse explanation - that it's a totally political spin, with no basis in fact?"


Harel tends to favour the first option: ie, the prime minister is using a genuine security situation for narrow party political interests. Given the complex situation in Syria, we also tend to share this conclusion. But the story is not just cynicism of the prime minister, who is willing to frighten the hell out of the citizens to obtain an additional ministerial portfolio for his party, but also the weakness of the media.

With the exception of Haaretz which alluded to the party political aspects of the matter, both in the subheading ("In contrast to Lapid's demand to reduce the number of ministers, the Prime Minister made it clear that a broad coalition was necessary because of 'security threats' ") and Harel's article, all the newspapers fell for first spin after the election. Israel Hayom and Yediot Acharonoth excelled themselves by simply not checking the simple facts on which they reported.

The sad fact is that this is typical conduct for the Israeli media. Although the newspapers are often in possession of other information - the media choose to highlight sensational and inaccurate messages in their headlines. This is particularly evident than in war time when the public requires accurate and reliable information more than ever.

Written by Daniel Argo and Shiri Iram of Keshev

Translated by Sol Salbe, Middle East News Service

 


 

Update, 29 January 2013

Yaron London and Moti Kirschenbaum devoted 20 minutes at the beginning of their program on Channel 10 yesterday to the danger from Syria – as well as 5 additional minutes for an unplanned discussion, started by commentator Emmanuel Rosen, about the story being a spin initiated by Netanyahu's office. The two hosts moved uneasily, the expressions on their faces possibly indicating a question: how could we fall into this trap?



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This morning, Ma'ariv courageously continued cutting through the spin, devoting to it the main headline of its print issue: "Sources in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: no red lines were crossed in the matter of chemical weapon in Syria". The main headline on Ma'ariv's website this morning was also unequivocal: "Netanyahu promoted the issue of danger from Syria because of hidden interests".

On the other hand, Israel's most widely-circulated newspaper Israel Hayom continued its editorial line as Netanyahu's spin channel and devoted its main headline ("The situation in Syria: between bad and worse") and the double spread on pages 2-3 (titled "Hezbollah militants stationed near chemical weapons") to the Syrian menace, attempting artificially to create a news event.

 

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