One cannot but admire Aviva and Noam Shalit. The abducted soldier’s reserved family did not easily embark on the aggressive campaign to free its kidnapped son. We can see the difficulties reflected on their faces, in their manner of expression, and in the occasional remark picked up by the microphones at their protest tent. It was not easy for them to embark on the aggressive campaign against the prime minister and share their feelings with the entire nation of Israel. Every time one watches them or hears them, one cannot but appreciate this noble family.
Fortunately for them, the Israeli press waited for the current stage in the struggle and is now all over it, as if it found a great treasure. The Israeli media has already decided: Gilad must be released, at any price, and the earlier the better. As such, the media has devoted itself to the family’s campaign, while choosing to forget that the story is more complex and less simplistic than the abduct soldier’s family wishes to present it.
To the press’ credit, we can say that it is conducting itself consistently. During the campaign to return the bodies of IDF casualties Regev and Goldwasser, may they rest in peace, the media did not remain on the sidelines either. It pressed the PM and government ministers until the deal was executed. It also refused to highlight the fact it was aware of for a long time: We were dealing with bodies, rather than living soldiers. Indeed, we saw reports about it here and there, but they were washed away in the immense flood of news that swept through the country. These reports were unable to prevent the national surprise that materialized when the two black coffins were presented.
In the months before the deal, the media knew the truth. It was aware of it, but remained silent. After all, it was clear that if we were dealing with dead soldiers, it would make for a smaller news story. Needless to say that full disclosure of the facts may have changed the deal’s outcome.
What happened back then is again happening now. Gilad’s eyes are featured on the front pages of newspapers, while the headlines scream: “Parents of terror victims call for Gilad’s release.” However, the media betrays its duty when it presents only one side of this painful story – the Shalit family’s side. It willingly takes part in the effort to bring tears to our eyes.
Gilad’s childhood photos, as well as the prominent coverage of the words uttered by Tami and Yuval Arad and well as Karnit Goldwasser heightens and highlights the drama, and the rating figures. Those who object to the deal are only marginally mentioned compared to the media festival and live coverage from the Shalit family’s protest tent. Is it any wonder that populist politicians who seek short-lived glory are rushing to the tent? They do understand the concept of rating.
They forgot the victims, and the counter protest tent of those opposed to a deal was dismantled within 24 hours.
It’s also difficult to find reports about the ramifications of this deal. Reports that not only ask what the terrorists could do once they are be released, but also a wider discussion about the impact this deal will have on IDF operations in the future, on the combat doctrine and efforts to sacrifice lives rather than fall into captivity, and about the issue of capturing terrorists alive in order to try them in Israel, knowing that the verdict is temporary until the next abduction.
The media has chosen to serve the Shalit family and not the public interest. But good journalism is tested in difficult times, not easy times.
It’s tested in its ability to stimulate a debate, to protest, to fuel an argument, raise doubts and create cracks in a monolithic public opinion. The same goes for peace times as in times of war. Journalism has a decisive role to play in a democratic society. Its role is not to move hearts.
In today’s media environment, a decision-maker who dares swim against the current is risking a long-term decline in popularity. After the first terror attack is carried out by one of those released, there will be people who roll their eyes and say: “But we cautioned.”
The media has a right to press the decision-makers to decide. It has a right to bring human-interest stories. But it also has an obligation to bring the complex sides of the story to the public’s notice and not just make do with one side of the story.
This is not coverage. This is a campaign.
You can be in favor of a deal or vehemently oppose it, but media outlets that hold back information and prefer to be emotional are populist and superficial, and most of all, betray their duty.
Yaron Dekel is Channel 1’s political commentator and hosts the “All Talk” radio show on Israel Radio