Saturday, December 3, 2005

#154 Objective?

Musings #154
December 3, 2005
3rd of Kislev


A big complaint by Americans exposed to Israeli journalism is its lack of objectivity. There's no fine line and not even a fuzzy one in Israeli news reports, whether print, radio or television, between fact and opinion. It's blatant editorializing, propaganda.

As a high school English teacher, my curriculum requires making my students aware of "fact" and "opinion" in a text. Last week I was attempting just such a lesson. We read over the textbook's description of a news article verses a human interest story.

My students are Hebrew speakers, and I've discovered that I have to be very careful to verify that they really understand the simplest English words. This is especially problematic when it comes to English that has been adopted by Hebrew. I discovered this dilemma a number of years ago when a class had to understand the term "regular hours." "Hours" was easy, "sha'ot," but when I asked them to translate regular, I heard "ragil," best translated back into English as "normal" or "unexceptional." That's not the same thing. A job with "regular hours" has set hours, the same schedule every day or week etc. From their understanding was a misunderstanding.

So I wasn't terribly surprised when I asked them to translate the term "objective," which was used in our textbook to describe a "news article," as opposed to a "human interest story." With total confidence they all replied: "obyectivi." I asked them to explain what it means. Again, looking at me like I was deaf, senile, crazy or all three, they repeated: "obyectivi!" And again, I asked for an explanation in Hebrew.

No great surprise that none of my students had the foggiest idea of what "obyectivi" or "objective" means. So of course I made them look it up in the dictionary, which I'm always telling them is their "best friend." But I was very upset to discover that in this case, their dictionary turned traitor. All that the dictionary said in Hebrew was "obyectivi."

Of course, afterwards I explained to them that "objective" means without opinion. Some of these students are beginning their major in "Tikshoret," Media-Journalism, and they hadn't been taught the principle. (Israeli high school students concentrate on a specific subject as part of their graduation requirements.)

"Objective" isn't the only word being miss-used, at least according to my American sensitivities. Democracy is also one. Israel is an elected dictatorship. Even before Ariel Sharon's reign, we felt a bit uncomfortable with the norms of Israeli government and version of democracy. But the past two years have brought us down further than we could have ever imagined.

Especially as interpreted by Israeli liberals, democracy means that once the government decides something everyone has to be in favor of it. It is immoral to disagree. Of course this applies only when the government decision meets with their approval. If they don't agree with the government there's a moral imperative to demonstrate against. If they do agree with the government, those demonstrating against are "endangering democracy." The liberal Civil Rights activists see nothing immoral in jailing teenagers for blocking roads to protest Disengagement.

If blocking roads is illegal, then Labor Party leader, Amir Peretz should be jailed, because he closed down lots of roads as head of the Histadrut. Now that he has reached "big time" in Israeli politics, things should be getting very "interesting."

I wonder what turns Israeli democracy will now take. It will be a real challenge to pick the facts out of the news, which is so "obyectivi."

Batya Medad, Shiloh
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yitz said...

Oy Batya, you are so right! Despite the truth in every word you wrote, I really liked this one:

"Israel is an elected dictatorship."

Keep up the great work!!!

Batya said...

Thanks, Yitz!

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

Two things. First, "objectivity" sounds great as an ideal, but as a more realistic goal it would be great just having news publishers be open about their biases.

In the old days in America, newspapers didn't have a pretense of being unbiased. They all were, but they were very open about it.

Second, America is NOT a democracy. It is (or was founded as) a republic. The founding fathers of America considered democracy to be mob rule. Every democracy in history eventually transformed into a dictatorship.

Consider this very apt quote, attributed to Benjamin Franklin:

"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.
Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote."

Batya said...

nothing like Ben Franklin

Anonymous said...

I'll add to what Shimshon wrote:

"My (US Media) pain's stronger than your (Israeli Media) pain." or at least equal to ... lol.

Here in the US we just had a long term Congressman and Military career man (Rep. Murtha) propose (read: scream) a "non-binding" resolution for "Immediate Troop Withdrawal from Iraq."

Suddenly, and equally "surprising", the Opposition called for a vote on the "non-binding" resolution.

403 to 3 Against the "non-binding" resolution. Sun Tze would call that a billboard.

Just some weeks ago, and "before" Rep. Murtha's resolution, Sistani in Iraq publicly mentioned "timetable." After the US vote, on the "non-binding" resolution, that Maniac in Iran made a similar remark about cooperating with Iraq after Coalition "withdrawal." Here in the US the Cable News networks bristle with the topic of withdrawal/timetables.

Who is writing the script for all?

John (postsoviet)

yitz said...

With all due concern for American soldiers' lives, we HERE IN ISRAEL have it much worse! We don't have only soldiers' lives on the line, but the lives of all our citizens, plus the very existence of the country is at stake. Yet the elected Dictator goes on ignoring everything but HIS OWN interests. Gimme an enlightened monarch any day!

Batya said...

One thing everyone must remember is that in Israel we're all on the front line. We're fighting for survival.

Anonymous said...

I am Well Aware that Israelis are On The Frontline. Very Aware.

I wrote about such and then "virtually" archived the words in several places on the Internet. Also I have sent mass mailings to webloggers, media and Univ. media.

Below is one website that allowed comments at length and as yet has never deleted anything posted and I have no other relation to this website or their opinions on anything:

(Scroll down, edits most recent are prefered by the author.)

What I was alluding to, in my comment, was that Western Government activities and NewSpeak, Media NewSpeak and Middle Eastern NewSpeak could have been written in the same office at the same time, by all appearences. Coincidence has limits.


Batya said...

It's international. I noticed pre-Disengagement how identical news items were all over. And how somethings weren't mentioned, no matter how important.