Israeli media must ensure equal representation for all

Nazareth

Sikkuy's Edan Ring laments the almost non-existent representation of Israel's Arab minority in the media.

Among the many reports that flooded the media in Israel on International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, a surprising report was also hiding on the NRG website. The site, which is owned by the Makor Rishon group, reported that it had adopted a new code of ethics regarding the coverage of sex crimes and violence against women and female minors, so that news coverage would focus on the abusive man rather than the woman under attack.

This commendable step, which will include the use of pictures of violent men in place of illustrations of the victims and interviews with girls who were attacked, follows in the wake of a common trend among women's organizations in Israel and worldwide, who combat violence against women. They are demanding action to promote deterrence and switching the focus to abusive men, and not just treatment and rehabilitation of battered women, which until recently was the main focus of their activity.

It's still too early to say whether NRG's step will pave the way and lead to similar action by other popular Israeli websites, which have the power to exercise great influence on the public discourse and public opinion. But it proves that self-regulation and an initiative by media outlets for social change is possible, sometimes even at the expense of ratings. But still the question remains - why limit this kind of activity to the specific area of abuse of women and the status of women? To the extent that the media outlets are aware of their power to create a discourse and to influence opinion, and are willing to take a stand, they should do so on broader issues as well - for example, how the patently unequal representation of the various minority groups in Israeli society influences the face of society and relations within it.

Towards the end of 2015 many minority groups are still almost entirely excluded from the tribal campfire of the Israeli media. At the top (or bottom) of the list is the Arab minority, which constitutes one-fifth of the Israeli public, and in addition to being the most significant minority group, also has particularly fraught and sensitive relations with the Jewish majority.

At Sikkuy we examined the representation of Arab experts and commentators in the Israeli media in their coverage of the terror attacks in Paris. We found that in the first 48 hours after the attacks about 23 different experts and commentators were interviewed on the three main television channels - but although the discussions were mainly about extremist Islam and the Arab world, not a single expert was an Arab. We are not referring to an interview with an Arab spokesman as a representative of Islam or the Arab public, but as an expert with the authority and ability to comment on the events.

Although there are Arab experts who research these subjects in various Israeli institutions, not a single one was invited to speak during the course of the dramatic coverage, which received high ratings. And when that is the case when it comes to such issues, it is easy to imagine the level of representation of Arabs as expert interviewees and commentators on "softer" topics such as science, health, environment, society and culture. One big zero.

The nonexistent representation of the Arab minority in the media, especially on subjects that are not related to conflict, and especially for offering authoritative commentary and analysis, has a direct effect on the ability of the Jewish public to see them as partners to the public discourse and to Israeli society in general.

This situation could be handled by means of government regulation, as the Second Authority for Television and Radio council has recently begun to do regarding the issue of the exclusion and the representation of women in the media outlets. But the media outlets should begin already now to handle the situation on their own and to set rules for themselves that would be in line with their place and their influence on Israeli society. Someone is already proving that it's possible.

Edan Ring is Director of Public Affairs and head of the Arab Media Representation Project at Sikkuy the Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on December 13, 2015

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2015

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