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Behind the Headlines Doing It for the Camera Eye

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Israel’s highly developed, aggressive and largely unfettered mass communications media–especially television–is playing an increasing role in political events in the administered territories and inside Israel itself. The camera eye, no longer a dispassionate recorder of events has become, in some cases, their perpetrator.

The presence of TV camera crew assures not only local but world-wide prominence to any group with an axe to grind, be they Arab youths stoning Israeli soldiers on the West Bank, disgruntled port workers blockading the docks at Ashdod, or south Tel Aviv slum dwellers battling police to redress some obscure grievance.

During recent disturbances on the West Bank, charges were make that TV crews paid Arabs to stage violent confrontations for the benefit of their cameras. These charges could not be proven and were strongly denied. But it is clear, nevertheless, that a handful of high school students were able to get world-wide TV coverage by burning rubber tires on the roads and tossing Molotov cocktails. The palls of black smoke, the flaming gasoline cannisters, provide the kind of pictorial material on which TV thrives.

SUCCESS BREEDS IMITATIONS

Success always breeds imitators. It is no coincidence that after the West Bank riots and the clashes in Galilee on March 30 certain groups of Israelis resorted to the methods of the Arab youngsters to attract attention to themselves.

Only last Monday, slum-dwellers in the HaTikvah quarter of southeastern Tel Aviv attacked police with fire bombs and at least one hand grenade which caused injuries to five persons. They also burned tires. The TV cameras were on hand to record these acts of lawlessness for posterity–and the evening news. Wire photos appeared in newspapers all over the world showing helmeted, truncheon-wielding Israeli cops battling civilians. The issue was relatively minor and purely local–the demolition of buildings erected illegally without municipal licenses. But the spectacle of violence was blown up out of proportion by the sensation-hungry media.

Access to the media by staging photogenic violence has led to what can be described only as extortion by some interest groups, several weeks ago, another group of Tel Aviv slum dwellers protested with burning tires and stone-throwing against plans to raze several blocks of illegally built flats to make way for the expansion of the Tel Aviv University campus. These residents had already received fair compensation for leaving the flats and were to be re-located. After the demonstrations they extracted additional payment for carrying out the evacuation.

UPSET BY NEW TREND

The success of such coercive methods can be attributed in part to the extreme sensitivity of local and national officials to criticism since the Yom Kippur War. Many a bureaucrat has closed his eyes to misconduct in order to avoid unpleasant publicity.

Thus, unwarranted payments have been granted to social welfare recipients who invade the welfare offices, slam their fists on the tables and threaten to go to the news media. Or a man, his wife and children will camp outside a governmental office, hang out a placard making some demand or another, and wait for the news photographers and radio interviewers. More often than not the demand will be met, whether justified or not.

Law abiding citizens are increasingly upset by this trend. For those who go through the official channels it can take months or years to get what is rightfully their due. There is no such wait for the “tough guy.” the loud-mouth, the fist-pounder. And if he can get his neighbors to join in a demonstration for the media, red tape disappears like a mirage.

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