The Haim Herzog Institute for Media, Politics and Society
The Media in an Election Campaign:
Lessons and Changes
During the election campaign for the Sixteenth Knesset, a fair number of defects came to light in the functioning and employment of the news media. The recommendations set forth in this report aim to stimulate public discussion, and to bring about changes in legislation and norms of media behavior. It would be a mistake to defer implementation of these changes to the run-up for the next elections; under such circumstances, time would be short and tempers high. The recommendations that follow are based on a number of basic assumptions concerning the news media in a democracy, above all the need to assure a timely flow of information to voters. The assumptions are:
Only informed citizens can fulfill their political obligations in a democracy in a meaningful way.
In contemporary democracies, most of the political dialogue takes place through the media. Such being the case, the news media and journalists must facilitate the flow of political information, permitting the exposure of the public to political messages.
The professional considerations of journalists covering the campaign are to be respected.
Modifications in the Elections (Mode of Propaganda) Law, 1959
The Elections Law was enacted in 1959 and subjected to no fewer than twenty separate amendments. The law was intended for a reality – in the media and in politics – that no longer exists. For example, anxiety about control by a governmental body over the media may have been appropriate at a time when a single broadcasting channel existed. Circumstances have changed. There are now more channels and more platforms for getting messages across; the likelihood of a monopoly over the media has receded. What is particularly difficult, and indeed perhaps impossible, is the requirement that the media refrain from broadcasting or printing news content that consists of election propaganda. High Court Justice Cheshin, chairman of the Central Election Committee, was correct in stating that the task imposed on him which consisted in deciding when remarks by a politician constitutes propaganda, is difficult; it is virtually impossible to determine whether a political statement constitute election propaganda or not. This anachronistic law is in reality constantly violated in every election campaign, on every program on every television and radio channel. Every confrontation between politicians, between their media advisors and spokespersons, in fact constitutes election propaganda. Program moderators and interviewers are rendered helpless in implementing the law.