Debates, and not just on television, under the auspices of public organizations such as the Movement for the Quality of Government, should be encouraged. Such encouragement should be given, whether debates involve the main, or smaller, parties. (The Israel Broadcasting Authority would be obliged to broadcast the debates, while the other broadcasting bodies would be permitted to decide for themselves whether or not to broadcast them.)
Debating format would be flexible, to be determined by the journalistic considerations of the moderator and team of interviewers.
Debates would be conducted only with the full agreement of those involved. It is, however, important to encourage candidates and elected officials to take part in open debates.
Public sensitivity to objective reporting is particularly acute at election time, often engendering systemic pressures to maintain balance at any price; such balance is often artificial and coerced. On the other hand, there are news organs in Western countries that take an explicit, reasoned, stand on elections. With this approach, each news organ is free to make its own decision, on the basis of a complex, professional assessment process involving comparison of platforms, programs, personal abilities, and records. Whoever is found most fit for office is endorsed by the newspaper or broadcasting organization. This is not necessarily a clear-cut declaration of support, but rather a presentation of the relative strengths and liabilities of the contenders. Such a comparison would lead to media coverage more focused on substantive matters, and less on the marginal aspects of a campaign.
Recommendations It is suggested that the news media, particularly journalists, consider the approach practiced in the West, of making explicit, reasoned endorsements, on the basis of a systematic comparison of platforms and candidates. It should be made clear that such endorsement has no bearing on day-to-day campaign coverage. Permitting endorsements may channel the media focus on substantive matters and lead to a systematic examination of the candidates.
An amendment should be made to the Elections Law ensuring that news organs, and above all working journalists, are not punished or in any way hurt, directly or indirectly, by their campaign endorsements.
Prof. Asher Arian (Institute for Democracy; University of Haifa), Prof. Gabby Weiman (University of Haifa), Prof. Gadi Wolfsfeld (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Prof. Dan Caspi (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev), Prof. Charles Liebman (Bar-Ilan University), Dr. Yoram Peri (director, Haim Herzog Institute for Communication, Tel-Aviv University)
Haim Herzog Institute for Media, Politics and Society, Gershon Gordon Faculty of Social Sciences, P.O.B. 39040, Tel-Aviv 69978