To de-legitimize the media is to de-legitimize the institution of democracy

Michael Regenstreif is the editor of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin. In the August 21, 2017 print and online version of the Canadian publication, he writes about attempts by political leaders to de-legitimize the media in both Israel, as well as in the United States. As readers of the Hungarian Free Press know, this important institution of democracy has been under systematic attack in Hungary for the past seven years, so the subject matter is most relevant to us. The author granted us permission to republish this column in HFP.

Michael Regenstreif. Source: Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.

The country’s leader stood in front of a large crowd of fervent supporters and denounced the media as “left-wing” purveyors of “fake news.” The media are “thought police,” he said, and “God forbid if you think differently from them!”

Currently under investigation, he pointed to “an obsessive, unprecedented witch-hunt against me and my family, seeking to overthrow the government.”

We’ve come to expect such statements from U.S. President Donald Trump whenever he holds a campaign-style rally for his supporters. But, it wasn’t Trump speaking at a rally in Tel Aviv on August 9. It was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to a crowd of Likud Party supporters bussed in from all over Israel.

Netanyahu is currently facing two corruption investigations – for allegedly accepting gifts illegally and bribery – which directly affect him, and there are two other investigations in which he could be implicated (see this JTA article). As well, his wife, Sara Netanyahu, is facing investigation for allegedly diverting state funds to pay for personal expenses.

Netanyahu’s response to these investigations, it seems, is to copy from Trump’s playbook of blaming the messenger and attacking the media. And, just as we’ve seen so many times at Trump rallies, members of the media attending the Netanyahu rally in Tel Aviv were subject to threats of violence from some of the prime minister’s more fanatical supporters.

Although their systems of government are different, the United States and Israel are both democracies and in democratic societies leaders must be held to account if they break the law and must face investigation if there is evidence they have broken the law. And, freedom of the press – to report the news and to offer commentary – is an essential component of any democracy. When leaders seek to divert attention from their problems by scapegoating or attempting to discredit legitimate media outlets or media practitioners, they are, in fact, attacking the institution of democracy itself.

Netanyahu insists there is nothing to the corruption allegations, that they are just a “fake news” conspiracy in the same way that Trump insists similarly about allegations of Russian collusion in his 2016 election campaign. And, maybe, that’s what the investigations in Israel and the United States will determine and put the issues and allegations to rest.

However, police and other investigative bodies must do their jobs and the media must report on investigations and findings. Democracy depends on it.

***

Sharon and Bram

In addition to my work in Jewish community journalism, I’ve had many decades of experience as an activist in the folk music community. In the 1970s, I watched several Canadian folksingers become stars making children’s music. Performers like Raffi, Fred Penner, and the Toronto-based trio of Sharon, Lois and Bram have been household names over the past 40 years in almost any Canadian household with children.

Sadly, Lois Lilienstein of Sharon, Lois and Bram passed away in 2015. But, Sharon Hampson and Bram Morrison have continued as a duo – Sharon and Bram – and will be here in Ottawa at the Soloway Jewish Community on Sunday, September 17, 3 pm, for a family concert as part of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa Annual Campaign Kickoff.

Last summer, I was an MC at the annual Montreal Folk Festival on the Canal and introduced Sharon and Bram to an adoring crowd of thousands of kids and their parents (many of whom themselves had grown up on Sharon, Lois and Bram). I’m happy to report that Sharon and Bram have lost none of their magic and held the crowd enthralled for a delightful hour-long performance.

Sharon and Bram’s family concert on September 17 will be a treat, as they say, for kids of all ages.

Michael Regenstreif

3 Comments

  1. With all due respect, the media has done a lot to de-legitimize itself. the MSM’s failure to report the rape and molestation of 1,200 women in Germany in a single night, for five whole days, in order to give the German authorities a chance to try to sweep it under the carpet was the culmination of this process of losing credibility. But there have been many other instances where the MSM has been failing. Extreme bias, partisanship, lack of balance, a stale ideological viewpoint, betraying the overall state of current college education, which produces mostly ideologically-rigid and indoctrinated, mainly leftist-globalist reporters, just to name a few problems. And BTW, compared with what happened and is happening in Germany for instance, i’d have to say that Hungary’s media is not that bad. We certainly never saw it trying to unanimously collude with the authorities in a way Germany’s national media did.

  2. Stranded in Sopron says:

    “We certainly never saw it trying to unanimously collude with the authorities in a way Germany’s national media did.”

    In Hungary the MSM is the “State” so need for “collusion”.
    The Fidesz regime merely sends down “the message” each day and the regime`s lapdogs report it verbatim, regardless of veracity or even logic.

  3. Thanks for sharing Mr. Regenstreif’s thoughts.

    While there are certainly serious problems with the conduct of certain mass media outlets, (the tabloidisation of public affairs, the replacement of investigative news coverage with infotainment, the treatment of campaigns as horse races), the attempt of Machiavellian politicians like Natenyahu, Trump or Orbán, to undermine the independence and legitimacy of critical journalism is far more worrisome.

    It is not a coincidence, that the above named 3 leaders shared the same political strategists – the late Arthur J. Finkelstein, and George E. Birnbaum. Orbán, uses the direct road to the obliteration of critical media. His oligarchs bought up the entire privately owned Hungarian media, with soft government loans. His government controls advertising placements directly or indirectly. Competing wire services have been driven out of the Hungarian market, because the government owned national wire service provides pro-government newsfeed free of charge to everyone. The public media – Radio and TV is entirely under government control.

    In the US and Israel the direct approach, “the Orbán strategy”, is a bit harder to pull off. Political culture is not as pliable, the independence of the judiciary has not been destroyed as yet, some parts of the business class have kept their back-bone. In these two countries, the strategy is to turn people off mass media consumption, to direct the traffic towards social media surfaces where content reliability, and fact based reporting standards are non-existent, where fiction, posing as faction, rules the day. This is the world of Breitbart, and cyber communications, the engines of the Trump phenomenon. Both Presidents are traffic cops, using their bull-horns to undermine the credibility, reputation of the media, in order to turn us into fake-news consumers par excellence.

    The only force that can stand in the way of this assault on our minds is an attentive public, effective political mobilization, and socially responsible journalists. All are in short supply.

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