Sunday, June 13, 2004

Orly's "Affair" - A Media Comment

Orly's "Affair"

By Yisrael Medad and Eli Pollak

Orly Vilnai-Federbush doesn't work anymore as a reporter for the Israel Broadcasting Authority's Channel One News. Her new job will be to host the Bulldog program on cable Channel 8. And therein lies a media affair.

Orly, 31, daughter of Kol Yisrael's Shimon Vilnai, was a rising star. Her beat these last few years was the social welfare scene, its personalities, events and agencies, prominently the Histadrut. She had made several
important contributions to the highlighting of various socio-economic concerns that only a two-minute exposure on national television can help solve even if the full background of the story is limited.

A few months ago, when she was moved over to the legal news coverage, what most would consider a normal rotation, the protests erupted. Vilnai-Federbush did not want to move. The Histadrut raised a ruckus. Amir Peretz, who happens to be an opposition politician and of late, a returnee to the Labor Party, as well as the Na'amat organization, felt that they had lost a direct link to hundreds of thousands of media consumers who were to be denied being the recipients of their press releases via Vilnai-Federbush's TV clips.

She did not want to leave the IBA. Her friends tried to defend her. Esther Herzog wrote in an op-ed column in Ma'ariv that "Vilna'i Federbush should be respected for her foregoing a high salary, stature and publicity just for
the sake of her professional and social honesty." Ma'ariv newspaper's Shavuoth magazine highlighted her story on the front page, under the heading "Orly is taking off her gloves". Other dailies also played up the controversy.

Vilnai-Federbush thought that she has a secret weapon that would safeguard her position. She had been illegally transferred, she claimed, due to the political considerations of her bosses, notably Joe Barel, D-G of the IBA. She stated that she had been instructed to go easy on Meir Sheetrit, Minister in the Treasury, especially since the IBA's budget was up for consideration. And she had proof - tapes that had been surreptitiously recorded. One transcript she released contained this line: "I'm fed up with your behavior, you are a spoiled brat who doesn't do what your directors tell you to do".

Was Orly Vilnai-Federbush forced out illegitimately? Are the directors of IBA evil people?

As a reporter, Vilnai-Federbush made a big splash in reporting Vicki Knafo's march and subsequent sit-in outside the Ministry of the Treasury. However, as later revealed, she did not think it out of the ordinary nor unethical
not to let the viewers know that the single mothers mostly did not, as was being reported, walk all the way from Mitzpeh Ramon, Yerucham and other cities to Jerusalem. "It is nit-picking," she said, "to broadcast that the women really didn't march. If someone gave them a lift, that really isn't important." Would she have reacted in the same way when Gush Katif people marched to the capital? Would it also have been a non-starter when people on a hunger strike are caught eating?

As Chanan Amior reported in The Seventh Eye media review, issue 46, Vilnai-Federbush would also not have publicized that Knafo's son was in prison had she known. The story of how Vicki Knafo was a front woman for a radical group of social activists, of how she received support and backing
and the extent of the "planned spontaneity" of her protest was censored by Vilnai-Federbush in an act that we consider to be unprofessional editorial usurpation.

Vilnai-Federbush has a history of "errors" and is a recalcitrant offender. Back in November 2002, she broadcast an incorrect item relating how the Rabbinate causes the destruction of agricultural produce for the "Priestly" tithe, a tithe that actually does not exist. She also include a misquotation of the Chief Rabbi. In other instances, she did not give government ministries attacked in her reports the right of retort. In a
recent story, she "left out" that a jailed debtor owned several trucks.

The charge that IBA reporters are pressured to kowtow to politicians is an old one. After all, senior IBA directors are political appointees. It so happens, though, that subsequent to her accusations, 22 IBA news reporters
felt it necessary to sign and make public a letter denouncing Orly's claims they were working in an atmosphere of fear, among them: Geula Even, Ayala Hason, Yigal Ravid and Oded Granot.

There is no justification for a bureaucrat's attempt to protect his budget by offering favors. But Orly Vilnai-Federbush's journalistic failings have nothing to do with this. Unfortunately, she had chosen the path of other IBA
persona such as Daliah Ya'iri, Shelly Yechimovitz and Carmela Menasheh who have exploited the microphones they speak through to advance personal ideological and political agendas.

Orly has had her fling. The public now should receive unbiased news.

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