New Year. Same Story

Dec 31st, 2014 | By | Category: Israel, Public relations

New Year’s Eve, 2014. I am generally quite an optimistic person – trying to look at the positives with a more hopeful look towards the future. As we head out of what was a rough, tumultuous 2014 and into a new year, scanning the news things are looking pretty OK. The Shekel is beginning to recover, gas exploration continues in the Mediterranean, the Afek Oil and Gas Company is going to start searching for oil in the Golan, and the Attorney-General has ensured Channel 10 TV to stay open for another six months at least (not an irrelevant issue). When I opened the paper this morning I saw more good news that involved a reduction in the price of petrol (starting tonight) by 63 Agurot and 10% lower rates on electricity in the New Year. I appreciate even these small positive but mundane issues.

On the other hand however, the most pressing story/stories in the news at the moment, which will last for the next few months, are the national elections scheduled for March. And here is where I stop being so positive. Rather I take a deep breath in, because I know that for the next while, we the public are going to be exposed to every communications trick in the book. It is almost ironic that since living in Israel, I have learned to expect the unexpected. However, when it comes to elections, the next few months are almost completely predictable – at least with regards to what we can expect to read and see in the media. It is this very expectation that makes me rather pessimistic. Those hard pressing issues that are the most critical will be pushed to the middle of the ‘paper’ or half-way down the screen while more stories of corrupt politicians arise, or who is joining which party, will make the top headlines.

When I started studying communications over 20 years ago, it was the end of the Apartheid era in South Africa and we had to examine how the media was used over this dark period in the country’s history. As a young impressionable student, I was shocked to find how the media had been controlled by the State and used to completely influence the local white population. It was a complete turning point for me and I started looking at the media in a very different, more critical way.

After being in this country for almost 16 years – and having experienced several elections, I have an inkling of what I am in for. Every election seems to be the same. The candidates will hire the best strategists and communications specialists. They will look at the polls, shape their messages and try and formulate policies they hope will ensure the votes. They will not just be on the defense but also the attack, condemning their opponents. It has already turned ugly with accusations, ‘accidental leaks’ of up-until-now classified information, political in-fighting, merging of parties and doing a 360 degree turn, switching sides from tough right-wingers to suddenly, soft peace-seeking left ones.

What about the media though? In today’s digital and social media reality, where things appear a lot more transparent, the media poses a bigger danger and has an even greater effect than what it used to. And this is what the politicians are counting on. They understand that if they can control the media, what is being written and discussed online about them, and persuade the opinion leaders, then they will be the winners.

The one piece of silver lining in all this is the Israeli public. They are like no other. They are not gullible and they are not easily manipulated. They have the experience of reality behind them. They have lived through too many wars, too many bombings, buried too many victims, and seen too many corrupt politicians including prime ministers and presidents (who are now in jail), to be influenced easily. So to predict the next couple of months is not so hard. We will see the media machines working at their peak, we will see the politicians battle it out but at the end, democracy will take its course. When it comes down to it, the Israeli public will decide. It will choose the candidate it feels deserves our vote – regardless of all the tactics they use. Hopefully then we can get back to more pertinent issues needed to run this country.

Here’s wishing everyone a good 2015 and a happy New Year.

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