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The Narrowing of Israeli Journalism

Sheldon Adelson, Israeli media, and the shrinking voice of the left

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Sheldon Adelson in 2012(Bloomberg)

The news in Israel has become news itself. In recent months, much hand-wringing about the narrowing (or death) of Israeli journalism has been taking place as prominent Israeli papers shutter, cut back staff, and limit resources more than ever before.

The most frequently cited culprit for this? Sheldon Adelson, whose free daily paper Israel Hayom has cornered the market by courting readers and lowering advertising prices. Hayom‘s success (40% of the market) has put long-operating Israeli papers like Maariv and Haaretz on precarious financial footing.

So what’s the big deal? Well, Israel Hayom trumpets the word of the political right wing in Israel as the paper slays its liberal competitors. The popular perception of the paper has earned it the moniker Bibi Iton or Bibi’s Newspaper among Israelis. Israel’s media, which has a tradition of openness and a reputation for lacerating its public officials, appears to be vitiating under the weight of Israel Hayom‘s success. Today, even NPR is ringing the alarm.

Earlier this month, Israel’s only broadsheet left-wing daily, Haaretz, announced it would not publish a newspaper for the first time in three decades. Maariv is currently being run by a court-appointed trustee who has been ordered to keep the paper afloat for several weeks until a decision is made on its future.

Didi Remez, a left-wing activist, says that in addition to flooding the market with a free, competitive alternative, Israel Hayom has managed to change the political landscape of the press in Israel.

“The big difference is the concept of objective reporting,” Remez says. “Newspapers have agendas and those agendas are very clear in the news pages.”

David Weinberg, a columnist for Israel Hayom, while conceding that the free distribution of the daily has influenced readers to switch, also placed the blame elsewhere. In addition to calling out other papers for their focus on soft news and celebrity obsessions, Weinberg called the subscription switches ideological. (On his site, Weinberg includes a thoughtful rebuttal from Ori Nir.)

Readers also edged away from Maariv, Yediot and Haaretz because of the deep gap that opened between the left-wing ideological viewpoint peddled by these publications and the healthy, increasingly conservative instincts of the Israeli public. These papers idolized Shimon Peres and his “new Middle East,” puffed up Yasser Arafat and promoted the Oslo process long after its failure was clear, and they lionized Ariel Sharon and pumped for Gaza disengagement while ignoring Sharon family corruption.

Yediot and Haaretz also regularly dump on Jerusalem, Israel’s largest city, as medieval and backwards while exalting Tel Aviv as cool and cultured. They sneer at Orthodox Judaism and mock religious Jews. They disparage Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with savage vehemence and fanatical constancy. Not a month goes by without Yediot conjuring up some nasty, cockamamie story about Netanyahu’s wife, Sarah. For Haaretz, Israel can do no right and the Palestinians can do no wrong.

The growing popularity of Israel Hayom, beyond the fact that it’s free, may also have something to do with the fact that the Israeli left seems to be in permanent tatter. That said, I’ve always thought that the Israeli ability to self-criticize is an incredible sign of strength, especially for a country that faces so many external threats. It’s vital that the discourse remain open.

A Debate on Israel Hayom and Democracy in Israel
[David Weinberg]
Sheldon Adelson Shakes Up Israeli Newspaper Market [NPR]

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Afrayedknot says:

Of course NPR is sounding the alarm. Without Haaretz, it won’t have a readily accessible English language source for it’s anti-Israel news stories.

It is, of course, not surprising that the Left blames Adelson for their journalistic demise. Leftism means never having to take responsibility for anything. Besides, there are plenty of ultra-wealthy leftist Jews – let folks like Remez hit up Daddy Sorosbucks to fund an Israeli journalistic hairshirt.

dansblog says:

A few obvious points:
1) It takes quite some chutzpah to characterize the arrival of a new, free, popular newspaper with a previously little-represented political point of view as “narrowing” Israeli journalism.
2) “Even” NPR? I listened to the report, and there was literally not a single moment in their story that wasn’t uniformly hostile to Adelson, Netanyahu and Yisrael Hayom. No indication was given that this was in any way an abnormal practice–and, indeed, one-sided championing of left-wing causes and denigration of right-wingers is completely standard in NPR “news” reports. Why would an organization dedicated to the premise that its own viewpoint, alone among news sources, deserves government subsidy behave otherwise?
3) Neither the NPR story nor the Tablet item gives any hint that newspapers are in trouble throughout the world, as the Internet drastically lowers the barrier to news content publication, thus cutting into the big dailies’ local monopolies/oligopolies. Blaming Sheldon Adelson may be fun for his Israeli political opponents–as blaming Rupert Murdoch is for their liberal American counterparts–but Ma’ariv’s and Ha’aretz’s (not to mention the New York and LA Times’) troubles go way, way deeper than one deep-pocketed American news patron.
4) As for the “Israeli ability to self-criticize”, the Israeli press is as famous for coddling its favored politicians (“like an etrog”, I believe, is the expression) as for savaging its disfavored ones. Effective self-criticism requires a genuine pluralism of voices–and the demise of the old Israeli newspaper oligopoly, and the rise of the Internet, will go a long way towards protecting that, irrespective of Sheldon Adelson or Yisrael Hayom.

    Sara Ivry says:

    Regarding point 3 – I respectfully disagree. The reporter definitely said newspapers throughout the world are in trouble.

Marcelo says:

What a joke. A single right-wing daily appears and succeeds, and suddenly the Israeli media, which is overwhelmingly leftist, cries foul. Talk about intolerance…

The author says “……I’ve always thought that the Israeli
ability to self-criticize is an incredible sign of strength…..” How right you are my friend, only now, it’s going to be the lefties that feel the heat. Sometimes the universe needs a little balance.

I live in Israel, and occasionally read Haaretz.
The standard apology of Haaretz readers is, “I read it for the ‘Gallery’ culture supplement, but never open the opinion pages”
or “Every now and then, I want to read correct Hebrew (unlike Yediot)
or ” I really am not interested in which reality show star, just had 4 liters of silicon injected in each breast”

Haaretz made the wrong business decision of despising its own potential readers, as being fascists.
Maariv and Yediot made the business mistake, of trying to mix lower class trash culture, with the uber-PC political blinders, of their elitist editorial staff. Morever, these newspapers, plus the 2 private TV stations are all owned by a narrow click of “tycoons”, who use the press to promote their business interests and terrify politicians.

Haim Saban and Arnon Milchin, both Israeli American billionaires closely tied in with Peres and the Israeli left, owned Channel Two and Chanel Ten TV. They used their duopolistic power, to turn elections, and worse, to demonize anyone who opposed the Oslo and Disengagement fiascoes, and their entailing massive loss of life.

Nat Ben Zimri says:

Read what the Israeli media wants to keep hidden from you regarding Judea and Samaria (West Bank):


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The Narrowing of Israeli Journalism

Sheldon Adelson, Israeli media, and the shrinking voice of the left

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