When will the free fall of the Israeli media end?
As "Ma’ariv" teeters, journalism expert Rafi Mann tells of crisis in Israeli media industry.
Maariv is seen on the newspaper's building in TA Photo: Reuters/Nir Elias
Ma’ariv narrowly averted closure this weekend when Shlomo Ben-Zvi, the publisher
of Makor Rishon, bought it in a last-minute deal. Channel 10 has lost over NIS 1
billion since it went on the air in 2002 and may fold by February unless it
finds a way to pay some of its debt. Other Israeli newspapers have also let
employees go recently.
What is happening to Israeli media and when will
the free fall end? Rafi Mann, a journalism expert who lectures at the Ariel
University Center of Samaria and the Hebrew University, and is a commentator at
Ha’ayin Hashvi’it (“The Seventh Eye”), an online journalism review, has some
In an interview on Sunday, held at the same time that Ma’ariv
employees were to stage a protest against expected layoffs outside their office
in Tel Aviv, he said many of the travails the local media industry is going
through are universal.
“The Israeli press has similar problems to that in
the Western world,” Mann said. “The economic model for newspapers has been
shrinking over the past 20 years. Mostly because of the Internet; not only,
though it is the most important factor.”
The biggest blow for print
journalism has been the loss of ad revenue. Advertisers were once wary of the
Internet but now it is their preferred way of reaching the public, Mann said. As
a result, annual revenue from newspaper ads in the US dropped by $40 billion
between 2000 and 2010. “It’s still a $20b. market, but it used to be three times
as big,” he said.
Revenue from online ads has not come near to making up
for the drop, leaving newspapers high and dry.
Of course, the Internet
has also taken away readers, not just advertisers.
“Younger people prefer
to get their news from news websites, which are free,” he said.
trends aside, a few local peculiarities have brought the industry in Israel to
its knees, namely, Israel HaYom, the freebie paper that is the pet project of
Jewish- American billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Since it first began being handed
out gratis at street corners and train stations five years ago, it has become
the most widely read daily in the country.
Mann said its advent was a
mixed blessing. On the one hand, it gave the Right –which is underrepresented in
the media – a voice. On the other, the apparently huge losses Adelson has been
willing to incur have made it impossible for others to compete.
Adelson sinks into the paper is not known.
Ben-Zvi, the investor who
bought Ma’ariv and used to print a daily with Adelson before their partnership
ended acrimoniously, has stated in a court deposition that he estimates the
American casino mogul is losing $3 million a month.
“It cannot be
profitable,” Ben- Zvi is on the record as saying.
While the finances of
Israel HaYom are unknown, the effect it has on an already saturated and
declining industry is clear.
Mann said Adelson could not have given a
better gift to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whom he staunchly
“If Adelson would have given a direct donation to Netanyahu it
might be a matter for investigation,” he said.
What does the future hold
for Israeli journalism? Mann said he does not know but it is probably not a
“It is hard to focus because of changes in technology,” he
said. “It’s not like the way it used to be when television took 15 years to sink
in. The changes are so rapid.”
Mann said his students who hope to find
jobs in the industry after they graduate are worried.
work in journalism until they become specialists and then go on to work in
public relations or something else,” he said.