It was The New Yorker’s Abbott J. Liebling, who also wrote the “Wayward Press”
media critique column, that famously asserted that “Freedom of the press is
guaranteed only to those who own one.”
Journalist Jack Shafer’s 2004
reference to Liebling as having “portrayed the press as a comic circus populated
with evil clowns, union-busting lions, and crookeder than usual carnies
performing inside a tent that could go up in flames at any moment” should be
just as famous.
One has to admit there is a certain contradiction between
the idea that a truly democratic society is dependent on a free unfettered press
and the reality that that same press, which is expected to confront, criticize,
investigate and face down political, cultural and economic power, needs
financial support to exist. Without financial investment and profits, the
private-sector media collapses.
This past week, we learned that the
Discount Investment Group headed by Nochi Dankner will be selling the Ma’ariv
daily newspaper to Hirsch Media head Shlomo Ben-Tzvi, who also publishes the
Makor Rishon newspaper.
Ben-Tzvi founded a cable television channel a
decade ago, Tchelet, but it ceased broadcasting three years later.
later purchased Hatzofe, the National Religious Party’s newspaper for seven
decades and Nekuda, the intellectual monthly of the Council of Jewish
Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, which existed for 30 years.
They were “merged” into the weekly Makor Rishon, which became a daily in 2007
with Ben-Tzvi becoming editor-in-chief.
During the years 2006-7, he
pioneered with Sheldon Adelson the concept of a free daily paper, Israeli, but
it closed, amid litigation.
One immediate challenge faced by the presumed
new owner is the fate of Ma’ariv’s staff. It is expected that no more than 20
percent of those currently employed will be retained. But the more important
issue for the new owner and his editorial management are the attempts already
being made to deny the new Ma’ariv-Makor Rishon professional
Already, the radical anti-Zionist +972 web site has employed
such epithets as “ultra-rightist” and “extremely conservative,” but nevertheless
had to admit that Makor Rishon has “a reputation for high-quality reporting and
The Associated Press, reflecting input from the biased local
Israeli press, described publisher Ben-Tzvi as “hardline religious.”
September 9 column in Haaretz, Peace Now’s Yariv Oppenheimer launched a
political assault. Ben-Tzvi, he wrote, in collusion with Dankner, a crass
financier, was planning “to make Ma’ariv the mouthpiece representing a
one-dimensional world view.” Oppenheimer sees its journalists becoming “servants
of a clear political agenda” forced to dictate “a one-sided, right-wing,
nationalreligious political ideology.”
That Haaretz and Yediot Aharonot
have been mouthing a one-sided, left-wing, professionally unethical opposition
to Binyamin Netanyahu is a fact Oppenheimer conveniently ignores.
Haaretz editorial had a different line, claiming that “the current owner
[Dankner]... bought the paper to promote his economic and personal agenda, [but
that] the purchase of Ma’ariv by a professional publisher who understands the
media business is the right move.”
The objection raised by the editorial
was that the concentration of media outlets into the hands of a few individuals
is harmful to democracy in itself.
THE PRESS scene today, in an open and
robustly democratic Israel, with four newspapers in Hebrew – Yediot,
Ma’ariv/Makor Rishon, Israel Hayom and Haaretz – differs, paradoxically, from
that of the early days of the state when a much more hegemonic Mapai-led
government heavy-handedly dominated public discourse.
Even The Jerusalem
Post was visited at times by Moshe Sharrett, who “assisted” in the composition
of its editorials.
Party organs such as Herut, HaBoker, Davar, Al
HaMishmar, the afore-mentioned Hatzofe and others are no more. The haredi
(ultra-Orthodox) community still manages to maintain several competing
Ma’ariv, until the 1980s, was considered a bastion of Zionist
Revisionism, sympathetic to the Herut party’s nationalist outlook but not its
mouthpiece, before veering to the Left. Moshe Zak, Uri Keisari, Shmuel
Schnitzer, Shalom Rosenfeld and Aryeh Dissenchik, all former members of the
Betar youth movement, were its backbone.
Dosh, its outstanding
caricaturist, drew cartoons for the Lehi underground broadsheet. In the 1960s,
Geulah Cohen and Moshe Shamir joined the paper.
Oppenheimer and others
need not overexcite themselves.
The paper could said to be returning to
Another aspect is that the break-off of Ma’ariv from Yediot
Aharonot early in 1948 was a precursor to the “private economic and marketing
interest vs. the interest of public responsibility” conflict, which is perhaps
again being perhaps out today.
Yehudah Mozes and Azriel Carlebach had a
falling out and Ma’ariv became a paper of journalists, owned by them, rather
than being a commercial money-making venture.
IN 1920, Nikolai Lenin was
quoted as saying: “Why should freedom of speech and freedom of the press be
allowed? ...Ideas are much more fatal things than guns.
Why should any
man be allowed to buy a printing press and disseminate pernicious opinion
calculated to embarrass the government?” The denigration of the sale of Ma’ariv
by far-left figures, whose less-than-honest concern for pluralism and democracy
is merely a facade, is nothing more than reconstituted Leninism.
quoted above, had another observation: “The press-critic racket has been
dominated by liberals and leftists whose critiques have usually owed more to
their political mind-sets than to the media they consume.”
But it is not
the “press-critic racket” here that they dominate but, as had been highlighted
in our columns, too much of the mainstream media, and not only the
privately-owned press but the state broadcasting systems including the IBA’s
television and radio outlets, the IDF’s Army Radio and much of the Second Radio
and Television Authority networks that are either too lax in enforcing their
ethical obligations or actively pursue ideological agendas by exploiting their
microphones and cameras.
In a 2004 book published in Israel, Our Story:
The National Narrative in the Israeli Press, author Ya’acov Yadgar’s thesis was
that between 1967 and 2000 the championing of a national narrative by the press
underwent extensive alteration, from the exclusivist Israeli- Jewish identity
formulation to one more universal, humanist and peace-oriented. His study also
asserts that the journalists exhibited patterns of extreme mobilization in the
furtherance of this change.
This selling and buying of Ma’ariv might very
well break the stranglehold Israel’s elite leftist camp possesses, which is not
only political but also cultural. As detailed in the studies of Haifa
University’s Dr. Eli Avraham, for example, in his 2002 book The Hidden Israel,
the Left has consistently marginalized significant elements of Israel’s
Israel’s Hebrew print scene seems to be changing. We now will
have two post-Zionist-oriented papers and two Zionist-oriented ones. This seems
to be an optimistic message for the New Year. Israeli is maturing, and even its
media is no longer monolithic.
The authors are, respectively, vice
chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch www.imw.org.il.