Let me admit straight away that I have no
sympathy for Sara Netanyahu. Just as the Victorians believed that
children should be seen and not heard, the same is true for the
partners of Israel's political leaders. Although the prime minister's
wife has lowered her public profile during Bibi's current tenure as
prime minister - some would say she's been hidden - she still plays a
powerful behind-the-scenes role in his office and is a legitimate
target of journalistic interest.
is though a weary sense of déjà vu surrounding this latest Sara
Netanyahu scandal. We've been through it all before during Netanyahu's
first premiership: the sacked nannies, dismissed housekeepers, the
temper tantrums and so on.
Back then, Netanyahu supporters were quick to blame his
political rivals for these stories and the same is true today, but now
with a new twist: Netanyahu's defenders also claim that Yediot Aharonot
's breaking of the scandal and the prominent front-page coverage given to it has more to do with the growing competition Yediot
faces from the new newspaper on the block, Yisrael Hayom
, than any serious news agenda. In return, others are describing Yisrael Hayom
, a newspaper that is distributed for free, as a danger to our democracy.
In terms of its rapid growth, there is no doubt that Yisrael Hayom
has been a great success. In its latest weekend edition, it proudly
boasted that it had upped its weekend print run by 100,000 copies, to
350,000. Uniquely for a free newspaper, it offers distribution right to
the reader's doorstep in certain areas, providing a level of service to
rival that of any paid-for newspaper.
So where's the problem? Why is the emergence of a new paper seen by some as a threat to democracy? The answer lies in Yisrael Hayom
owner, US billionaire Sheldon Adelson, for whom money seems to be no
object if it is spent on furthering the political agenda of his friend,
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The closeness of the two men could
be seen at the swearing-in ceremony of Netanyahu's new government, when
Adelson had a front-row seat in the Knesset gallery.
ACCORDING TO its critics, Yisrael Hayom
has only one
aim: to provide Netanyahu with a positive press. They point out that
unlike other Israeli newspapers, it does not need to make a profit
because Adelson is prepared to subsidize its losses from profits from
his property and gambling businesses.
This indeed seems to be true, for there is little, if any criticism of Netanyahu in Yisrael Hayom
while, according to industry insiders, the rates it charges for full-page adverts are far below the norm. Moreover, when Yisrael Hayom
hit the streets during Ehud Olmert's premiership, it was blatantly
hostile to Olmert, with its star commentator Dan Margalit repeatedly
being given space on the front page to call for the former premier's
removal from office.
But then there is nothing new in a newspaper owner sustaining
losses in return for the prestige of owning a newspaper or for the
ability to push a certain political agenda. Many newspapers around the
world, some of them very prestigious, could be defined as vanity
projects, existing only because their publisher derives a nonfinancial
value from his ownership of them.
The novelty of Yisrael Hayom
has been its
success in changing the face of the local newspaper market. For the
first time in decades, a newspaper has sprung up that provides serious
competition to Yediot
's monopolistic domination of the market. At the same time, it is also sounding the death knell for Yediot
's one-time competitor, Ma'ariv
, which is sinking fast. Why pay for Ma'ariv
when you can receive a free newspaper, even delivered to your door, that is almost exclusively staffed by former senior Ma'ariv
To be sure, the disappearance of a newspaper with a proud
history would be a sad development, but then it wouldn't be the first
time this has happened here. Over the past couple of decades Davar
and Al Hamishmar
were forced to close but our democracy has still managed to stay vibrant.
has been on its last legs for a number of years; the emergence of Yisrael Hayom
is merely hastening its demise. And at the same time, somewhat ironically, the right-wing Yisrael Hayom
is actually helping to balance the books at the left-wing Haaretz
, which prints and distributes the paper for Adelson.
is far from a perfect paper. Its uncritical
stance toward Netanyahu (and his wife) makes it a dull read, and
readers will eventually tire of its one-dimensional analyses, but it is
still a welcome development in the media world.
For too long, the Yediot
empire ruled the local media
landscape, something that was neither good for the standards of its
journalism or for Israeli society as a whole. Yisrael Hayom
definitely not the most impressive newspaper ever to come off the
printing press, but it has shaken up a market that had become too
complacent. That in itself is a good thing.
The writer is the former editor-in-chief of
The Jerusalem Post.