Media Comment: A decade of freedom

Ten years ago, Israel’s media was dominated by journalists and academics who had a rather narrow definition of press freedom.

COPIES OF ‘Israel Hayom’ and ‘Yediot Aharonot’ are displayed in Ashkelon l (photo credit: REUTERS)
COPIES OF ‘Israel Hayom’ and ‘Yediot Aharonot’ are displayed in Ashkelon l
(photo credit: REUTERS)
 It was 10 years ago this week that the free newspaper Israel Hayom appeared.
In the beginning it was published only on weekdays. After two years its weekend edition was distributed on Fridays. We are proud that Israel’s Media Watch awarded the paper’s founding editor, Amos Regev, the Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism in 2010. As we noted then, the paper changed Israel’s media map. The hegemony of Yediot Aharonot/Ma’ariv/Haaretz was broken. The Israel Hayom editorial line is proud and unapologetic patriotism.
Ten years ago, Israel’s media was dominated by journalists and academics who had a rather narrow definition of press freedom. In accordance with post-modernist ideology, to them a free press is one that attacks and criticizes the government. As if without such (daily) criticism – and it does not matter if it is true and substantiated – their freedom is somehow curtailed.
The flip side is that if a media outlet does not criticize the government, it is suspect for not doing the job the media clique had framed for it. Worse, support or praise of a government is viewed as an anti-democratic act that borders on treason, at least to the profession of journalism. And in the relativism matrix of post-modernism, they deny for others the very “freedom” they champion for fellow journalists and media owners. This attitude is also carried over into media critique columns published in the mainstream press, locking out anyone not toeing the liberal and progressive line.
Israel Hayom suffered from this attitude.
For years, its journalists were shunned by the mainstream media, denying them exposure. They were not interviewed as experts or commentators by the electronic media. The paper’s op-ed articles were ignored. Indeed, Israel’s Media Watch presented the now defunct Israel Broadcasting Authority with statistics showing how the morning headlines came primarily from Ha’aretz and Yediot, and always first, while Israel Hayom was almost nonexistent.
The media called the paper the “Bibiton” (a portmanteau of the Hebrew word for newspaper, “iton,” and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nickname, “Bibi,”), denigrating it for its consistent support for Netanyahu. This is true, the paper did support the prime minister, unabashedly. But Yediot Aharonot supported Ehud Olmert, now a convicted criminal, for many years.
At the same time, it insisted that it was the “newspaper of the country.” The media never took Yediot to task for this, it was not called the “Olmerton.” It was considered to be influential and its journalists were media stars.
But just as the Israelites in Egypt, so with Israel Hayom – “the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and spread.” Israelis are no fools. First of all, who says no to a free newspaper? More meaningful, many subscribers left the old guard of Haaretz and Yediot for Israel Hayom.
The numbers speak for themselves. Today, it is the country’s most read newspaper on weekdays, with 39.2% of the public reading it, 5% more than its rival, and on July 20, TGI announced it had overtaken Yediot in weekend circulation.
The paper’s popularity was so threatening, especially to Israel’s Left, that the Left went on a campaign to pass a law to stop it. Legislation was submitted in 2014 by former minister and now Labor MK Eitan Cabel and sponsored by members of five other Knesset parties which sought to prohibit a full-sized paper published six days a week to be given out freely. Not only that, its price had to be at least 70% of that of competing papers. Yair Lapid, a former Yediot journalist, and his party Yesh Atid voted for Cabel’s bill. The bill garnered support even from Israel’s Right. Ministers Naftali Bennet and Ayelet Shaked of Bayit Yehudi initially supported the legislation, but then were absent at the vote.
There are those who claim that Prime Minister Netanyahu called for new elections in 2015 to prevent Israel Hayom’s closing as it generated his most important support base. If this was indeed the case then there is no better proof of the paper’s essential contribution to Israeli society and democracy.
At the outset, to receive legitimacy, the paper hired known left-wing journalists to provide “balance.” People like Dan Margalit and Mordechai Gilat were paid handily to attire the paper’s pages with their names and left-wing point of view. But after 10 years the paper matured. With the change of chief editors a few months ago, Margalit and others were removed and replaced by unabashed Israeli conservatives such as Amnon Lord, former editor of Makor Rishon, and Akiva Bigman, former editor of the Mida website.
In retrospect, Israel Hayom’s journalistic contributions were not spectacular. It did not “break” the story of Olmert’s criminal acts.
Journalist Yoav Yitzchak and his News1 website had many more spectacular investigative achievements during these 10 years. This is not to belittle the acumen of Israel Hayom’s present editor, Boaz Bismuth, who, as the paper’s chief foreign correspondent, and against the opinion of all his peers, consistently wrote that Donald Trump had a good chance of winning the US presidential election. In fact, it is this politically incorrect point of view which is perhaps the best characteristic of the newspaper.
It is also expressed by Dr. Dror Eydar.
He was an unknown before Israel Hayom.
His consistent writing and commentary, supporting Israeli settlement of Judea and Samaria, expressing the futility of a “twostate solution” and supporting right-wing legislation against foreign-funded NGOs and more is slowly but surely conferring celebrity status on him. Over the past few years he has been invited time and again as a commentator and presenter for Israel’s electronic media. Not enough, not as much as Yediot’s people, but he’s getting there.
The paper also provides former justice minister Yossi Beilin, one of most important persons responsible for the Oslo Accords and the leader of the Geneva Initiative, with a platform to express his leftwing views. And even though supports Netanyahu it does not keep its readers in the dark about his negative actions.
Israel Hayom’s founding editor Amos Regev wrote in the paper this past Sunday: “The past decade was a fantastic journey ... it entailed daily hard work in a media market, facing a blunt, coarse and cynical monopoly... of those who consider that they are the sole thinkers... opposing a left-wing media which idolized the peace process and is not willing to listen to any other opinion.”
He summarized the paper’s ethos: “At Israel Hayom we always remember that first and foremost we are Israelis and that the State of Israel is the only state of the people of Israel and a red line defends her – the IDF, police and other security organs.”
Israeli society should be grateful to Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson for giving us such an important present without which Israel would not have a truly free press.
We wish Channel 2’s Gilad Shalmor a full recovery from his severe beating incurred while covering rioting in Jaffa.
The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch (