“You’re miserable, edgy and tired – you’re in the perfect mood for journalism,” author Warren Ellis once wrote, a statement revalidated by recent developments in the Israeli media industry.
The stay of proceedings granted by an Israeli court last week to the Maariv daily came as no surprise to its employees or readers.
Nor is the collapse of a media outlet, especially a printed one, unique to Israel.
Yet, when a paper founded a few months before the State of Israel is about to shut down, the fading state of global print journalism is small consolation. And being a tiny market of concentrated ownership, every paper which closes its doors deals a destructive punch to freedom of speech.
If only it were but Maariv. But Shlomo Ben-Zvi, its publisher, is also dragging down (due to combined losses) a smaller paper, more elitist and right-wing, Makor Rishon. The fact that one of Makor Rishon’s senior authors is columnist Uri Elitzur, a journalist close to Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, hasn’t helped. Nor has the fact that Maariv and Makor Rishon have been considered in recent years to be close to the ruling Likud party and the right-wing Jewish Home party. Damage sustained by the media market, especially in print, is spread across the board. The left-wing daily Haaretz is also mired in financial problems.
Netanyahu will not be hurt if Maariv and Makor Rishon go out of print. The reason is the massively successful market takeover by the daily Israel Ha’yom, owned by Sheldon Adelson. When the Jewish casino billionaire entered the Israeli media market in 2007, his game plan was clear: Printing hundreds of thousands of copies daily, distributing them for free (including home delivery), a shallow editorial line fully supporting every move of Netanyahu and his wife, market-breaking advertising costs and no profit-based business plan.
Adelson’s venture has hurt the other main dailies in Israel. None could base a business model on a monthly loss of $3 million (according to estimates, this is how much Adelson spends on Israel Hayom). This is not a classic business loss. In fact, it’s a political donation of $3 million a month by the magnate to his protégé, the Prime Minister of Israel.
Adelson has also brought a major commercial television station to its knees, by forcing Channel 10 news to publish a lavish apology over an investigative piece about his business dealings. After threatening a huge lawsuit, the directors of Channel 10 gave up without a fight, causing the CEO and the chief editor to quit their jobs in protest.
As if all of the above was not enough, the Israel Broadcasting Authority – a state-owned radio and television network which is severely regulated and answers to a government-appointed minister – is about to undergo a massive reform. The plan calls for shutting down the tv channel and opening a new, leaner one. Journalists who have fallen out of favor with their boss – i.e. the government – might not survive this move.
Several months ago, given a lack of operating budget and government funding, a network of local public broadcast stations were shut down. Thus, within less than six months, the Israeli media industry seems to be a world facing extinction.
No one even talks about job security for journalists (that’s long gone) or about the pension funds and severance pay for the employees of Maariv, Makor Rishon and the local news (employees say that they’ve been denied much of that money). The only thing that remains to be discussed in Israel’s small media industry is the future of freedom of speech when hundreds of journalists are sitting home.
A group of Knesset members sought last week to promote a bill that would forbid flooding the market with free products, as Adelson has done in the past few years. Too little, too late. The law is considered to be politically biased in favor of the veteran, mass circulation competitorYedioth Ahronot, which has been sharply critical of Netanyahu in recent years and has suffered a drop in circulation and revenue since the advent of Adelson’s paper .
As the owner of an independent political blog that has nothing to do with any of the aforementioned media outlets, I could have been satisfied. Less working journalists, more exclusive stories for The Plog, which is independent of commercial considerations and shortsighted government regulators. And yet, the shrinking of the media market is of great concern to me. In addition to the Internet-related woes experienced by all media worldwide, the process in our small market is unfairly influenced from the outside, by a relentless tycoon with bottomless pockets.