Listening Post

Israeli media: When the papers run dry

How one free paper is threatening the country's oldest publications and reshaping the political landscape of the press.

Last updated: 20 Jan 2014 09:13
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Israelis are news junkies: In a country with only eight million people, there are 13 daily and at least 90 weekly newspapers.

It's my estimate the paper loses about $10m a year. But I don’t think it bothers Adelson, I’m sure he is prepared to invest many more years, and a lot more money to keep Benjamin Netanyahu in power. Anything to prevent a liberal, moderate, peace-loving policy towards the Arab world.

Doron Galazer, former Ma'ariv editor

But these days the newspaper market is looking distinctively unhealthy as a crisis in the Israeli press threatens several of the country's oldest publications.

Like much of the rest of the world, it is also feeling the pain as the digital revolution takes over and revenue slows. Media experts say that market competition and a tendency to buy political influence through media ownership have crippled the once thriving newspaper market.

But long gone are the days when newspapers were the 'go to' source for information.

Ma’ariv, one of the country's oldest newspapers, is close to bankruptcy and Haaretz, Israel's only liberal daily broadsheet, is in decline.

And many want to put the blame on one man: Sheldon Adelson, an American casino mogul with close ties to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In 2007, Adelson launched a free newspaper, Israel Hayom. It is now the most widely read paper in the country and its effect on the market is being felt acutely.

In addition to flooding the market with a free, competitive alternative with very cheap advertising, Israel Hayom may also be helping reshape the political landscape of the press in Israel.

There is an old expression that applies to news, among other industries: You get what you pay for. Israelis are paying nothing to read Israel Hayom and that free paper is thriving. But its success comes at a price - a hefty price that's being paid by Israel’s other papers, and that its citizens may end up paying for years to come.

The Listening Post’s Flo Phillips reports on what this trend means for traditional journalism and print politics in Israel.

Listening Post can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Saturday: 0830, 1930; Sunday: 1430; Monday: 0430.

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