For a country that lauds itself as the Middle East's only true democracy, press freedom in Israel has taken a blow in recent times.

This year, the US NGO, Freedom House, downgraded Israel's status from "free" to "partly free", citing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to take on the portfolio of minister of communications as part of their reasoning.

Netanyahu is trying to change the game in a way that takes us far away from what a democracy should be.

Anat Balint, media scholar, Tel Aviv University

The prime minister paints himself as a victim of a hostile press - even though the country's most widely read newspaper, Israel Hayom, largely sings his praises and is bankrolled by US billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who is happy to run the paper at a loss as long as it props up Netanyahu.

It all began in September 2015, when Netanyahu cancelled all press events owing to his mistrust of journalists. Instead, he decided to bypass them by uploading a video on his social media accounts entitled "Things you won't hear in the media".

"Netanyahu found himself in a battlefield, in which he was the target and snipers came from the media, with cameras and without cameras. Most of the journalists in Israel dislike him. And most of the media in Israel are not really favourite for Netanyahu. Since the media is not really objective, he thought that he might find ways to make it subjective, but for his purpose," says Yoaz Hendel, head of the Institute for Zionist Strategies.

Taking on the communications minister portfolio "is kind of strange, because you would expect the prime minister to care more about [the] security of the country or foreign affairs of the country, but apparently, Netanyahu thinks that the most important issue is dealing with reporters," says Tal Schneider, an independent journalist and blogger.

Israel is currently awaiting the launch of a new public broadcaster to replace the existing authority whose appeal and credibility have long been in doubt. But, although the new channel was planned by one of Netanyahu's ministers in 2014, the PM and his allies have launched attacks in recent weeks that threaten to strangle it at birth. Netanyahu's supporters accuse the new channel of being hijacked by people whose agenda is leftist and anti-government.

"What should have been a public and very open broadcasting authority is becoming more one-sided, with people especially in the management, and in the places that they can influence the overall content, in a way that we are receiving something that is even worse than what we have now," says Yariv Levin, Israeli minister of tourism.

Anat Balint of Tel Aviv University, says: "The aim here is to maintain political power over the public media, so the public media does not belong to the public, it belongs to the prime minister."

'The Listening Post's Will Yong travelled to Israel to hear from critics and supporters about how Benjamin Netanyahu has become Israel's man of the media.

Source: Al Jazeera