Media in Israel: Politics at Work

July 30, 2021

The involvement of high-placed political figures in the inner workings of the media raises fundamental questions about the legitimacy and integrity of professional journalism in Israel today, according to a new report by CMDS.

The Media Influence Matrix: Israel report finds that Israel has a media law framework that is not yet fully compatible with established democratic regimes. The state’s communication regulations are either anachronistic or lack precision.

The written press and online content are unregulated fields, but they are subject to ad hoc regulations enshrined in the penal and civil codes. Censorship is alive and kicking, the report’s author, Roni Dorot writes.

Most Israeli media enterprises are controlled by a small group of owners and are part of larger conglomerates with businesses in non-media sectors. These private corporate structures, under Israeli law, are not required to publish annual financial statements or make financial disclosures to the government and regulators. As a result, the funding of journalism in Israel is an opaque area.

What is known is that most media enterprises are loss-incurring operations. Research shows that they are not run primarily like for-profit businesses but are used as a means to promote the interests of various powerful players, politicians as well as businesses.

The funding sources in the Israeli media market follow international trends. The largest chunk of revenue comes from commercial funding, state funding, and donations. Digital media see their advertising revenue growing sharply while print advertising continues its dramatic decline.

In terms of technology, the justification for Israel’s “high tech nation” self-image is somewhat outdated. In recent years corporate losses deepened, cash flows were negative, competition intensified, and the country lagged behind global infrastructure innovations. Although Internet penetration rate among the Israeli population stands at 88%, Israel’s internet speed has been in decline in comparison to OECD countries.

Following global trends, Israelis utilize different technological means for various uses of the internet. While fixed telephony demand is in decline, smartphones took over the market with 88% smartphone ownership. Yet, Israel records a specific digital divide among groups like the Arab population and Orthodox Jews. Together with the 65+ age group, these three main segments are easily affected by digital illiteracy.

Israelis get most of their information on political issues from online news sites. The leading social media platforms are YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, which form a central source of political information and have significant power in shaping public opinion. Nevertheless, “fake news” is also circulating fast on these platforms, making disinformation a troubling phenomenon for Israeli society.

The involvement of high-placed political figures in the inner workings of media raises fundamental questions about the legitimacy and integrity of professional journalism in Israel today. Police investigations into these forms of interference prompted Israel’s Attorney General to recommend charges of fraud and bribery against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in three criminal corruption investigations. Coupled with the complicated and unstable political situation, two transitional governments and five different ministers who served in the communications ministry within four years, this trend makes Israeli media a fragile and vulnerable field, the report concludes.

Media Influence Matrix: Georgia is part of Media Influence Matrix, run by CMDS through a global research and advocacy alliance, the Media and Power Research Consortium, which consists of more than 50 organizations, including academic institutions, advocacy groups, journalist networks and NGOs. The main goal of this project is to investigate the profound impact that rapid shifts in policy, funding and technology are having on journalism today. Each country report consists of three studies, covering politics and policy, journalism funding and technology.