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April 27, 2016

Freedom House Declares Free Newspaper a Threat to Free Press in Israel

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Sheldon Adelson, Chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corporation, publishes a free newspaper in Israel.

Freedom House, which produces reports about the status of civil society in countries throughout the world, has downgraded Israel in its annual report about press freedom. (This report is not to be confused with its reports on civil society in countries throughout the world, but deals only with freedom of the press.)

Last year, Freedom House placed Israel’s press in the “free” column, but this year it was included in the “partly free” category. The reason for the downgrade is as follows:

Israel declined due to the growing impact of Yisrael Hayom, whose owner-subsidized business model endangered the stability of other media outlets, and the unchecked expansion of paid content—some of it government funded—whose nature was not clearly identified to the public.

This assessment is simply incomprehensible. Yisrael Hayom is a free newspaper owned by Sheldon Adelson. When Freedom House laments that the newspaper has an “owner-subsidized business model,” it is using gobbledygook to condemn Adelson for what numerous other publishers have done throughout history — pay for the production and printing of a magazine or newspaper without making any money off of the publication.

At point, Si Newhouse reportedly lost upwards of $100 million on The New Yorker. Did his decision to keep spending money on the magazine in an effort to increase its readership reduce press freedom in the United States? Really?

Most people regarded Newhouse’s financial commitment to the magazine as a good thing, not an assault on press freedom. Why doesn’t Adelson get the same treatment?

Writing in Commentary, Jonathan Tobin provides some background about the newspaper that allegedly is causing a decline in press freedom in Israel:

Israel Hayom happens to be Israel’s largest circulation newspaper. Newspapers are not always profitable businesses. But its owner, American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, is acting like the press barons of an earlier era in the United States when newspapers were mission-oriented rather than profit machines to be milked. He is determined to provide an alternative to most of the mainstream Israeli media that are as left wing as its American counterparts.

In that sense, Israel Hayom is playing much the same role in the Jewish state as Fox News has done in the U.S. Like Rupert Murdoch and Rogers Ailes, who found an underserved niche of the American media market that just happened to consist of about half of the American people, the same is true of Adelson’s efforts in Israel. In a country that has overwhelming rejected the politics of the left in three consecutive elections has few media outlets that are not at odds with the views of the majority of voters. Israel Hayom filled that void and, not unsurprisingly, has been rewarded with a greater readership than those that tilt to the left.

Tobin also reports that when confronted with Israel Hayom's success, some elected officials worked to promote “legislation that would effectively ban free circulation papers like Israel Hayom.”

Does Freedom House want free circulation newspapers banned so that they will not endanger “the stability of other media outlets”? That’s what its report would suggest.

By portraying the “owner-subsidized business model” as a threat to free press, Freedom House is entering into an absurd realm where publishers who keep non-profitable publications afloat are seen as a threat to a free press.

In fact, owner-subsidized publications are a fact of life in journalism and have been for a long time.

A few years ago, when Chris Hughes attempted to make The New Republic a profitable magazine, John B. Judis, (a former staffer who quit in protest at the departure of Franklin Foer from the magazine) reported that non-profitable publications such as The New Republic, The Nation and The Weekly Standard contributed to the intellectual life of American society. Such magazines, Judis wrote, “won’t make a profit, but with the right owner or owners, they can operate with acceptable losses and play a significant role in American democracy.”

Why can’t Adelson do the same thing in Israel?

Writing at The Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin highlights the stupidity of Freedom House’s decision to punish Israel for the success of Israel Hayom:

Robert Ruby, director of communications for Freedom House, insisted, “Israel, like some other democracies, has hovered on the line between ‘Free’ and ‘Partly Free’ for several years.” He struggled to explain the two rationales for the change.

“The first is the growing economic influence of Israel Hayom, which is distributed free of charge,” he said. “It has affected the economic model and stability of other publications.” In other words, if you are successful, you create an “unfree” press. Maybe the invention of the free Internet or the success of free Twitter and Facebook have made the United States unfree since so many publications have gone belly-up. He could not explain why that phenomenon does not affect the U.S. rating as “free,” but Israel Hayom’s success makes Israel “partly free.” (Previous reports noted the instability in the U.S. media market, but the United States did not lose its “free” rating.)

Freedom House blundered and blundered badly. By portraying the decision of a publisher to subsidize (translation: “spend money on”) a newspaper as a threat to press freedom, the institution revealed an ignorance about the history and business of journalism.

The fact that newspapers are having a tough time turning a profit in Israel, as they are in the United States, does not mean that press freedom is under assault in the Jewish state, as Freedom House would have us believe.


Posted by dvz at April 27, 2016 02:20 PM

Comments

Visit a kiosk in Tel Aviv, and you will find newspapers from almost every country you can think of, in the language of your choice.

We Jews are curious to know what the world is saying, so it's all out there for all to read. We have learned over the course of our long history that the best defense mechanism is to know what the world is thinking and saying.

It would be against our own best interests to censor newspapers and electronic media, something that other societies have failed all along to understand.

We do not close off or limit our sources of information, as information has always been key to our survival...but the "geniuses" and worldwide heavyweights have somehow let this plain fact escape their notice.

But that's okay, fellas 'n gals, continue to create and maintain
your treasured illusions, and we'll to confound you with our simple approach to keeping ourselves informed in all languages and idioms available to us.

Posted by: David Marks at April 27, 2016 05:38 PM

Freedom House?
Does market value equal freedom?
Maybe the papers that are doing poorly simply haven't enough circulation to make them viable. There are also issues of fairness that have become tested by some papers policies to require that desks be filled by opposition elements. For instance putting the Muslim point of view alongside Israeli s allotting "democratically", in some cases compromising genuine factual content and fails to hold Journalists accountable for the sake of PC or the notion ideology is justification for any point of view fails to differentiate between political treatise and reporting the news or what one would hope is the news and not merely a selection of stories based on their ideological worth.
The intellectual worth?
I support CAMERA in part because intellectual worth has come to be of little worth.

Posted by: jeb stuart at April 30, 2016 07:38 AM

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