At the beginning of my last school year, somewhere around September 2017, I read an article published in the Jerusalem Post that headlined “Does the politicization of Israeli journalism pose a threat to democracy.” The article discussed the increasing number of government-bought advertising pages within print media and journalism and whether this would compromise one of the most fundamental principles of a democracy: the free press.
This got me thinking — what is Israel’s journalism industry actually like, and how does it compare to what I have been exposed to here in Toronto and Canada?
As an Israel Engaged Campus intern at Hillel Ryerson, I began to pay attention to the parallels and differences in the journalism industry in Canada and Israel. Talking with Or Weiss, Hillel Ryerson Israel Fellow, she explained how the Israeli journalism industry worked. Then we compared it with what Canadian journalists produce. Later, the Hillel Ryerson team connected me with journalists who have worked in Israel and Canada.
Israel and Canada are similar in many ways, but undeniably different in others. Both are western democracies that give their people many liberties that come with such a government. On the other hand, their geographical context is extremely different. While Canada’s only border is the United States, Israel neighbours many countries who seek to challenge its daily existence. Considering Israel’s geographical context, its media reflects the conflict and tensions of living in such a society. Most notably, this is reflected on where media outlets find themselves on the political spectrum.
Israel has six popular news outlets. Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom are among the most read in Hebrew, and the Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, i24, and Times of Israel are aimed at an English-speaking audience. While all are known to produce good and reliable journalism, they each find themselves in a different spot on the political spectrum.
This is probably the biggest difference between Israeli journalism and Canadian journalism. Israel’s political climate calls for very differing perspectives on just about everything. And news outlets respond to this. Though it may be a broad generalization, individuals who generally find their views are more left-wing are more likely to read Haaretz, and those who see themselves as more right-wing will read the Jerusalem Post. For the Hebrew outlets, Yedioth Ahronoth is known to criticize Israel’s current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, while Israel Hayom is a big supporter of him.
While much of my journalistic education has revolved around the technicalities of producing good journalism, we also study the ethical boundaries in our work. This includes retrieval of particular information, keeping objectivity, and avoiding compensation from those we write about. But the extent to which journalists and media houses keep to these ethics varies.
It is undeniable of course that being objective has spurred many debates, and the possibility of being completely objective is often questioned. As a result, many news outlets have, by default, a clear place on the political spectrum. In Israel, this is especially true.
As a consumer of news, no matter which country you find yourself in, it is important to understand where a given outlet stands on the political spectrum. The press has the power to influence its readers through their content, including the topics covered and the voices that are interviewed in the stories. But the political stance goes beyond the content produced and includes the advertisements featured, as discussed in the Jerusalem Post article I referenced earlier.
News networks make much of their income from advertisements. This is true for Canadian and Israeli journalism. But as the Jerusalem Post article pointed out, the power of influence can creep in through advertisement sales as well. When an individual consumes news, they are by default exposed to advertisements. In Israel, if government-bought advertisements represent the majority of ads in any particular issue, it could be concerning to how intertwined with the government, and therefore how independent and free, the press actually is. While I can’t comment entirely on the validity of this, it strikes as an important reminder to pay attention to what advertisements are being shown in which networks and how this is influencing the way in which we consume news.
Beyond all of this, however, journalism in Israel is unique. I spoke to a communications graduate from Max Stern Yezreel Valley College, Or Weiss, who explained that while news outlets in Israel may have political divides, in times of war, they come together. During war or headlining operations, there exists an unspoken rule in Israel where the first few days of any such activity are supported by news outlets — no matter where they find themselves on the political spectrum. The reason? To keep the morale of Israelis and their readers high. If we go back to the topic of Israel’s geographical context, the country finds itself in situations much different from that of Canada. While the idea of the press supporting certain government actions may be seen as unethical, it seems journalism in Israel has had to adapt to its reality.
Whether you are reading this in Toronto, Israel, or elsewhere, the journalism industry as a whole has been experiencing some obstacles. Much of this is due to the practice of journalism being accessible to many more people through the Internet, people posting unverified information, and the influence of particular governments. However, the press is vital to a strong democracy and the need for news is ever present. In today’s climate, it is important to understand where you consume news and to read multiple sources to understand all sides.
Taking on this role as the Israel Engaged Campus intern deepened my connection to Israel and pushed me to understand the two worlds of journalism. Based on my experience, I recommend that others get to know their Hillel staff and see everything that they’re able to offer.
Read more of the article here: https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/The-Government-Media-Complex-and-Democratic-Freedoms-504344