(JNS.org) Media commentators slammed the U.S.-based Freedom House NGO for downgrading its designation of the Israeli media from “free” to “partly free” in its 2016 Freedom of the Press report.
Israel was ranked 65th worldwide in media freedom, with a score of 32 points on a 0-100 scale (with 0 being most free and 100 being least free).
“Israel declined from ‘free’ to ‘partly free’ due to the growing impact of Israel Hayom, whose owner-subsidized business model endangered the stability of other media outlets,” the report said, noting that the newspaper “is owned and subsidized by Sheldon Adelson, a wealthy American businessman who is openly aligned with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his conservative Likud Party.”
Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post quoted former George W. Bush administration official Elliott Abrams as saying, “Israel Hayom was founded in 2007 to provide Israelis an alternative to the left-leaning press. It has become the widest-circulation newspaper in the country, not just because it is free, but because so many Israelis want an alternative view. To say that Israel is suddenly only ‘partly free’ because it now has a popular center-right newspaper is malicious and ignorant.”
In 2014, Israel Hayom’s business model was targeted by a proposed Knesset bill that tried to ban the distribution of free print newspapers in Israel. Had that bill succeeded, “Freedom House and other media monitors would have had good reason to question Israeli press freedom, since the bill targeting Israel Hayom would have amounted to a legislative bill of attainder that would have silenced one of the few mainstream alternatives to left-wing political orthodoxy,” wrote Commentary magazine’s Jonathan Tobin.
“But fortunately,” he wrote, “the effort failed and, after Netanyahu’s third consecutive election victory and the formation of a right-wing majority government, this genuine threat to press freedom is no longer on the table.”
Regarding the state of freedom of the press in the Jewish state, Tobin further noted, “Israel, which has far more active newspapers per capita than most democracies, remains a country where critics of the government and of the country, in general, have no trouble in being heard on radio and television or in finding space in general circulation publications. Indeed, it is often far more difficult to find those who back Israel’s government or its current prime minister than it is to encounter his opponents in the media. In that respect, the Israeli press tilts even further to the left than that in the United States.”
***Full disclosure: JNS.org has a content distribution partnership with Israel Hayom and receives financial support from the newspaper's owner, Sheldon Adelson.