||SPOTLIGHT ON ISRAEL|
by Yehiel Limor
The History of the Printed Media
As the twentieth century draws to a close, Israel boasts dozens of newspapers and magazines, catering to a modern, developed and literate society. Especially noteworthy is the important role played by the press in political, social and cultural life.
In 1863, two monthly papers established in Jerusalem, Halevanon and Havatselet, marked the beginning of the modern Hebrew press in the Land of Israel. A year later, they were closed down by the Ottoman authorities. In 1869, newspapers began to appear regularly in Jerusalem, despite strict censorship and low circulation.
World War I halted the publication of newspapers, until the British took control of the country, under a League of Nations mandate. Despite censorship by the Mandatory authorities, the growth of the Jewish population was followed by a rise in the number of privately-owned newspapers, as well as those sponsored by political parties.
When the State of Israel was established in 1948, the activity of the press was not subjected to any particular law, although the Mandatory Press Ordinance had required that newspapers be licensed. Instead, the press has been guided by court decisions, which recognize the importance of a free press and its vital role in preserving democracy.
During the eighties and nineties, the Israeli press underwent a process of significant change, not unlike that which occurred in Europe and North America. The media gradually came to be controlled by a limited number of organizations, whereas the papers published by political parties began to disappear. Today, three large, privately-owned conglomerates based in Tel Aviv dominate the mass media in Israel.
Ha’aretz, founded 1919, is Israel’s oldest daily, enjoying prestige and a reputation for solid, high-level reporting. It is owned by the Shocken media conglomerate which also owns a publishing house and many local papers.
Yediot Aharonot, founded 1939, has the highest circulation – some two-thirds of all Hebrew newspaper readers. Such a circulation is without parallel in Western countries. It is the major component of the Moses family media conglomerate, which also owns a publishing house, produces magazines and local papers and is part owner of a music firm.
Ma’ariv, founded 1948, was for many years the paper with the largest circulation, but it has since lost ground to its rival, Yediot Aharonot. It is owned by the Nimrodi family which also owns a publishing company and a music firm and produces popular magazines as well as local newspapers.
Globes is a financial daily founded in 1983, the youngest of Israel’s daily newspapers. It is privately owned and has already won a place in the business world.
Foreign language papers
Israel is a land of immigrants. This is reflected in the foreign language press that has developed since the fifties and sixties. When immigrants become locals conversant in Hebrew, they read less of the foreign language press; yet several papers continue to appear in Yiddish, German, Hungarian, Polish and Romanian. The large wave of immigrants from the former Soviet Union has led to the growth of the Russian-language press: four dailies and dozens of periodicals are now published in Russian. In a category of its own is the English-language Jerusalem Post, founded in 1932. It is read by English-speaking immigrants, as well as by English-speaking tourists and diplomats. A daily international edition is distributed in North America and a weekly French edition in Western Europe.
Political Party Press
Once flourishing, papers published by political parties are now disappearing in Israel – as has happened in Europe. Today, only three such newspapers remain, intended for religious readers: Hatsofeh, Hamodia and Yated Ne’eman.
Several hundred local papers are published in Israel, most of them weeklies appearing on Friday. Many are owned by the Moses and Shocken conglomerates.
Magazines and periodicals
The hundreds of magazines and periodicals (mainly weeklies and monthlies) published in the country cover a variety of topics, including nature, tourism, computers and sports; some are geared to specific groups, including women, youth and children. The women’s weekly magazine La’isha, owned by the Moses family, has the largest circulation in the country. The Nimrodi conglomerate publishes two weeklies for youth and children, and a women’s monthly, At. The Israel Defense Forces weekly, Bamahane, first published in 1948, is meant for the armed forces, but is also read by many civilians.
Many periodicals are published in languages other than Hebrew, for new and veteran immigrants.
The Arabic Press
One Arabic daily, Al-Ittihad, and many Arabic periodicals are published in Israel. The Arabic press caters to the Israeli Arab population, a large percentage of which also reads Hebrew. Readers include residents of the areas governed by the Palestinian Authority.
The Press Council
The Press Council, established in 1963 on a voluntary basis, functions largely along the lines of the Press Complaints Commission in Great Britain. The council brings together the National Association of Journalists, publishers, editors of the daily press and members of the public. Its goals include protecting the freedom of the press in Israel, maintaining professional ethics, and ensuring free access to information.
The Council’s most important achievement has been the enactment of a code of ethics, intended to serve as guidelines for the press. The council is also the body to which complaints on matters of ethics are referred. It maintains ethics tribunals, which can try newspapers and journalists suspected of practices which violate the code of ethics.
Military Censorship in Israel
Under British Mandate law, all publications had to receive prior clearance from the military censor. Israel neither abolished nor applied this law. In 1948, an agreement signed between the government, the army and the press determined that censorship would be based on mutual agreement in order to prevent breaches of state security. Under the agreement, as subsequently amended, the censor supplies to the press a limited list of topics pertaining mostly to military and security-related issues, but not to political ones. Any news item related to these topics has to be vetted by the censor. This means, in effect, that only a small fraction of the news for publication – only matters pertaining to military or security issues – has to be submitted for scrutiny. A ruling of the High Court of Justice in 1989 imposed limitations on the censor: censorship may be exercised only when it is certain that publication of the item in question would harm public safety. When an item is censored, the newspaper may appeal the censor’s ruling to a "committee of three," composed of a member of the public (who serves as the chairman), a representative of the army and a representative of the press. The decisions of the committee are binding, and over the years it has in many cases overruled the decision of the censor.
Journalism Studies in Israel
The Koteret School of Journalism and Communications in Tel Aviv trains journalists for the written and electronic media, in a two-to-three year program. Practical workshops in journalism are also held in the Departments for Communications of four institutes of higher education.
For further information please contact:
The National Association of Israeli Journalists
4 Kaplan St.
Tel Aviv 64734
21 Shocken St.
Tel Aviv 66532
2 Karlebach St.
Tel Aviv 67132
The Jerusalem Post
P.O. Box 81
138 Petah Tikva Rd.
Tel Aviv 67446
127 Yigal Alon St.
Tel Aviv 67443