The deal put together for the purchase by Shlomo Ben-Zvi, publisher of the daily Makor Rishon, of the Maariv newspaper for NIS 85 million is encouraging news for the Israeli press. It is to be hoped that the understandings between Ben-Zvi and Maariv’s owner, Nochi Dankner, will indeed result in a signed agreement. Maariv has been threatened by debts and losses in the hundreds of millions of shekels; the closure of such a veteran newspaper would weaken the free press in Israel and result in some 2,000 people losing their jobs, including hundreds of journalists. And so the paper’s sale to another publisher, even at the cost of a good many of its jobs, is encouraging in the hard times the print media and media in general are experiencing these days.
It is no secret that Haaretz’s positions differ from those of Maariv and certainly those of Makor Rishon. Ben-Zvi is a right-winger and a resident of the settlement of Efrat. But as opposed to the current owner, who bought the paper to promote his economic and personal agenda, the purchase of Maariv by a professional publisher who understands the media business is the right move. It is to be hoped that Ben-Zvi, even if he gives his new newspaper a clear political line, will maintain its professional level and quality, and also ensure freedom of expression.
The shrinking media arena in Israel should worry not only journalists, whose livelihood is in danger, but every person who values democracy and understands the critical importance of a pluralistic, varied and free media. The threat in the shuttering of media outlets, print and television, is no less than the threat of harm to any other democratic instrument, whether it be a human rights group or a law enforcement agency.
The reduction in the number of media outlets and their concentration in the hands of a few, with little competition among them, will harm the foundations of our democracy. It is to be hoped that under its new ownership, Maariv will fulfill the task of every media outlet in a democratic country and keep at bay the shadow of extinction hanging over the press in Israel and the world.
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