The Israeli media have been focusing on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the election campaign while neglecting security, economic, social and diplomatic issues, according to a study conducted for Haaretz by Ifat Media Analysis.
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Coverage of Netanyahu, whether positive or negative, makes up a third of all political reporting, according to the research. Most of the coverage shows the Likud leader in a bad light, such as stories on the expenses affair and his planned speech to the U.S. Congress on Iran’s nuclear program.
Between the beginning of January and February 16, Ifat examined press coverage based on political issues and the people mentioned.
Isaac Herzog, Netanyahu’s main competitor as head of the Zionist Union electoral alliance, captures only 10 percent of political news. In the third week of February, when the press was busy with the expenses affair at the prime minister’s residences, Netanyahu received media coverage equal to that given to Herzog, Habayit Hayehudi’s Naftali Bennett (10 percent), Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid (8 percent) and Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman (7 percent) combined.
“During the last presidential campaign in the United States, incumbent [Barack] Obama received a share of coverage only 13 percent higher than his opponent Mitt Romney,” said Shahar Gur, Ifat’s research chief.
“True, Netanyahu is a serving prime minister and is identified with every issue on the agenda, but three times is a huge difference. The other politicians haven’t forged attractive messages that will take control of the agenda.”
The heads of the other parties have an even smaller presence, with Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) at 6 percent and rivals Eli Yishai (Ha’am Itanu) and Arye Dery (Shas) at 3 percent each.
Zionist Union co-leader Tzipi Livni has agreed to rotate the premiership with Herzog if the alliance forms a government — Herzog heads the Labor Party while Livni heads Hatnuah. But in the Ifat study, Livni comes in at a meager 4 percent of political news.
There were no major differences between free newspaper Israel Hayom, which supports Netanyahu, and Yedioth Ahronoth and its Ynet website, which harshly criticize him.
The second index, which addresses political issues in the news, also shows how central Netanyahu is to election coverage.
The most mentioned issue until mid-February was Netanyahu’s planned speech to Congress; there were 1,140 reports. In second place were the attacks by Netanyahu on Yedioth publisher Arnon Mozes, at 993 reports. In third place came the expenses affair.
“Netanyahu is attacked based on every media initiative he promotes, but comparing the discussion to the poll results bolsters the claim that standing out in the media and setting the agenda are ... important,” Gur said.
According to Gur, “paradoxically, negative coverage turns into positive momentum. In other words, in the 2015 election so far, it seems negative is the new positive, at least as far as everything concerning press exposure is concerned.”
Prof. Motti Neiger, the dean of Netanya Academic College’s communications school, says certain issues are receiving heavy coverage as the traditional media is dragged along by YouTube and social networks.
“What sets the tone today are the YouTube videos. Videos by nature are very short and need to present a simple truth succinctly .... The public is harmed by this. We need to choose among Bibi the babysitter, Zehava the dancer, Bennett the hipster and the dubbed Bougie. The popularity index has become who makes the coolest clip,” Neiger said, referring to Meretz chief Zehava Galon and Herzog, whose nickname is Bougie.
“This election campaign is addressing issues that aren’t significant compared to economic or security questions that are meant to interest the citizen when he’s choosing a party. In the past we had campaigns based on personalities too — maybe populist and led by emotions — but they touched on fundamental questions such as ‘Peres will divide Jerusalem,’” Neiger said, referring to Shimon Peres, a former prime minister and later president.