Israeli Newspaper Readership Shows Surprise Increase Amid Back-to-back Elections

More Israelis say they are getting involved in political discussions, and print media is the beneficiary, a survey shows

Nati Toker
Nati Tucker
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reading "The Marker" at the Knesset.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reading "The Marker" at the Knesset. Credit: Emil Salman

After years of decline, newspaper reading in Israel was on the upswing again last year, as back-to-back elections heightened readers’ interest in news and commentary, Kantar Media’s TGI market survey showed.

The percentage of adult Jewish Israelis who said they read a daily newspaper in 2019 climbed to 46.3% from 44.3% the year before, while those who read a weekend newspaper rose to 52% from 49.2%, TGI said Thursday. That marked the first rise since 2015.

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The apparent heightened interest in politics seems destined to continue into 2020 as Israelis go to the polls for the third election in less than a year on March 2, said Eitan Kassif, CEO of Kantar Media in Israel.

He traced that to the growing numbers of Israelis who responded yes to the question: “I find myself joining in political arguments more often.” In 2019, 26% of respondents said they had, up from 18.4% the year before.

The finding should also give a boost to an industry that has been devastated by the rise of online media, where the lion’s share of advertising revenue is captured by big tech companies like Google and Facebook.

Last year, all Israeli newspapers, except for the financial daily Globes and the right-of-center Makor Rishon, did better in the category of average readership of the general population.

For this number, Israel Hayom, the free newspaper sponsored by American billionaire Sheldon Adelson and a strong supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was the leader in terms of weekday readership, at 30.6%. That was a slight rise from 2018, according to TGI.

Israel Hayom's archrival, Yedioth Ahronoth, which is now free at some venues, was read by 26.9% of Jewish Israelis, also a slight rise from the year before. Haaretz came in third at 4.9%, and the free newspaper Maariv Haboker was fourth at 4.5%.

For Friday newspapers, Israel Hayom and Yedioth Ahronoth were neck and neck at 31% and 30.7%, respectively. Maariv captured 5.7% of readers and Haaretz 5%. In the religious-Zionist community, Makor Rishon kept its 3.5% and Sheva rose to 6.7%.

Among the financial dailies, the Yedioth Ahronoth Group’s Calcalist boosted its exposure to 11.1%, while Haaretz’s TheMarker retained its 5.1%. Globes, however, dropped to 4.3% on weekdays, while its weekend edition held steady at 2.9%.

The deeper engagement in politics by Israelis didn’t have any effect on radio listening, the TGI survey showed. The percentage of Israelis reporting that they listened to the radio was unchanged at 65.7%. The army’s Galgalatz remained the most popular station, even if its showing fell to 29.1%.

Among the two nationwide all-talk networks, Galei Tzahal – Army Radio – scored 22% to Reshet Bet’s 20.9%. Both showed slight increases from 2018.

The stations operated by the public broadcaster Kan, mainly the all-music Reshet Gimel and 88 FM, had more listeners, but the other offerings suffered falls. Eco 99, which is controlled by media tycoon Eli Azur, led regional radio stations at 9.4%, a slight decline from 2018, according to TGI. Radio Lelo Hafsaka trailed slightly at 9.3%, a slight rise. In the ultra-Orthodox community, Kol Chai was the leader at 4.5%, a slight decline.

The TGI survey, which is sponsored by the Israeli Advertising Association, polls Jewish Israelis 18 and older, reflecting a market of 4.4 million people.