Watchdog Accuses Netanyahu of Harming Press Freedom 'Like Trump'

NGO says press freedom is declining in Israel due to Netanyahu's behavior, but still ranks the country first in the region

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: Yonatan Zindel / Flash 90

A freedom of the press watchdog compared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to U.S. President Donald Trump in its annual report this week, accusing both leaders of setting back journalistic liberty in their countries. 

The Freedom House, a U.S.-based NGO dedicated to promoting press freedom worldwide, wrote that "like Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his spokespeople frequently insult and denounce members of the domestic media, and the prime minister rarely takes questions from reporters."

The report noted that Netanyahu "used his Facebook page to excoriate two high-profile investigative journalists," referring to his attacks on Raviv Drucker and Ilana Dayan, and "has also been accused of colluding with key media owners to shape favorable coverage." The prime minister is under police investigation over alleged collusion with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken distribution of the pro-Netanyahu free newspaper Israel Hayom or shut it down. In return, Yedioth Ahronoth would slant its political coverage in favor of Netanyahu to help him retain power.

Citing the prime minister's behavior, Freedom House found that press freedom has declined in Israel, a country which "has historically enjoyed a vibrant and pluralistic media sector." 

Israel received a score of 33 on a 0-100 scale, with 0 indicating total freedom of the press, and 100 indicating none. It's a 1-point drop compared to last year's index.

A screenshot of Freedom House's annual Freedom of the Press report.

"Israel declined due to unprecedented personal attacks by the prime minister on leading investigative journalists, which contributed to a hostile environment for the press," the report said.

The report ranked Israel first in the Middle East and North Africa, followed by Tunisia, Lebanon and Kuwait. All four countries were labeled "partly free" as opposed to "free" or "not free." The organization labeled all other countries in the region "not free," with Iran and Syria coming in on last place.

Israel ranks 63rd on the global press freedom index, sandwiched between Namibia and Poland. Norway came in first, followed by the Netherlands and Sweden tied in second place. North Korea and Turkmenistan came in last.

With regard to Trump, the report said that "No U.S. president in recent memory has shown greater contempt for the press in his first months in office," accusing him of "rejecting the news media’s role in holding governments to account for their words and actions." The U.S. ranks 33 in the world when it comes to press freedom.

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