Freedom of the Press, at Any Price

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Sheldon Adelson.Credit: Reuters

Israel Hayom has the right to be a newspaper; the right to be a mouthpiece; the right to be right-wing and ultra-nationalist. It has the right to be a garbage pail occasionally, and even to be distributed for free.

Of course I would like this entire land, “ha’aretz,” to be Haaretz. I would like for its positions and its high level to belong to everyone, but of course that’s a pipe dream.

If the choice is between the death of print journalism and the existence of a lowbrow newspaper that is free to readers, I choose the latter.

If it is between the monopolistic rule of a single newspaper and a multiplicity of papers, I again choose the latter.

That is why I believe the draft law whose purpose is to stop Israel Hayom from being distributed for free is a terrible bill.

The idea of achieving this through legislation is dangerous, even.

Every man has his weakness: Mine is to leaf through Israel Hayom. It generally infuriates me, it sometimes brings a bitter smile to my lips, and sometimes a sense of disgust.

The same is true for the veteran Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth.

Both are Israeli tabloids, without the pornography and the salacious gossip of their foreign equivalents in the West.

Both push their readers’ buttons, cynically playing on their most basic – and occasionally even most base – nationalistic emotions and anxieties.

Both are meant to be entertaining, to please their readers. That’s what there is in a country where most of the newspapers have long since died off, leaving it with one of the lowest concentrations of newspapers in the world.

The steamroller rule of Yedioth Ahronoth was bad, and it was undermined by the introduction of the equally bad Israel Hayom. The success of both cannot make fans of good journalism happy.

One cannot be gladdened by newspapers with main headlines such as “In their death, they commanded us to live” (Yedioth) and “Let us remember them all” (Israel Hayom).

Or when the top story is an interview with the paper’s publisher (Israel Hayom, on Friday) or with a headline like “After the rockets – mufletas” (Yedioth), the latter referring to the pancake of the post-Passover Moroccan-Jewish Mimouna festival. Nor with Israel Hayom’s preposterous campaign against the “evil empire” of Yedioth publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes.

But it is what it is. Together with Channel 2 television, that’s the Israeli tribal campfire – and it is harmful to democracy, to the discussion of Israel’s real problems and to the discovery of the truth.

Yedioth Ahronoth is motivated by hidden economic and personal interests, Israel Hayom by more obvious interests.

In both cases, journalism is not always the right term for it.

The former downplayed the prosecution of the previous prime minister, the latter extols and glorifies the incumbent and his wife. But both papers have a right to exist, in any format, free or otherwise.

The motivation for founding Israel Hayom was revealed on Friday by its publisher, plain as day.

In an “interview” with the paper – an interview that would have been an embarrassment in Ceausescu’s Romania – Sheldon Adelson said: “Nobody has ever said that Israel Hayom’s reporting on the prime minister is untruthful.” Casino-magnate humor.

Adelson went on to describe how he tried to blackmail the publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth, a “far left” newspaper in his eyes – another moment of comic relief – using a tactic that wouldn’t shame a mafioso: “I say, ‘OK, Noni. I’ll tell you what. I won’t start on the condition that you move your paper from the far left to the middle. To the center of the political spectrum.’”

Yedioth, a “far left” paper, and Israel Hayom would only start if Yedioth refuses to change its wicked ways. Adelson, the paragon of democracy, the man who recently held widely reported auditions in Las Vegas for the next Republican presidential candidate, during which he forced one hopeful to apologize for daring to call the West Bank “occupied territory.” Democracy.

But for democracy, freedom of the press and freedom of occupation to exist, they must be unfettered by any law, order or regulation, especially one targeting a single, specific publication. The dying Israeli press is desperate for investors, even if they are Adelson.

Freedom of the press requires as many newspapers as possible, even if they are Israel Hayom.

And to conclude: Read Haaretz.

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