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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Israel's Fox News?

Politico's Ben Smith argues that Sheldon Adelson's Yisrael HaYom has become Israel's Fox News.
Adelson's paper is an assault on the media status quo in the model of Fox News in a country where newspapers still litigate the political conversation. The echoes aren't subtle: One of the five principles printed on the tabloid's dense second page translates as "fair and balanced."

And like Fox, the paper has positioned itself against a mainstream media its editors cast as elitist and out of touch. Another of the five principles is "to remember that we are Israelis."

The paper's foreign editor, Boaz Bismuth, a former Israeli ambassador to Mauritania and longtime Paris correspondent for Yediot Aharonot — the new paper's main target and rival — embraces the comparison.

"Fox is proud to be American, but what is nice about America is that ABC and CBS and NBC are no less proud to be American," he said in an interview at the paper's quiet, humming Tel Aviv newsroom, leaving unstated the suggestion that Israel Hayom's rivals are not so proud.

"It doesn't mean that if sometimes Israel is right that I work for the government," said Bismuth, who offered an example of the new paper's posture: "If there are rumors about the bad conduct of a soldier, it won't immediately be our main headline."

Israel Hayom takes as its premise that out-of-touch mainstream media are the country's real power.

"They try to portray my newspaper as the real ruler of Israel, not Netanyahu," said Nahum Barnea, the top columnist at Yediot Aharonot, labeling the charge "ridiculous."
I don't have sales statistics, but my sense is that the number of newspapers sold in hard copy in this country has declined precipitously over the last 20 years. We get the JPost delivered, and I can tell you from experience that the last time we tried to cancel it, they cut the price again to persuade us to stay (that's two or three cuts in the last few years). In fact, the reason there are newspaper sales here at all here is that Orthodox and traditional Jewish Israelis won't turn on the computer or the television or radio on the Sabbath, and therefore they buy the Friday paper, which is like the Sunday paper elsewhere in the World. So far, the local newspapers have resisted giving any reasonable price for a "Friday only" subscription.

Fox also has considerable influence outside the US. Yisrael HaYom has none about which to speak. JPost and Haaretz carry Israel's message - or what they see as Israel's message - to the outside world. That message is not always presented the way that I (and I'm sure Adelson) would like to see it presented. While Adelson has conquered the market for Hebrew print media, his newspaper sorely lacks a real English language web site that is updated in real time (a must these days for having influence outside of Israel).

This is a small country that lives on exports. Our news media is no exception.

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