The partisan papers began to close down at the end of the 1980's as a result of economic and other reasons. Only three national daily newspapers survived this period: "Haaretz", a paper that appealed to the intellectual public; "Maariv" and "Yediot Ahronot", with more sensational and pictorial reporting, competed with each other for the same readership base. These three papers are owned by a few families, who, as a result, wield enormous power with the ability to influence the national and media agenda.
Fears that these families would use their power to dominate the media and set their own agenda, have largely proved unfounded due to the commitment by the press, as well as the electronic media, to providing full and fair coverage of news in Israel and the world. In fact, almost all incidents involving exposure of corrupt public officials have been uncovered by members of the press. Moreover, the natural competition between the papers for readership helps to keep the papers from falling prey to the whims of their owners.
Nonetheless, this author has difficulty with the fact that there are only three national newspapers. Obviously this creates a situation where not as many voices, and as wide a range of opinions, perspectives and even information as desirable, can ideally reach the public. The reasons for the lack of more national newspapers are mainly economic and it is hard to imagine how another daily newspaper could survive in today's commercial environment in Israel.
Israeli members of the press accept and abide by the western approach to journalism and innately act according to a code of ethics that includes critical analysis and reliable information as its creed. For the most part, the members of the Israeli press are educated and knowledgeable. Very few instances have been uncovered where these principles have been compromised or where facts have been distorted intentionally by a delinquent journalist or reporter.
Israel is also a very political society. Every political decision and process can and often does directly impact on the lives of the Israeli populace. The model of "tabloid journalism" which is popular in many other countries, is therefore not as readily tolerated in Israel, whose population reads its papers avidly to obtain accurate facts and news.
Consequently, the daily newspapers and other forms of Israeli media deal with fundamental issues of the day, monitor the government and provide comprehensive political information to their readers and audience.
Israelis are known for their appreciation of lively discourse and the press obliges by filling its role as a forum for polemics and debate. One of the more popular television programs in Israel is the roundtable discussion, featuring various public and private individuals vigorously expressing a spectrum of viewpoints on many issues.
The dissemination of reliable information, respect for a variety of opinions, and encouragement of active criticism of the government, are indicative of the conduct of the press in Israel's democratic society.
Recently, as in the rest of the world, a new player has entered the field, in the form of the Internet. The activity in this field is wide ranging and extensive, and enables many entities and private individuals to join in the public discourse. Israel is home to thousands of portals and sites, and all of the newspapers have online versions, containing lively discussions, some of which deal with political and public issues. The chat and talkback format provides a forum for thousands of people who, until the Internet, were unable to express themselves publicly. Overall, Israelis, who never shy away from debate, are taking good advantage of the Internet.
Israel is still a young, developing democracy. Although some members of the public question the motives of the press in criticizing the state during wartime, in general, Israeli society comprehends that a free, robust press is crucial to the existence of a strong democracy and a value worth fighting for. Instilling recognition of the dangers of trying to place restrictions on the press, and an understanding by the public of the role played by the Israeli media even under trying conditions, are part of Israel's challenge in meeting its vision to become a true democratic nation.
Ruvik Rosenthal served as Editor of the op-ed section of the "Maariv" newspaper from 1997-2002, and is an award winning and highly recognized journalist who writes about the cultural and political aspects of language. He is the 2004 recipient of Israel's highest journalistic award, the Sokolov Prize in Journalism for his work in this field.