The Israeli Media

It's vibrant. It's aggressive. It's in the Middle East.

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Media Bias?

At the same time, the media often come under sharp criticism, much of which is the stuff of familiar complaints heard in the U.S. Many argue that Israeli journalists display a left-wing political bent. Others accuse it of sensationalizing of the news.

The country's most independent news organizations are its newspapers. Unlike television and radio, newspapers operate without worrying of having to answer to government regulators. Three nationally circulated dailies vie for the public's attention for general news. The top two papers in circulation, Yediot Aharonot and Ma'ariv, are tabloids whose use of banner headlines and color often make their appearance virtually indistinguishable from one another. The competition between the two is so intense that in the mid-1990s the publisher of Ma'ariv was convicted of wire tapping the telephone lines of the editors of the rival paper.

A distant third is Ha'aretz, a broadsheet newspaper which thrives on its reputation as the country's equivalent of the New York Times. The fourth newspaper, Globes, is the country's only business daily and is printed on orange paper to mimic Great Britain's The Financial Times. The Itim news agency serves as a domestic equivalent of the Associated Press.

Radio News

Radio news is entirely a government-sponsored affair. Two radio stations, Kol Yisrael (Israel Radio) and Galei Tzahal (Israel Army Radio), offer the Israeli public the only news outfits on the dial. On weekdays, radio listeners can get radio news updates every half hour. Before the drowsy-eyed can absorb the morning newspaper headlines, a parade of politicians, analysts, and officials are often spinning their own headlines on radio talk shows that start at 7 a.m. and run until 2 p.m.

So formidable is the news gathering operation of Israel Radio and Army Radio that none of the commercial radio stations that began operating in the mid-1990s chose to compete with them. The government radio stations are regulated by the Israel Broadcast Authority, whose board and executive director are made up of political appointees. The authority allows the government to exercise a good deal of oversight, and making it often the target of allegations of news manipulation by opposition parties in parliament.

Television

Israel Television, the public television station, is subject to the same oversight as the radio. Television broadcasts began in the late 1960s, making it the youngest of the three major news media. And until the early 1990s, Israel Television was the only game in town, with its nightly broadcast of the "Mabat" television news program with Haim Yavin, Israel's equivalent of Walter Conkrite.

In 1994, the first commercial television station began broadcasting, posing the first competition for the public television station. The second commercial station went on the air waves in 2002, ratcheting up the on-camera rivalry. Television news is slotted in prime time, and Channel 1 runs an hour and half dosage an evening. Round-table talk shows that feature free-for-all argument among leading politicians are also popular, such as Channel 1's "Popolitika."

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Joshua Mitnick is a freelance journalist living in Israel. His articles have appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Newsday, The Toronto Star, The Newark Star Ledger, and The Washington Times.