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Page last updated at 12:58 GMT, Monday, 8 May 2006 13:58 UK

The press in Israel

Israel press graphic - view of Tel Aviv

The newspaper market in Israel is hotly contested, with Hebrew national dailies vying with Arabic, English and Russian newspapers as well as a host of weekly and local publications.

Today's most popular newspapers were established before the State of Israel was founded, the first being Haaretz in 1919, followed by The Jerusalem Post (1932), Yediot Aharonot (1939), and Maariv (1948).

Many papers were initially associated with political parties, but this trend has decreased as the political landscape has changed, and as media conglomerates took over in the 1980s and 1990s. The three big Hebrew dailies are now owned by large private businesses based in Tel Aviv.

A varied market caters for speakers of Israel's minority languages - Russian, Yiddish, German, among others - as well as the two official languages, Hebrew and Arabic. The Hebrew and Arabic press are by no means mutually exclusive in their readership. The Hebrew Yediot Aharonot, for example, is the most widely read newspaper amongst both native Hebrew and native Arabic speakers.

Surveys suggest that Israeli newspapers have recently experienced a steady decline in readership, although accurate circulation figures are difficult to obtain. This decline is largely attributed to the internet, with the number of web users in Israel doubling between 2002 and 2004. Google launched their own Hebrew news site in March 2006.

Russian-language papers have been particularly badly hit. Their problems have been compounded by the end of the great wave of immigration from Russian-speaking countries in the 1990s, and the fact that many of the more than 1m people who entered Israel are now switching to Hebrew sources for their news.

Israel slipped from 37th to 67th in the Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) 2005 world press freedom rankings. RSF - in common with the International Press Institute - condemned instances of harassment of journalists by the Israeli army, particularly in the Palestinian Territories. However, RSF also describes the Israeli media as "traditionally robust and independent", and the press is widely held to reflect a broad spectrum of views.

Main papers

Yediot Aharonot

Based: Tel Aviv
Founded: 1939
Owner: Yediot Media Group

Promoting itself as the "nation's newspaper", this tabloid-style Hebrew daily boasts Israel's largest circulation and the country's most popular internet site, Ynet. Extensive holdings by Yediot Aharonot's owners - including the leading Israeli Arabic and Russian newspapers - led Israel's anti-trust commissioner Dror Strum to declare the newspaper a monopoly in 1996 and again in 1999. The paper offers the reader a wide range of views, giving space to commentators from the political right and left.


Maariv

Based: Tel Aviv
Founded: 1948
Owner: Maariv Group

Founded literally overnight by disgruntled Yediot Aharonot employees, the Hebrew daily Maariv was for many years Israel's most popular newspaper, although it lost ground in the 1980s. The paper has a tabloid format and no daily editorial, although its columnists are generally regarded as taking a centre-right line. Maariv's Hebrew website carries a full version of the print copy, but it has no English-language site.


Haaretz

Based: Tel Aviv
Founded: 1919
Owner: Amos Schoken

The Haaretz broadsheet has a degree of prestige in Israel as the oldest of the national dailies and as the paper with the most editorial and opinion-related content. It identifies itself as an "elitist" newspaper and has a reputation for quality reporting. With an editorial line to the left of Yediot Aharonot and Maariv, Israel's daily of record is strongly secular, and moderate on security and foreign policy issues. A shorter English-language version of the paper is distributed with the International Herald Tribune.


Jerusalem Post

Based: Jerusalem
Founded: 1932
Owner: Mirkay Tikshoret Group Ltd and Canwest Global Communications Group

Originally a left-wing broadsheet, the English-language Jerusalem Post experienced a marked shift to the right following its purchase in 1989 by the Hollinger Group, which also owns newspapers in the UK and the US. This led to the resignation of a large number of staff. The paper's tougher line on issues such as security and the Palestinian territories has remained constant through another change in ownership in 2004. Having no Hebrew edition restricts its popularity within Israel, but with its separate international editions The Jerusalem Post has, according to its editor, "a unique role in enabling the Israel-Diaspora dialogue".


Hatzofe

Based: Tel Aviv
Founded: 1938
Owner: Controlling stake by Orthodox businessman Shlomo Ben-Tzvi

Hatzofe is a right-wing, religious Hebrew daily that serves as a mouthpiece for the National Religious Party. As such it is one of a dying breed of party-affiliated national publications. Like Israel's ultra-orthodox papers, it does not fulfil the wider role of a normal daily newspaper, but concentrates on religious and settler-related articles. Hatzofe's editorial line turned against former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on account of his Gaza disengagement plan, and it opposes current premier Ehud Olmert's policy of further unilateral withdrawal. The paper has less influence inside Israel than it has abroad, where it is widely distributed to Orthodox Jewish communities in the US and Europe.


Kull al-Arab

Based: Nazareth
Founded: 1988
Owner: Arab businessmen (75%); Yediot Media Group (25%)

The weekly Kull al-Arab is the most influential of Israel's two daily and five weekly Arabic newspapers. It carries a wide range of items, from news and entertainment to sports stories, and although it is trying to expand its Muslim audience it is known primarily as a Christian paper. The editorial line is scathing of Israeli and US policies, but can be equally critical of the Palestinian Authority. Like most Arabic papers, Kull al-Arab relies principally on advertisements for income, and as a result it is often handed out free at Israeli-Arab shops and businesses. It is also available throughout the West Bank.


Vesti

Based: Tel Aviv
Founded: n/a
Owner: Yediot Media Group

Vesti is Israel's most popular Russian-language newspaper and the last remaining Russian daily. Like all of the Russian press in Israel, it relies heavily on recycled news and has links with newspapers based in Russia. Although it has claimed a top circulation of 55,000 for its weekend edition, a large drop in sales has forced economies, such as changing from a broadsheet to a compact format in 2004.


BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.




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