Written by Nadine Wallnöfer

Back to Country Selection


  • Area: 20,770 square kilometres
  • Population: 8.6 Million (October 2016)
  • Capital: Jerusalem
  • State form: parliamentary democracy
  • Official language: Hebrew (official), Arabic, English
  • Religion: Jewish (official, 74.8 per cent), Muslim, Christian

  • Flag of Israel

    The State of Israel has a lively and pluralistic media landscape in which press freedom is generally respected, although not ensured by constitution. But media freedom is recognized as a fundamental right by the jurisdiction. The same applies for the confidentiality of journalistic sources. Harsh criticism of the government and the authorities is possible in Israel. National security issues, however, are subject to military censorship. This leads to occasional news blackouts and travel restrictions, specifically for Palestinian, but also Israeli journalists. From time to time, attacks by Israeli authorities (army, police) against journalists are reported, often in the context of demonstrations. Those assaults mostly remain unpunished. Overall, Israeli journalists are content with their career choice, since they perceive it as well respected. The internet is not restricted and all major media outlets are active online, following the state’s strong IT-trend. One of the greatest threats to Israel’s media system is the strong conglomeration and the growing impact of free, owner-subsidized business models, owned by rich and influential businessmen, that endanger the stability of other media outlets. Israel only reached rank 101 out of 180 in the 2016 Reporters without Borders ranking and declined from “free” to “partly free” in the Freedom House report of 2016.
    Communication policy and regulations
    Form of government and political features
    The State of Israel was established in 1948, following a partition plan for the former British mandatory Palestine, adopted by the United Nations (Schejter, 2009: 939). The Declaration of Independence from 1948 defined Israel as a Jewish state and established its fundamental values: freedom, justice and peace, social and political equality, regardless of race, religion or gender, freedom of belief and conscience, freedom in language, education and culture (Foreign Office, 2016). As is generally known, the creation of the State of Israel has started a never-ending conflict with the neighbouring Arab countries who rejected that UN partition plan. This Middle East Conflict has undergone several outbreaks of violence throughout the years that lead to a militarization of Israel. As believed by the German Foreign Office (2016), a resumption of the peace negotiations is not foreseeable at the moment.
    In its founding year, the State of Israel established the office of the President, who’s role is to be “a non-partisan Head of State, who represents the country and the people as a whole, inwardly and without” (Website of the President of Israel, 2010). The state’s governmental system is based on parliamentary democracy with separation of powers. The Prime Minister is the head of government and leader of a multi-party system. The Knesset (parliament) has 120 seats and exercises the executive power (CIA, 2016; Foreign Office, 2016). In 1950, Israel proclaimed Jerusalem as its capital, which remains unrecognized by the international community until today. Therefore, all countries maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv (CIA, 2016).

    Legislation and jurisdiction
    Israel has a mixed legal system of English common law, British Mandate regulations, and Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religious laws. Legislative power lies within the Knesset, but the Supreme Court decides whether a law is in accordance with the fundamental rights (CIA, 2016; Foreign Office, 2016). The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature (CIA, 2016). The State of Israel does still not have a written constitution, so some Basic Laws were passed as “pillars of a future constitution” to guarantee the institutional structure, like the political system of the state and its main principles (Schejter, 2009: 939). Those Basic Laws define the State of Israel as “Jewish and democratic” and ensure basic civil rights and liberties, like the protection of the human dignity, the right to privacy, the right to freedom and the right of property.
    The rights to freedom of expression, freedom of the press and the confidentiality of journalistic sources are not explicitly enshrined in the law and the Knesset refuses to pass legislation to incorporate it into the Basic Laws. But it’s still part of the legal system: Freedom of expression has been affirmed to be an essential component of human dignity by the Supreme Court. Furthermore, the legal standing of press freedom has been strengthened by court rulings citing principles laid out in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Additionally, every administrative act that limits the freedom of expression has to be submitted to a legislative scrutiny (Freedom House, 2016; Schejter, 2009: 939). Since 1998, freedom of information is protected by law and, to cite the report of Freedom House (2016), Israel’s “legal framework is predominantly protective of media freedom”.
    In negotiations with official and public agencies, as well as in contract negotiations, the Israeli publishers are represented by the Daily Newspaper Publishers’ Association of Israel which has members from all daily papers and is affiliated with the International Federation of Newspaper Publishers (Baldwin, 2016). There is also a set of “Rules of Professional Ethics of Journalism”, authorized by the Israel Press Council that is legally applicable to all journalists and other issues of common interest to all the press (Rimon, 2008). Other institutions concerned with the enactment of legal codes and protection of the press are the Foreign Press Association, the Israel Association of the Periodical Press, and the Israel Press Association (Baldwin, 2016).
    In 1998, a freedom of information law that allows any citizen or resident to access records held by government offices, local councils, and government-owned corporations, was introduced. The main laws that are regulating telecommunications and broadcasting are “The Wireless Telegraph Ordinance” of 1924 and its reform from 1972, “The Wireless Telegraph Ordinance New Version”, “The Israeli Broadcasting Authority Law” of 1965, “The Bezeq (Telecommunications) Law” of 1982 and “The Law of the Second Authority for Television and Radio” of 1990. The Israel Broadcast Authority (IBA), the Second Authority for Television and Radio, and the Council for Satellite and Cable TV Broadcasting are the main regulatory agencies (Gentile, 2010).

    State censorship
    Apart from all the liberties and protections mentioned above, there are several limitations to press freedom: According to Freedom House (2016), “due to ongoing conflicts with Palestinian groups and neighbouring countries, media outlets are subject to military censorship and gag orders, and journalists often face travel restrictions.” Furthermore, “Economic pressures have undermined the sustainability of key outlets in recent years, threatening long-term media pluralism.”
    For example, issues of national security are subject to military censorship and occasionally news blackouts are imposed (Reporters Without Borders, 2016). Since Israel demands to be the only democracy in the Middle East, its military censorship is a rather critical matter. It was started in 1948, by the “Defence Act” and not softened until the 1996 “Censorship Agreement” between the media and the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). The military censor’s powers are: “to penalize, shut down, or halt the printing of a newspaper for national security reasons” (Freedom House, 2016). But in an interview from 2010, Sima Vaknin-Gil, leader of the censorship office, emphasizes that the censors are independent from the military and that the “Supreme Court imposed an extremely rigorous test” on them in 1988. As claimed by her, there has to be a ”direct probability of a genuine damage to the security of the state“, in order to censor a publication. Only then, the Supreme Court can put security above press freedom (Schult, 2010). Furthermore, Freedom House (2016) states that “in practice, however, the censor’s role is quite limited and under strict judicial oversight”. The media can also defend themselves against the censorship in front of the so-called Tripartite Committee – a body consisting of a media representative, a representative of the security authorities, such as the intelligence agency, and a judge. They examine censored contributions that a media outlet still wants to publish, despite imposed censorship. The committee can remove the censorship (Schult, 2010). Still, due to Freedom House (2016), the military censor started to track information posted online, especially on social media.
    In addition to the military censorship there are several laws and agencies supervising the media. As requested by a British Mandate Press Ordinance from 1933 and by paragraphs 87 and 96 of the British Defence Regulations (Emergency), newspapers need a license by the Ministry of the Interior. Israel’s Minister of the Interior has the right to cease operations of a newspaper, as long as he or she respects the democratic order of the state. Additionally, his or her decision has to be examined by a court (Schejter, 2009: 939). Since 1986, a law prohibits the denial of the Holocaust. This law applies to all the media (Gentile, 2010). In 2011, the Knesset passed a law that allows to fine journalists up to 60,000 Euros for libel and slander. The problem is that the applicants do not need to prove any damage (Bettels & Jorch, 2012). Another law that aroused concerns was passed in 2015, prohibiting journalists who work for the country’s public broadcast authority from expressing their opinions on air (Greenslade, 2015). Furthermore, the “Rules of Professional Ethics of Journalism” by the Israel Press Council mentioned above, contain some limitations to press freedom, specifically concerning the amendment of 2007 on “Ethics during time of conflict”, that requires journalists to submit to military censorship (Rimon, 2008). Moreover, Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu decided to take the office of the communications minister himself after the 2015 elections. This gives him control over the regulation of various segments of the market (Freedom House, 2016).
    Media offers and usage
    The Israeli newspaper market has a long history that goes back to the time before the State of Israel even existed. A data collection by the Central Bureau of Statistics in 2014 showed, that only 12.1 per cent of the population are regular daily newspaper readers, 11 per cent have a subscription (CBS, 2016). Since the 1980s the Israeli press landscape is largely owned by three main media conglomerates, the three powerful families Mozes (Yedi’oth Ahronoth), Nimrodi (Ma’ariv) and Schocken (Ha’aretz) (Limor, 2000). They are also active in other media sectors, especially as publishers of books and in the music industry, but also in non-media sectors, such as the real estate sector and the insurance sector. Only the Ha’aretz Group seems to remain faithful to the media sector in its choice of investments (Schejter, 2009: 940-941). Today, those privately-owned conglomerates based in Tel Aviv dominate the mass media, lead by the free Israel Hayom, that exists since 2007 (Israel Hayom, 2016a). According to Freedom House (2016) this newspaper’s “owner-subsidized business model” and “the unchecked expansion of paid content—some of it government funded—whose nature was not clearly identified to the public” endanger the stability of other media outlets. Thus, Israel declined from “free” to “partly free” in the annual “Freedom of the Press Report”, due to Israel Hayom’s growing impact (Freedom House, 2016). Gentile (2010) also states that “the appearance on the newspapers market of free daily papers has had a strong impact on the daily print media”. Israel Hayom´s owner is Sheldon Adelson who is ranked amongst the richest Americans by the Forbes Magazine and who is politically attributed as a part of the Israeli right wing, strongly supporting Israeli prime minister Netanyahu (Schejter, 2009: 940; Freedom House, 2016). The latest media data confirm this development: In the first half of 2016, Israel Hayom’s was the newspaper with the highest exposure rate, closely followed by its strongest competitor Yedi’oth Ahronoth. Number three is the Ma’ariv, followed by the liberal-democratic Ha`aretz (Israel Hayom, 2016b). To reduce ownership consolidation the Knesset gave initial approval to a bill prohibiting the free distribution of newspapers 2014, what triggered a heated debate and is thus said to be the reason for the dissolution of the Knesset that lead to elections in 2015 (Freedom House, 2016).
    Despite the small readership, Israel has around twenty-two daily newspapers and approximately 400 other newspapers and magazines (about fifty weeklies and one hundred and fifty appear fortnightly). All Israeli newspapers are privately owned and there are publications in eleven languages (Baldwin, 2016). Among the dailies, eleven are published in Hebrew, four in Arabic, four in Russian and the rest in English, German or Yiddish. All of them are covering cultural issues and cultural events on a regular basis (Gentile, 2010).

    Television in Israel
    According to Gentile (2010), TV is Israel’s “principal and most influential channel of media communications” today. More than 90 per cent of the Israeli households have got a TV set (Schejter, 2009: 944). Following the report of Freedom House (2016), “most Israelis subscribe to cable, satellite, or digital terrestrial television services that provide access to international stations”. Until 1993, there was only one TV programme under the supervision of the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and with the participation of the governmental Israel Educational Television (ETV) (Schejter, 2009: 943). ETV still offers school programmes on a variety of subjects, as well as adult education and it is criticised for propagating the government’s perspectives (Gentile, 2010). Currently, the IBA is operating its main channel, Channel 1, the “Educational Channel”, an Arabic language channel and the “Knesset Channel” which is broadcasting from the Israeli parliament (Gentile, 2010). Due to Freedom House (2016), the Knesset voted for the IBA to be closed in 2015, after significant problems in recent years and to be replaced by a new entity. But the closure was postponed a few times already, last time until 2018 (Cashman, 2016).
    Since 1986 commercial TV channels are allowed (Baldwin, 2016) and since 1993, Israel has a dual broadcasting system. Channel 2 was the first private commercial channel to go on air, under the supervision of the Second Authority for Television and Radio (like all commercial channels until today). It is operated by two broadcasting companies, Reshet-Noga and Keshet Broadcasting who share the concession. Channel 2 quickly became Israel’s most popular TV channel with the highest viewership and advertising revenues, since advertising was not allowed on cable and satellite (Bourdon & Ribke, 2015: 4; Schejter, 2009: 944). The advertising-based financing led to significant cutbacks when the global financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 crashed the advertising budgets (Gentile, 2010). In 1996, Israel also launched its first satellite. Today Yes is the only satellite TV provider in Israel that services more than an estimated half a million customers. Satellite TV is a strong competitor for cable TV, especially since Yes started to broadcast in HD in 2007. This led to the merging of the three national cable companies into the “Hot telecommunications Systems Ltd” in 2003 (Gentile, 2010).
    Today, also foreign programmes like MTV, SKY NEWS, CNN, BBC and channels from Egypt, France, Germany, India, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, Spain, Russia and Turkey can be received via satellite (Baldwin, 2016).

    Already in 1936, the first (British) radio station began broadcasting in Palestine, serving both the Jewish and the Arab population as an “instrument of social and cultural integration for a multi-cultural society in a war-torn area”. In 1948, it was turned over to the Israeli government and at first operated by the Ministry of the Interior, then by the Office of Posts and Telegraphs and later by the Prime Minister’s Office, until in 1965 the IBA took over (Gentile, 2010). Before 1993, there were only radio two stations broadcasting news, light and classical music, culture programmes and programmes in Arabic and Russian, all supervised by the IBA and the military. The only alternatives (especially in the 1970s and 1980s) were so called “pirate radio stations” which began to broadcast from the Mediterranean Sea and “were generally tolerated by the Israeli Government” (Schejter, 2009: 943; Gentile, 2010).
    Today, Kol Israel (IBA) and Galei Tzahal (military-operated) are still popular but there are also various local radio stations, “serving the country’s regional communities as well as ultra-Orthodox, Russian-speaking, and Arabic-speaking populations” (Freedom House, 2016).

    Internet and new media
    Today, with 79 per cent (2015), Israel has one of the highest rates of internet usage in the Middle East and social-media sites are actively used by more than half of all internet users. Furthermore, a number of online news and information websites have emerged in recent years (Freedom House, 2016). The internet is actively used for government, military, public, and private purposes by Israelis. They are one of the world’s most technologically sophisticated populations, with a flourishing IT industry (Baldwin, 2016) and “one of the most connected societies in the world” (Gilboa & Magen, 2016: 327). For example, the military and the Israeli Foreign Ministry are using social media to livestream operations in the Gaza conflict to demonstrate “the wars that have to be fought in the name of destroying those who allegedly seek Israel’s destruction”. Since 2012, Israeli citizens can buy an app that warns them against rockets, fired on Israel (Hasian, 2016: 10).
    However, according to Gentile (2010), there is still a digital gap between the Jewish and the Arab population. He also states that there are difficulties among Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community “because of the rabbinical ban on Internet use, based on morality grounds”. Their leaders see the internet “as a threat to their community”. Still religious websites and online activities in Israel increased in the past decade (Campbell, 2012: 52-53).
    Today, all Israeli mass media are active online, most of them have even launched digital versions. Examples are the Yedi’ot Ahronot, the Ha’aretz which has a Hebrew and an English online version, the Jerusalem Post, the Globes and the Ma’ariv (Schejter, 2009: 946-947) and additionally, independent online newspapers like News First Class have appeared (Gentile, 2010). There are even some companies offering TV via internet, although the market penetration is still insignificant (Freedom House, 2016). As surveys repeatedly showed, the major media conglomerates‘ websites are popular in Israel (Caspi, 2012: 45). The internet access in Israel is not restricted, although, in some cases the government blocking certain data and monitoring the internet service providers and telecommunications services “for security purpose” (Freedom House, 2016).
    Journalists' autonomy
    Journalistic education, professionalization and self-perception
    Until the middle of the 1990s, journalists had to learn their work by doing it and there was little formal training for them in Israel. Only after 1996, larger papers and media outlets initiated more formal courses. After that journalism and communications studies (BA, MA and doctoral programmes) were soon initiated at all Israelis universities (Gentile, 2010).
    This means that many journalists who are still working today did not receive a journalistic university education (Tsfati, Meyers & Peri, 2006: 158). Today the academic education in Journalism and Media Studies is “gradually replacing the training-on- the-job system” (Nossek, 2009: 359). According to Tsfati & Meyers (2012: 448), most Israeli journalists are Jewish and only about 20 per cent are members of the Palestinian minority. Journalists working in the TV sector more often do have an academic degree than journalists working in other media – they also have higher incomes.
    A self-portrait of Israeli journalists by Meyers & Cohen in 2011 showed that “Israeli journalists are satisfied with and plan to continue working in their profession, which they perceive to be relatively well-respected”. Print, radio and television were considered to be the highest status news media, followed by online and then by the work for local and sectorial newspapers. Israeli journalists who cover social issues think their work is more restrained than journalists who write about economic topics or news and data (Meyers & Cohen, 2011: 3).
    According to Tsfati, Meyers & Peri (2006: 167), Israeli journalists choose their profession in order to serve the public. Journalists and the public both agree that good journalism means “verifying the facts”. However, although the majority of the public thinks journalists should report neutrally, only less than half of the journalists agree with that. Instead journalists want to “provide the audience with an interpretation of the news” (ibid.: 158). On the other hand, the public wants journalists to “take into account its tastes and interests” more often (ibid.: 160). All in all, the Israeli journalists’ and public’s idea of “ideal journalism” differs significantly. Especially Israeli Arabs and supporters of the Israeli right wing are least trusting of the mainstream Israeli media (ibid.: 167-168). Additionally, as a result of the commercialization and the stiff competition that derived from it, there is a strong tabloidization trend to be seen in the print sector, as well as in the broadcasting sector. By offering more modern and entertaining coverage and programmes the media are trying to attract the younger viewers (Gentile, 2010).
    As stated by Baidoun (2014: 74-79), Israeli media are playing an important role in the ongoing conflict with Palestine, trying to spread Israeli nationalism through their reporting, describing all military operations as necessary self-defence and trying to convince the public to “take action and support one side of the conflict”. The events are mostly reported on an Israeli point of view and Palestinians are presented as “the violent others” and as “a threat” to Israel. Baidoun suggests that Israel (and Palestine) are using the media as “an important tool in war”, also to attract the “international audience”.
    A common comprehension Israeli journalists have of their job is to use it as a professional springboard, to join the government as press secretaries, media liaisons or even as elected Knesset members and ministers (Medad & Pollak, 2013).
    In Israel, journalists also strongly tend towards self-censorship, or as Schult (2010) puts it in a Spiegel Online interview with Sima Vaknin-Gil, leader of the censorship office: they tend towards “anticipatory obedience” and just don’t write things that they think might harm the national security. Vaknin-Gil calls the phenomenon “Israeli consensus”. However, it still means that journalists accept the military censorship in their country and play along its rules.

    Working conditions for Journalists
    All in all, the Israeli media can cover a wide range of different views, since they are mostly free from political interference. However, as reported by Freedom House (2016), the news coverage of some private outlets is highly partisan and “broadcast stations have regularly faced instances of political pressure in recent years”. According to Nossek (2009: 360), there is “a growing demand for investigative journalism, alternative voices, accurate information, and, in particular, specialization and in-depth interpretation”. This development could also be the reason why “media continue to face the threat of legal action, particularly on accusations of libel”, as reported by Freedom House (2016). Furthermore, court-issued gag orders are used to limit coverage of sensitive stories compensating for the “inability to use the military censor” (ibid.). Besides the official channels of censorship, the government and the military are sometimes using bribery, intimidation, and violence to ensure that nothing gets printed or broadcasted against their will (Baldwin, 2016). However, according to Freedom House (2016), “deliberate violence against or harassment of journalists is relatively rare in Israel”, except for occasional “police harassment of journalists who are reporting from demonstrations on social and economic matters” (again more often against journalists of the Arab minority). As mentioned before, Israeli law does not explicitly protect the confidentiality of journalistic sources, but it is recognized by the courts. Still, Israeli authorities have repeatedly tried to uncover journalistic sources through investigations and surveillance (ibid.).
    Furthermore, Israeli journalists are facing some economic threats: Due to Israel’s new commercial – capitalist media model, the number journalists who are members in unions, to negotiate their salaries and hiring conditions collectively, has sharply declined. As a result there are now only a few “star journalists” (mostly from TV), with a much higher income than the “large body of lower-ranking underpaid journalists”, what makes journalists “vulnerable to internal and external pressures” (Tsfati & Meyers, 2012: 446). On the other hand, this development also increased the “mobility of journalists among media outlets” (Nossek, 2009: 360). As mentioned before, the continued growth of Israel Hayom led to a loss in advertising budgets for Israel´s traditional print journalism, especially since an additional “transfer of advertising budgets to digital media” is taking place and Israel only has a small advertising market. Consequences of this “trend of ownership consolidation” are the dismissals of journalists and newspaper shut downs (Freedom House, 2016). Another important aspect covered by Miri Gal-Ezer in 2014, is the problem of economic censorship: Due to the extremely high media concentration in Israel, with only a few media conglomerates owned by oligarchs, any coverage criticizing their system of power will eventually be censored economically (Gal-Ezer, 2014: 599). This could be through “journalists’ self-censorship, stemming from the shortage of jobs in the journalism field, making them cautious, obedient and careful for fear of losing their positions” (ibid.: 578) or the “economic risk, (of) being dismissed and persecuted by the oligarchs and their collaborators in lawsuits and public campaigns” (ibid.: 600). Other forms of economic censorship are the “cancellation” of the material (ibid.: 594-595) or the fear that “no one would dare screen” it (ibid.: 596). Furthermore, the Knesset’s plan to close the IBA mentioned above “led to fears that public broadcasting, or parts of it, would be closed down in the future” because “only a fraction of the IBA’s staff would be employed by the new authority” but although “a large wave of dismissals was already carried out in late 2015”, the new authority is still not able to function yet (Freedom House, 2016).

    Foreign journalists
    In Israel, every journalist, foreign or Israeli, needs a proper accreditation from the Government Press Office (GPO) to be allowed “to attend official press conferences, gain permission to access government buildings, and pass through Israeli military checkpoints”. Although normally, foreign journalists are accredited the GPO without problems, sometimes the organization refuses to provide press cards “on national security grounds”, what then prevents reporters from entering Israel. This specifically seems to happen to Palestinian journalists (Freedom House, 2016).
    Normally, foreign journalists‘ material, too must be approved by censors before it is broadcasted. In general, Israel is a relatively safe place for all journalists, at least if they avoid issues of national security – although, of course these issues make up for the most output of news originating from the conflict torn area. This is also the reason why Israel is the country with the most foreign journalists in one place, despite the substantive dangers. Countries with foreign bureaus based in Israel are for example: France, Spain, Italy, the USA, Germany, Japan, the UK and Russia (Baldwin, 2016).
    Assaults against Palestinian and foreign journalists committed by the Israeli army in the Palestinian territories happen often and stay unpunished most of the times. Furthermore, travel restrictions complicate the work especially of Palestinian but also of Israeli journalists (Reporters without Borders, 2016).
    However, compared to other countries in the Middle East, journalists are much more welcome in Israel. They have more freedom of movement and better access to superior technology. Still, especially during the last Intifada “significant harassment, detainment, and deaths have occurred” in Israel, also among foreign journalists (Baldwin, 2016).
    Related Links
    Recommended citation form
    Nadine Wallnöfer: Israel. In: Michael Meyen (ed.), Mapping Media Freedom. LMU Munich: Department of Communication Studies and Media Research 2017. (access date).

    Netanyahu Has Tangled Relationship With Israel's Media. Source:

    Contact the author:
    [contact-form-7 id="58" title="Contact form 1"]