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The Media and Israeli Democracy From Various Vantage Points

Special Issue in the Auditing Israeli Democracy Series

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  • Cover Type: Softcover | Hebrew
  • Number Of Pages: 50 Pages
  • Price: 70 NIS

In 2005, special surveys on the media and Israeli democracy that were conducted among the public and journalists revealed fascinating differences between the positions of the two groups with regard to their confidence in state institutions and perceptions of the disparity between what exists and what is desired in Israeli media. This study examines the role of Israel’s media as a type of “fourth branch” of government, which strongly influences both the public and the agenda of Israel’s elected representatives. Among other things, the study surveyed perceptions of the influence of journalism on the public and on political leaders, and found that journalists see the relationship between politicians and the media as stronger and more negative than does the general public.

In 2005, special surveys on the media and Israeli democracy that were conducted among the public and journalists revealed fascinating differences between the positions of the two groups with regard to their confidence in state institutions and perceptions of the disparity between what exists and what is desired in Israeli media. This study examines the role of Israel's media as a type of "fourth branch" of government, which strongly influences both the public and the agenda of Israel's elected representatives. Among other things, the study surveyed perceptions of the influence of journalism on the public and on political leaders, and found that journalists see the relationship between politicians and the media as stronger and more negative than does the general public.

1. Attitudes of the Public and the Journalists 2005
Some 50% of the Israeli public in 2005 express trust in the media to a large or to some extent, lower than their trust in the legal and defense institutions and in the president’s office, but higher than their trust in the  ‘political’ institutions (the government, the Knesset, and the political parties). The rate of those expressing trust in the media has remained relatively stable over the last six years, whereas the public’s trust in other institutions has generally dropped. Journalists express a higher degree of trust in the media than the rest of the public, and an even lower degree of trust in the ‘political’ institutions than the public in general.

Beside the ‘traditional’ roles of the media (furthering human rights, exposing  corruption, and strengthening accountability among politicians), about half of the Israeli public assign the media a social role as well, expecting it to ease tensions between various groups in the society and foster a less belligerent political discourse. Over one third of the sample population holds that the media’s roles are also ideological (43% of the public hold that imparting Zionist values to the Jewish public is one of the media’s roles, and 37% perceive the media’s role as requiring it to encourage citizens to support government policy). The public shows more interest in the media’s social and ideological roles than the journalists, who do not view these roles as part of the Israeli media’s role description.

The public assesses the media’s functioning as inadequate—only one third of the public estimates that the media fulfills the various roles incumbent on it. The largest gap between the ideal perception of the media’s role and the assessment of its actual functioning concerns the advancement of human rights’ protection: 66% of the public consider this one of the media’s roles, but only one third holds that the Israeli media attains this goal.

The media’s coverage of sensitive issues, such as corruption and security, is perceived as responsible, and the public’s trust in the media as reporting responsibly on these topics is far higher than their trust in the media in general.

Both the public and the journalists assess that the media influences the public to a large degree, while the public has difficulty influencing the media. Far more than the general sample, journalists assess the ties between politicians and the media as both strong and negative.

The journalists’ assessment of Israel’s position is less positive than that of the public, as is their assessment of the democracy and stability of the Israeli system. By contrast, journalists are less critical than the general public of power abuses by decision makers.

2. Measuring Press Freedom in Israel 2005
According to the Press Freedom Survey of Freedom House, press freedom in Israel in 2005 is limited, that is, press freedom in Israel fails to meet the universal standard and is restricted by comparison with other democracies. It must be noted, however, that the Freedom House assessment is not sensitive to the security conditions prevalent in Israel, and does not fully take into account the contribution of the High Court of Justice and of the extant ‘rules of the game,’ which curb press freedom violations. Although the press in Israel does not enjoy constitutional or legal protection, it does have recourse to the legal-judicial protection of the High Court of Justice. As a result, legal provisions limiting press freedom in Israel, among them military censorship, are not necessarily implemented.

Influences and pressures originating in the political establishment or in the government intending to prevent critical coverage, corruption exposés, and so forth, are almost non-existent in Israel. Official and unofficial sources of information are highly accessible and the media offers a broad range of views.

Mechanisms are at work in Israel restricting the scope, the contents, and the possibilities of press coverage. These mechanisms are imposed on the press through the government’s executive branch, invoking security needs. Journalists from the occupied territories are subject to harsher restrictions than their Israeli colleagues: movement restrictions, detention, interrogation, and even arrests of journalists affect chiefly the main reporters of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict—Arab and Palestinian journalists.

A drastic rise in the number of attacks on journalists was registered in the course of 2000, which was considerably moderated in 2003 and 2004. In the three years prior to 2005, the number of journalists killed in the line of duty was very low—three in 2002, two in 2003, and one in 2004. All incidents of attacks documented and reported between 1999 and 2005 occurred in the occupied territories or on their borders, and most were linked to actions by IDF and security forces involved with journalists while engaged in the struggle with the Palestinians. 

List of Figures and Tables

A. Executive Summary

  1. Attitudes of the Public and the Journalists 2005
  2. Measuring Press Freedom in Israel 2005

B. Introduction: On Democracy and the Media – Description of the Research and its Goals

C. Democracy and the Media: Attitudes of Journalists and the Public, 2005

  1. Trust in the Media
  2. The Roles of Israeli Media
  3. The Media's Functioning in the Public's Assessment
  4. Perception of the Mutual Relationship Between the Media, the Politicians and the Public
  5. Assessment of Israeli Democracy Among the Journalists and the General Public
  6. Connection to Israel Among Journalists and the General Public

D. Measuring Press Freedom in Israel, 2005

  1. Measuring Press Freedom: The Gap between the Real and the Ideal
  2. The Press Freedom Survey of Freedom House
  3. Israel as Reflected in the Press Freedom Survey of Freedom House
  4. Press Freedom in Israel 2005: Situation Report

E. Appendix: A Comparison between the General Public and the Journalists on Issues of Democracy and the Media: Distributions and Significance of Differences