In recent years, the press and media in Israel have become a main target for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who on the one hand has sought to control them, and on the other has tried to undermine their legitimacy as reliable sources of information. These efforts increased as his political situation worsened, but it seems that at least on this level Netanyahu's tactics have not succeeded: according to the Israel Democracy Institute's annual survey of public confidence in Israeli institutions, confidence in the press and media is stable, and has even risen slightly.
This result is surprising not just because of the attacks aimed at the media by Netanyahu and his people, but also, and perhaps mainly, because of what has been revealed by the evidence and transcripts leaked from the police investigations of him: the transcripts of conversations between Netanyahu and Arnon (Noni) Mozes, publisher of "Yediot Ahronot", in which Mozes declares that he is prepared to skew news coverage by the Yediot Ahronot group in Netanyahu's favor in return for legislation preventing rival daily Yisrael Hayom from being distributed free; the evidence of the way in which the Walla! News site was run and the ease with which the Netanyahu family were able to interfere in news items published on it; and Netanyahu's concern with having supporters placed in key positions in media outlets such as Galei Tzahal (Israel Army Radio).
The evidence in these affairs turned the press and media themselves from purveyors of news to the news itself, and not in a flattering way. To this must be added infighting in the press and media themselves. The world views and political inclinations of those entrusted with bringing the news became exposed, and this was weaponized on both sides of the political divide against anyone expressing an opposing point of view.
All this, however, has not affected public confidence. It could be argued that public faith in the press and media is in any case low, and couldn’t fall much further. The figures show that its level today is almost exactly where it was a decade ago, a long time before Netanyahu started his attacks. In 2008, the proportion of the Israeli public that expressed confidence in the press and media stood at 38%, and today it is 36%. For a short time, there was a rise in the statistic, and in 2011-2013 there were two peaks when it reached about 50% and then declined again.
It should be borne in mind that dramatic changes in the media have taken place in the past two decades. The main one is the rise of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, which represent new platforms for gathering and disseminating information. Although on the face of it these channels should weaken the established media, it turns out that this is not the case. It seems that because of increasing understanding of the ease with which social media can be used to spread falsehoods, people prefer to rely on traditional news outlets where they know that there are filters in place.
The established media have a long way to go before they are perceived by a majority as reliable. The latest figures do not indicate a weakening of confidence, but confidence should be the basis of the relationship between citizens and the press and media, and in this respect the gap between the real and the ideal is very wide.
The institutions that enjoy the greatest confidence in Israel remain as always the IDF (90% of the Jewish population), the president (71%) and the Supreme Court (55%). Confidence in the police is at 44%, and in the government and the Knesset at 30%. Least trusted are the political parties, with a confidence level of 14%. 58% of Israelis (59% of Jews and 52% of Arabs) see the country's leadership as corrupt.
In November, The Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research at the Israel Democracy Institute examined the public's confidence in the attorney general and the State Attorney's Office, and found that 46.5% of the public have confidence in Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, and 42% have confidence in the State Attorney's Office (the public prosecutor).
What of the state of the country in general? Half of Israelis (50%) think that the general situation in Israel is good or very good (down 4% on last year); 31% think that it is so-so, and 17.5% think that it is bad or very bad.
The public is divided on the state of democracy in Israel. 34% believe that democracy is in a good or excellent state; 35% believe that it is not in a good state. A breakdown by political persuasion shows that those on the right have a rosier view of the state of democracy than those on the left. While 50% of those who identify with the right-wing camp say democracy in Israel functions well, only 27% of those in the center and 13% of those on the left are prepared to say the same. 84% of those classified as on the left and 68% of those in the center of the political spectrum say that democracy in Israel is in severe danger. Only 29% of those on the right feel the same way.
A welfare state? 64% of Israelis say that the state does not succeed in taking care of the welfare of its citizens. On security, however, people are much more positive: 63% say that the state does succeed in ensuring their security.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 7, 2020
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