Middle East

Journalists on Journalism

Israel: News, the National Obsession

This article appeared in the December 2001 World Press Review (VOL. 48, No. 12)

Israel is a nation of news junkies. Everyone from the street sweeper to the prime minister covets the news, current and right up to the minute. Israelis want to be well-informed about everything from the latest soccer game scores to the latest-breaking international story.

Being “in the know” is extremely important because everyone has an opinion to express, and everyone strives to support opinions with the freshest facts from a favorite media source and journalist.

The Israeli electronic and print media rise to this challenge, providing news and feature stories not only in Hebrew and Arabic (the country’s official languages) but in Russian, English, French, Spanish, Amharic, Farsi, Ladino, and Yiddish as well. There is even an official listener: Michael “Mickey” Gurdus and his staff monitor and summarize news from regional and world radio and television stations for national radio and television.

The radio waves are crowded, and everyone tunes in. Israelis can choose from everything from national, army, and independent radio stations to the local pirate stations that occasionally crowd into the radio bands reserved for air-traffic controllers.

Daily newspapers are expensive by U.S. standards, costing an average of just over a dollar at the newsstands. But Israel, a country with a total population of just over 5 million (less than half the size of Chicago), supports three mass-circulation Hebrew-language dailies, dailies for several of the Jewish Orthodox communities, and Arabic, Russian, and English-language dailies. There are weekly or monthly newspapers and magazines in all the other languages and for special interest groups–ranging from newspapers or magazines for schoolchildren to local weeklies for various cities and farming areas.

Israel’s two television channels (one national and one independent) devote an average of three hours’ prime time to news or news analysis programming every day. Additionally, large segments of the TV viewing population are connected to cable service.

Besides radio, TV (including cable), newspapers, magazines, and Internet sources of news, Israelis in ever-greater numbers now turn to the phone company, Bezek, which has a dial-in number linking to national radio. And all three cell-phone providers also have dial-in numbers that provide links to various radio stations as well as the Internet. Clearly, getting news is Israel’s national obsession.