Who’s who on Israel’s TV News

Who’s who on Israel’s TV News
Israeli TV personalities Yonit Levi from Channel 12, Raviv Drucker from Channel 13 and Lital Shemesh from Channel 14.

ITTAY FLESCHER explains the ideological and commercial context of outlets and personalities creating Israel’s television news.

In Israel’s fragmented and divided society, media audiences look for confirmation of their worldview, with a clear delineation between good and evil, and an unambiguous denunciation of the people or ideologies that most threaten their way of life.

TV anchors and political pundits who know how to supply the goods to their respective audiences quickly become household names. Like former army generals, many former journalists later have successful careers in the Knesset: Aida Touma-Sliman, Merav Michaeli and Yair Lapid on the left; Boaz Bismuth, Gideon Sa’ar and Yisrael Eichler on the right.

In Australia, the one-hour 6 pm news is often broken up into the four categories of local and national news, international news, sport, and weather. In Israel, the nightly news lasts for 90 minutes with up to half an hour of breaking news, followed by longer magazine articles delving into deeper societal issues such as gun violence or the cost-of-living crisis. The broadcasts often conclude with lighter stories about the lives of celebrities and consumer tips about where to find the best holidays or cheapest consumer items.

The weather doesn’t change enough to make the news except on the one day of the year it snows, which turn all the news stations into National Geographic, screening beautiful images of Jerusalem mountains.

There are four major Hebrew TV stations, listed here in ratings order, plus Makan in Arabic and Channel 9 in Russian.

The market leader: Keshet12

Market: Also known as simply Channel 12 or N12, Keshet 12 has grown to dominate the TV market, with an average 26% primetime audience share in 2021. Its nightly news often has double the audience of its closest rival. Its commercial orientation is similar to Seven or Nine in Australia.

Ideology: Keshet 12 seeks to represent the broadest possible range of views. Panel discussions, frequently heated, feature journalists representing different sectors of Israeli society: the right (Danielle Roth Avneri), left (Daphne Liel), religious (Sivan Rahav-Meir, Yair Sherki), Arab (Furat Nassar, Mohamed Majadle), and military (Nir Dvori). It has a Palestinian expert, too, notably a Jewish Israeli (Ohad Hemo).

Despite the diversity of its panel, Keshet 12 is often accused of being a mouthpiece for the pro-democracy protests, because it has devoted extensive screen time to the weekly Saturday night protests and provides a regular soft platform for protest leaders such as Shikma Bressler and Moshe Redman. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused  it of becoming “the left’s propaganda arm.”

Personalities:  Named Israel’s most influential journalist in a list compiled by the Yifat Media research group, Amit Segal is a modern-orthodox journalist with huge personal following. Hated by the left and adored by the right, he is willing to criticise Netanyahu, which gives him broader credibility. He interviewed US conservative poster boy Ben Shapiro at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Tel Aviv and the two were described as most important conservative journalists in their respective countries.

As the prime-time news anchor of N12 for over two decades, Yonit Levi is the best-known journalist in Israel.  She has formidable intelligence, perfect English and an ability to have just the right facial expression for every story. She has interviewed every sitting US president for the past 20 years. Levy comes from the centre left secular world of Tel Aviv but is a carefully objective and balanced interviewer. She is more open on her podcast Unholy: Two Jews on the News, with British journalist Jonathan Freedland, the most highly downloaded English podcast in Israel.

The social media maven: Channel 13

Market: Most famous for its reality shows such as Big Brother, Survivor and several cooking shows, Channel 13 draws a much smaller news audience despite having a similar agenda and outlook to Channel 12. Like Channel 10 in Australia, it tends to rate much better with a younger audience.

Channel 13 excels on social media. Its culture and news program Hazinor has 707K followers on Instagram, far more than any other Israeli news account. In 2022, Hazinor host Guy Lerer started a boycott initiative against Osem on Facebook over price increases. Within days, Osem cancelled the price rises on all its pasta products.

Ideology:  Channel 13 treads an uneven ideological line. Netanyahu has described it as “radically left wing” but one of its leading journalists is generally seen as far right on his attitude to Muslims. According to this 2021 poll, 58% view it as left and 21% view it as right wing but in the past year it has tended more to the right than previously.

Personalities: Highly regarded investigative journalist Raviv Drucker has broken several key stories that shaped Israeli society including stories on politically motivated distribution of funds by the JNF, conflict of interest by Netanyahu’s lawyer and second cousin David Shimron, and gifts by James Packer to Yair Netanyahu. Netanyahu has accused him of “morbid and obsessive pursuit of the prime minister”.  Drucker also broke the story on the intervention of former Health Minister Yaacov Litzman on behalf of several Haredi sex offenders, including Malka Leifer.

Channel 13’s Arab affairs correspondent Zvi Yehezkeli has published many widely viewed undercover reports on the rise of Muslim fundamentalism. Many on the left view him as Islamophobic, while those on the right see him as a truth-teller. He recently produced a story about the recent Koran burnings in Sweden that had not one word of condemnation against the phenomenon, but several minutes of justification for why Swedes are right to be fearful of Islam.

The populist: Channel 14

Market:  Channel 14 (previously known as Channel 20) started with a small audience after it won a government tender to establish a “Jewish Heritage Channel” in 2014. It now draws as many viewers as legacy networks, giving voice to conservatives tired of mainstream news. It is the only news channel that doesn’t broadcast on Shabbat. The network is often mocked by its rivals for its factual inaccuracy. Just this week, a report about the floods caused by Tropical Storm Hilary in California was accompanied by footage from a water ride at Universal Studios.

Ideology: With a tone similar to the Murdoch-owned Fox News in the US or Sky News in Australia, Channel 14 is the most favoured station by the right, and in the past year has been the only Hebrew network to which Bibi or Sara Netanyahu have granted interviews.

Its far right ideology has sometimes proved a problem. In July, the Strauss Group ceased running advertisements on the network after a panellist called for the release of Yigal Amir, the Jewish terrorist who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. Channel 14 swiftly disavowed the remarks and dismissed the panellist, but Strauss, citing “repeated hurtful comments on the channel’s programs” said it would still pull its ads.

Personalities: Named Israel’s most influential journalist on Twitter, now X, Yinon Magal is known for his sarcastic and inflammatory commentary. The former editor-in-chief of Walla!, Magal is a Bibi loyalist who has said if he were Netanyahu, he would shoot journalists critical of him. He hosts the news panel discussion program The Patriots, which is often the second-most watched show in its time slot after Keshet 12. Magal briefly served as an MK with the Jewish Home party in 2015 before leaving the Knesset due to sexual harassment allegations. Police found insufficient evidence to press charges.

Lead anchor Lital Shemesh often defends the actions of the IDF towards the Palestinians. She is also articulate on women’s empowerment and what she sees as biased media coverage against Israel. Last month, Shemesh attracted attention around the world after appearing in an English-language video published and funded by the Public Diplomacy Ministry criticising international media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One IDF Spokesperson told Haaretz, “It is mind-boggling that someone would (use the official Public Diplomacy account) to get us to tell the world that Christiane Amanpour is a liar and that the BBC and the New York Times are not journalism.”

Shemesh is headed to Australia in September for a speaking tour focused on exposing the bias of the mainstream media against Israel.

The public broadcaster: Kan 11

Market: The Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation occupies a similar niche to the ABC in Australia. It is best-known for producing high-quality drama such as Tehran and The Lesson and broadcasting major public events from the Olympics to Eurovision.

Ideology: As a public broadcaster, Kan 11 strives for an objective approach although like the ABC, it is perceived by the right as too left. Far-right Knesset members see it as an enemy and have recently threatened to shut it down.

Personalities: A strong supporter of judicial reform, Kalman Liebskind is modern-Orthodox and right leaning. He was one of the founding journalists of Makor Rishon, one of the most widely read newspapers in Religious Zionist circles. Liebskind recently published a major piece in Maariv contrasting the harsh reaction of several Supreme Court judges to illegal protest actions such as road blocking surrounding the Disengagement from Gush Katif in 2005 with their more tolerant approach to illegal protest actions over judicial reform, concluding that “without a deep change in the DNA of our legal system, nothing will change.” But he is also willing to criticise Netanyahu, especially over his failure to secure the safety of residents in the south from Hamas rockets.

Recently promoted to anchor and political correspondent, 27-year-old  Suleiman Maswadeh is an unusual journalist. He grew up in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem and didn’t speak Hebrew until he was an adult. Unlike most Palestinian journalists in Israel he doesn’t cover only “Palestinian” stories. He has a strong personal following on social media and his background as often leads to fascinating on-air encounters such as this exchange that went viral at a far-right rally led by Itamar Ben-Gvir.

The bottom line

Despite Israel’s smaller population, the TV news market is much more intensely contested and fragmented than in Australia. There is little consensus on major issues from right to left, religious to secular, Jewish to Palestinian. To understand the fears and hopes of those who share the land between the river and the sea, it’s best to dip one’s feet into each of the different media ecosystems frequently. They demonstrate well a famous line from a Yehudit Ravitz song, “What we see from here is not what they see from there.”

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