Freedom House released its annual report on press freedom throughout the world today at an event sponsored by the Newseum in Washington. But along with the usual and appropriate condemnations of dictatorships and totalitarian states, the group decided to slam the one democracy in the Middle East as well as one of the few states in the region where press freedom actually exists: Israel.
Karin Karleklar, the organization’s project direct for monitoring press freedom, told an audience at the Newseum streamed live over the Internet this morning that Israel’s status was being downgraded from “free” to “partly free.” This is astonishing by itself, but the bizarre nature of this judgment is only made clear when one hears the reasons. Two of the reasons stated by Karleklar—the indictment of a journalist for possessing stolen classified materials and the problems that one television station has had in getting its license renewed—are hardly violations of freedom but do speak to issues that could be misinterpreted as tyrannical if they were discussing a country where there wasn’t a vibrant free press. But the third is so absurd as to call into question not merely the judgment but the impartiality of the entire report.
The report claims that the appearance on the scene of Israel Hayom, a relatively new Israeli newspaper, is a threat to press freedom because it is a success that has hurt the business prospects of its competitors. No, you didn’t misread that sentence. Freedom House is taking the position that the fact that Israel Hayom has claimed an impressive share of the hyper-competitive newspaper market is undermining the freedom of the press. The justification for this ridiculous claim is that Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul and well-known contributor to Republican candidates, has “subsidized” the paper and that its editorial line favors Prime Minister Netanyahu. The paper, which is distributed free of charge, is now the most-read paper in Israel, a state of affairs which Freedom House not unreasonably connects to the demise of Maariv, a longtime mainstay of the Hebrew daily press. But the question readers of this report have to ask is what in the name of Joseph Pulitzer does the ability of Adelson’s paper to succeed where many other print papers are failing have to do with freedom of the press?