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Ruchama Katz-Tradonsky

Don’t be a Freier, Pay Your Darn Subscription

A news boy dressed in vintage knickers, newsboy hat and fake long Pinocchio nose stands with a fake newspaper in the middle of a field in Utah, USA. He is trying to sell you fake news. (Getty images)
A news boy dressed in vintage knickers, newsboy hat and fake long Pinocchio nose stands with a fake newspaper in the middle of a field in Utah, USA. He is trying to sell you fake news. (Getty images)

How Subscriptions and Paywalls Are the New Hope for Democracy

As a self-proclaimed advocate for all things free, I have been convinced that my husband paying for his New York Times subscription is the ultimate “freier” (Hebrew for humongous sucker) move.  However, recent events have jolted me out of my complacency and made me reassess my stance on paywalls and the value of quality journalism.

Shlomo Karhi’s threats to end government advertising in Haaretz following the firing of right-wing journalist Gadi Taub, along with his intentions to shut down the Second Authority for Television and Radio, and to slash Kan’s funding, shifting it to other pro-government channels, has served as a wake-up call. It turns out that relying on free media has a price — a pretty steep one. 

When the government threatened to withdraw funding, Nati Tucker from the Marker pointed out that, compared to other newspapers, such as Israel Hayom and Yediot Achronot, Haaretz would be largely unaffected. The reason for this is that, unlike many of its competitors, Haaretz relies on paywalls and registration fees in addition to advertising. 

As any generic quote off the internet will tell you, anything free has a price. 

The media landscape in Israel, since the rise of the Likud party, has been marked by cross-ownership– wherein companies with related interests own multiple media outlets. This limited market leaves media and advertising companies vulnerable to economic manipulation, leading them to resort to questionable practices, such as selling data and promoting biased political agendas. In short, you are at the mercy of your “free” media.  

Over the years, we’ve witnessed concrete evidence of government intervention in the media. In 2012, when the foundations for the Netanyahu trial were built, Netanyahu collaborated with Shaul Elovitch who controlled Bezeq Telecom in return for flattering reporting on the news website Walla. Around that time, the government’s top advertising paper was Yediot Achronot, run by Arnon Mozes who later turned to shady coverage deals with the prime minister to get an edge over his rival, Sheldon Adelson. Adelson, owner of Israel Hayom, was a close friend of Netanyahu, and was accused of purposely covering Netanyahu in a positive light, for no financial gain.  Adelson flooded the market with advertisements worth a third of the price, to flood out competition, causing Mozes to turn to Netanyahu for legislative help. All this is proof of eroded media impartiality and independence over the years.   

At that time, internet advertising was only around 15% of the advertising pie,  which seems fairly insignificant, right? Wrong. The government had already started using Google and Facebook to advertise, even though those companies did not pay taxes to Israel. Today, search advertising is the most profitable advertising segment in Israel. Not only that but recently, Statistica predicted that Facebook’s potential advertising reach could be over 50% of the country. Each time we read free online articles, we are placed in an algorithmic category that feeds us targeted political information, trapping us in echo chambers and filter bubbles. Thus, making us increasingly polarized, and fostering stupidity.   

Even public broadcasting channels, like Kan, are not immune to outside interference. The threat of closure and increased investment in other pro-government channels raises concerns about the impartiality and independence of the media. Let’s not forget that in 2017 the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) was officially shut to be replaced by the Israel Broadcasting Corporation (IBC)-Kan, the very outlet that is being threatened with closure. Therefore, even public broadcasters are subject to outside influence. 

Some might argue that simply paying for reliable news is a copout that does not solve the root of the problem. True, there are groups such as the Israel Democracy Institute that are working towards legislative solutions, however, on an individual level, paid subscriptions are currently the most practical way to support quality journalism. By paying for news, readers can ensure that they are receiving transparent information and supporting independent outlets.

Haaretz’s ability to fire Gadi Taub without significant consequences is a testament to the power of its paywall as readers who appreciate its center-left perspective provide it with the financial stability to make editorial decisions based on their values rather than appeasing advertisers.

In a world where media concentration and external pressures threaten the free flow of information, paying for quality journalism is a small price to pay for a more informed and democratic society. It is time to stop being “Freierim” and invest in news subscriptions. By doing so, we promote quality journalism, by challenging the dominance of advertising-driven media that comes with filter bubbles, targeted ads, and political meddling. 

So, let’s put an end to the reluctance and just pay for the darn subscription. Our democracy depends on it.

About the Author
Ruchama (Katz) Tradonsky made Aliyah from Johannesburg, South Africa. She is now studying dual degree in Business Administration and Communications and Journalism at Hebrew University.
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