Israeli journalists protest over industry cutbacks

AFP, Wednesday 3 Oct 2012

Employees of Maariv daily protest outside Prime Minsiter Netanyahu's house demanding a lifeline for the printed news industry

About 200 employees of the debt-laden Maariv daily demonstrated Wednesday evening outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's official Jerusalem residence, demanding that he intervene to save the struggling newspaper industry.

"We are here, hundreds of Maariv workers outside the prime minister's house... because the printed news industry is collapsing," Maariv parliamentary correspondent Aril Bender told Israeli public radio.

"If the state and the government do not intervene we will eventually end up with one newspaper only," Bender said, as the public radio observed a one-minute silence on its early-evening news in solidarity with print colleagues.

The mass-circulation Maariv was sold to the publisher of a right-wing daily last month and job cuts are expected to run deep.

Under terms of the $19 million deal, the paper was acquired by the owner of the conservative Makor Rishon newspaper, who has pledged to keep on around 300 of Maariv's approximately 2,000 staff.

Many of the newspaper's journalists threatened to go on strike over the deal, fearing for the future of the paper's editorial line after its sale to Shlomo Ben-Zvi, a West Bank settler who is close to Israel's nationalist, religious right.

A number of Israeli newspapers have folded in recent years as media ownership grows increasingly concentrated, with players like the top-selling Yediot Aharonot and the mass circulation free sheet Israel Hayom crowding out smaller titles.

Staff at the iconic leftwing Israeli broadsheet Haaretz were holding a vote on Wednesday evening which was widely expected to order an immediate eight-hour strike against planned layoffs.

Haaretz itself reported that employees would strike "in protest over the planned dismissal of up to 100 employees and the claim that management is not negotiating with them over the firings and other cutbacks."

"The sanctions may affect publication of Thursday's Haaretz newspaper in both Hebrew and English, but are not expected to affect Friday's paper," it added.

"The newspaper's Internet sites will also be affected."

Globes business daily quoted a member of the Haaretz staff union as saying that Thursday's edition would definitely not appear.

"There will be no Thursday edition, period," it said.

Last week staff at the Tel Aviv daily, which also publishes an English-language edition, held an initial stoppage of around two hours, as well as a demonstration that partially blocked the street outside its headquarters.

Haaretz quoted its publisher, Amos Schocken, as saying that redundancies would go ahead despite the protests.

"It is regrettable that the union doesn't understand that something has happened in the newspaper industry that requires adapting expenditures to the reality of the business," Schocken added.

"The decision to strike will not strengthen Haaretz, but weaken it."

Founded in 1919, Haaretz is currently engaged in cost-cutting and is reportedly in talks to sell its printing press to Yisrael Hayom, which is owned by US billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a major Republican donor and close confidant of Netanyahu.

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