The Government Committee for Legislation decided Sunday to oppose a bill that would have limited the free-of-charge distribution of newspapers in Israel. The bill, proposed by Kadima MK Marina Solodkin, would have limited the period in which a daily national newspaper may be distributed for free to one year.
If the law passes,Yisrael HaYom, which has been distributed without charge since 2006, would have to close down immediately. After the Committee for Legislation's decision, however, the bill's chances of passing in the Knesset are very slim.
The law is perceived as an attempt by at least two of Israel's veteran newspapers – Yediot Acharonot and Maariv – to fight Yisrael HaYom, which is steadily gaining readership at their expense. According to the TGI media ratings survey, Yisrael HaYom passed Maariv in reader exposure in 2008 and became Israel's number two newspaper, after Yediot. Maariv is said to be under threat of folding, and Yediot, too, is in trouble, largely because of the newcomer's presence.
Yisrael HaYom is published by financier Sheldon Adelson, and is considered less far to the left and more patriotic than Yediot and Maariv. Some detractors accuse it of sycophancy toward Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
In a show of confidence before the government vote, Yisrael HaYom boosted its distribution by tens of thousands of copies. Two weeks ago it was being printed in 255,000 copies. Last Sunday it was printed in 279,000 copies, and by Wednesday the number was up to 301,000 copies.
MK Solodkin said that even if the government committee turns down her bill, she will bring it to a vote Wednesday. “Even if it fails in the plenum I will wait a few months and bring it to a vote again,” she said, “because this is a matter of life and death for us.”
In an interview with Israel National News four months ago, when she submitted the bill, Solodkin explained: “I am in favor of freedom of expression and pluralism, but in the current situation, there is a danger of centralization – one paper for the lower classes that want a free newspaper, and one for the upper classes.”
Solodkin did not acknowledge that her motives stem from a bias against Yisrael Hayom’s perceived pro-Netanyahu stance.