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Law Limiting Free Newspapers: Changing the Freedom of the Press?

Seemingly innocuous bill to introduce 'fair competition' to news market expected to cause uproar in coalition, Israeli press.
By Hezki Ezra and Tova Dvorin
First Publish: 3/20/2014, 1:15 AM

Yisrael Hayom distributor (file)
Yisrael Hayom distributor (file)
Flash 90

Six MKs from a variety of Knesset parties proposed a controversial bill on Wednesday that would limit the distribution of free newspapers - including the popular daily Yisrael Hayom

The bill, which was proposed by MKs Eitan Cabel (Labor), Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beytenu), Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home), Elazar Stern (Hatnua), Ariel Atias (Shas) and Yoel Razvozov (Yesh Atid), seeks to ensure "true and fair competition between newspapers."

Analysts predict the law is likely to cause a brouhaha in the government, and that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will act to prevent it from passing. The law's opponents argue that the bill, if passed, could drastically change the balance of representative power in the Israeli press. 

Under the bill, every newspaper which is defined as one of the four daily newspapers most widely circulated in Israel will be sold at a "nominal value" - about 70% of the price of the cheapest and most popular newspaper. 

In addition, the bill would ban distributing free newspapers for more than a six-month period - and require the price of each paper to be printed prominently on the front page. 

Media experts are expected to slam the bill for contributing to the ongoing decline in the newspaper industry, which has made headlines over the past several years as popular publications begin to disappear.

A report by the International Business Times in 2012 noted that the newspaper industry has shrunk by 40% worldwide since 2002, and that it continues to decline at a rate of 6.4% per year. Many attribute the decline to the ubiquitousness and ease of internet news sources.