As freebie newspaper Yisrael HaYom (Israel Today) grabs a growing share of the print media market, legislation is being considered to block its growth.

The newspaper has already overtaken Maariv as the country’s second-most widely read newspaper, and is now threatening Yediot Acharonot as well. The last survey on newspaper readership, taken by the TGI Institute for the first half of 2009, shows Yediot with 34.2% exposure, followed by Yisrael HaYom with 26.9%. Trailing behind are Maariv (14.4%) and Haaretz (7.5%).

Distributed free on buses, busy intersections, places of work, residences, and elsewhere, 250,000 copies of Yisrael HaYom are published five days a week – and the paper recently began a weekend edition as well. 100,000 weekend copies were originally printed, but publisher Sheldon Adelson says that because of “a flood of demand by readers,” he has upped that number to 150,000 for this week – and plans to increase it to 250,000 in the coming weeks.

Sheldon Adelson / Flash 90

The News 1 Hebrew website reports that the Maariv and Yediot newspapers, owned by the Nimrodi and Moses families, respectively, are pushing for legislation that will stop or restrain Adelson’s influence on Israel’s print media market. They have hired a lobbyist, Keren Barak, to convince Knesset Members to support the bill, and she has had significant success thus far. The legislation, preparation for which is being done rather secretly, will be tabled as early as next week, with the goal of giving it fast-track status.

The Goals: Save Democracy, Save the Newspapers

The stated objective of the legislation are to safeguard Israel’s democracy by preventing a foreign national from controlling its print media, and to prevent the print media market from financial collapse.

Because of Adelson’s reputation as being a friend of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, many Opposition MKs are open to the suggestion that a foreign billionaire’s money is being used to deluge the public with Netanyahu-supportive media.

In addition, it is said that Maariv is liable to collapse within two months if Yisrael HaYom’s success is not stemmed, and Haaretz is liable to be next in line, although it earns money by giving its printing services to Yisrael HaYom.

A similar law restricting the control of foreign interests exists for television and radio channels. The intention now is to expand it to the print media as well. Nothing prevents Adelson from applying for Israeli citizenship, to which he is entitled under the Law of Return.

Adelson's Philanthropy

Among Adelson’s many philanthropic donations are $25 million to the M.I.S. Hebrew Academy in Las Vegas for a high school, an annual $25 million to Birthright Israel, which finances Jewish youth trips to Israel, and $25 million to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem.

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