Yisrael Hayom distributor (file)
Yisrael Hayom distributor (file) Israel news photo: Flash 90

Three years after its first issue hit the streets, Yisrael Hayom (Israel Today) has surpassed Yediot Acharonot in public exposure, according to a TGI survey. Yediot Acharonot (also known as Yediot for short) has been Israel's most popular newspaper for more than 30 years, and was considered unassailable for decades, during which it led over second-place Maariv by a wide margin.

Unlike Yediot and Maariv, Yisrael Hayom is a “freebie” newspaper: it is handed out at no charge at train stations and other public places.

The poll shows Yisrael Hayom with 35.2% exposure in the first six months pf 2010 – a dramatic 30% rise from the preceding six month period. Yediot has 34.9%, up from 33.9% in July-December 2009. Maariv is down to 12.5%, from 13.6% in the previous six month period. Haaretz is also down, to 6.4%. In January-June 2009 it had 7.5%.

Yisrael Hayom is owned by businessman Sheldon Adelson, who is considered a supporter of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. While Yediot and Maariv were always anti-Netanyahu, the rival newspaper's success has caused an outraged frenzy in both, causing them to attack Netanyahu with ever-growing ferocity.

The newspapers are believed to be behind an unsuccessful legislative bid to outlaw the free distribution of newspapers. In an irony of history, Yediot began gaining ground on Maariv when it distributed free copies to IDF soldiers during the waiting period that preceded the 1967 Six Day War.

In Wednesday's issue, Maariv lambasted Netanyahu for not canceling a birthday event for his 19-year-old son when news of the helicopter crash in Romania reached him. Its columnist Ben Caspit refused to accept the Prime Minister's Office, which said that Netanyahu only learned of the tragic event after the party had begun, and then went to his workroom, where he received updates and spoke to the Defense Minister. Yediot was also critical of Netanyahu on the same score, but in a less aggressive manner. Yisrael Hayom focused on Netanyahu's words of sorrow over the tragedy and ignored his son's birthday party.

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