Knesset Rejects 'Israel Hayom' Law

PM weighed in against the bill, which would have regulated free newspapers

The Knesset yesterday voted down a bill that would have barred the free distribution of a newspaper for a period of more than a year, with the exception of institutional subscriptions.

The bill was rejected 61 to 14, with one abstention.

Known as the "Israel Hayom bill" after the free daily whose circulation it sought to restrict, the draft law was introduced by MK Marina Solodkin (Kadima ). Israel Hayom, which is owned by the U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson, is considered a major threat to Ofer Nimrodi's Maariv daily newspaper.

"The Knesset should not be turned into a battlefield between wealth and wealth," Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud ) quipped, adding that he had the impression that in voting on the bill yesterday MKs followed their "ties to this or that fortune and not the question of principle."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voted against the bill. He, associates, and the lobbying firm "Policy," which Israel Hayom had hired, pressured ministers and coalition MKs to oppose the bill.

Netanyahu is friendly with Adelson and his wife, Miriam. The prime minister enforced coalition discipline against the bill.

Supporters of the bill also lobbied for its approval.

"The Knesset," Rivlin said, "should conduct its deliberations from a constitutional perspective and not out of a desire to provide a benefit to one side or another," Rivlin admonished.

Commenting on the pre-vote lobbying, Rivlin said: "I am aware that there are pressures on MKs and sometimes the arguments [regarding legislation] don't relate to the constitutional aspects but the personal ones, and even expediency related to the vote and publicity for the member and his work. This doesn't bring honor to the Knesset. The Knesset should not be dealing with legislation dealing with [particular] people and special cases, but rather only with subjects of principle to the state as a whole.

"To my great regret, the atmosphere at the moment, during the vote, is a misuse of Knesset procedure," Rivlin continued. "It is not proper for the Knesset to debate and pass the Israel Hayom law rather than conducting a principled discussion of freedom of the press and how to create [press] competition in Israel." He added that the subject should not be considered in the context of "one rich man against another." He was also critical of the involvement of lobbyists in the matter.

Rivlin had proposed that Solodkin withdraw the bill in favor of a Knesset debate on the broader principle involved, but admitted that he did not have the authority to remove the legislation from the Knesset agenda.

Prior to the vote, Solodkin said if the bill were defeated she would submit another one, within a matter of weeks, aimed at prohibiting the use of "predatory pricing" - in this case, selling goods for less than 50% of the cost to produce them.