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The Yedioth Aharonoth newspaper is no longer considered a monopoly among daily papers, Antitrust Commissioner Ronit Kan announced yesterday after reviewing the matter for a year and a half.

Yedioth, Israel's largest circulation daily, has Sheldon Adelson to thank for the shift. In 1995 Yedioth was declared a monopoly, when it sold over 50% of the papers in the country. Now, with the added competition from Adelson's free Israel Hayom, its share is dropping.

The new paper, which launched two and a half years ago, is now distributing 250,000 copies a day, and has a 26.9% exposure among newspaper readers. Yedioth's exposure now stands at 34.2%, while Maariv has 14.4% exposure and Haaretz - in Hebrew - is at 7.5%.

"We see Israel Hayom as a new competitor that has led to an erosion in Yedioth Aharonoth's market share," Kan said yesterday.

The Anti-Trust Authority said its examination was based not only on the actual number of newspapers printed, but also on figures from a variety of sources - including exposure surveys, information from advertisers and circulation figures. The authority said that using just the number of copies printed would not properly reflect Israel Hayom's market share, as it was distributed for free.

Despite the declaration of the end of the monopoly, and the restrictions it entailed, Kan made two clarifications. She warned Yedioth against agreements that could be considered illegal restraint of trade, such as requiring various points of sale to carry only Yedioth. In addition, she said such exclusive deals with advertisers could also be considered restrictive trade practices.

"Israel Hayom has changed the rules of the game," one industry source said yesterday. "Its appearance did more to Yedioth Aharonoth than all the years of regulation or antitrust restrictions. Before Israel Hayom, Yedioth could raise advertising prices every quarter, even if its circulation was falling," the source added.

It is estimated that Yedioth distributes between 200,000 and 280,000 papers a day on weekdays; Maariv distributes 100,000 to 120,000; and Haaretz 70,000 to 80,000.