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Cellular telephone provider Partner recently began distributing a handsome book on major innovations in communications to local schools. The book, which gives pride of place to the company's contribution to technological innovation, is being distributed without the permission of the Education Ministry. According to the ministry, "the material is unequivocally not approved for distribution or use in schools."

A communications teacher at a high school that received about 50 copies of the book called it "advertising for all intents and purposes, which doesn't even try to be hidden." Partner (Orange Israel) refused to say how many copies had been sent to schools.

The book is called "Hello [in English] - World of Communications." The brand identity begins on the cover, which uses the distinctive sans serif font and black-orange-white color scheme associated with the company. At the front of the book is a short introduction by Amikam Cohen, Partner's CEO until a few days ago, explaining that "as a communications company that believes in connections between people and in scientific and technological education, we are happy to present you with the story of personal communications yesterday, today and tomorrow."

"Hello" details important communications innovations from the late 18th century to the early 21st century, including the invention of the telephone, radio, television and the Internet, and culminating in the invention of the cellular telephone. One or two pages are devoted to each inventor. Partner's graphic identity is maintained throughout the book.

Once the book's timeline enters cell phone territory, Partner and Orange are mentioned explicitly. The year 1994, for example, is described as follows: "On April 28, 1994, a new company named Orange burst onto the British market - a new and surprising promise ... Orange realized from the first moment that it must stand out from other companies in its vision, its caring, its refreshing and clear identity and above all - in its personal attention to the customer." Information on the company takes up three pages.

Similar examples abound for subsequent years. The book's final chapter, "The future sounds great" (part of the company's longstanding slogan), says: "We decided to end the book with the launch of 3G because for us, that was the moment we began the future."

Nothing hidden

"Two days ago, the school librarian approached me," one teacher related. "She told me - she was very excited - that two cartons of books had arrived that were appropriate for the communications program. One glance was enough to see that it was advertising. The whole book is designed like the Partner brand. They write history from the perspective of Partner. I teach my students about hidden advertising, but there's nothing hidden here, it's outright advertising."

Revital, a communications teacher from the north of the country, objects to the book's distribution in schools. "If it's so important to Orange to help the schools, it could have donated some equipment to the communications program," she said. "But that's not the case. I don't do advertising for any company in school, so I asked to return the books."

The Education Ministry has a committee that examines all requests to place advertising in schools and sets guidelines on this issue. According to the ministry guidelines, advertising in public schools without the committee's explicit permission is illegal. The guidelines, which are distributed to all schools, are based on the Consumer Protection Law, and stipulating a punishment of one year in prison or a "large fine."

Irit Livne, chair of the committee that vets advertising in schools, said that she instructed school principals who told her about the books not to use the material or distribute it to their students, because it was not approved by the committee. Ministry officials said that any principal who violates this directive will face a disciplinary hearing.

In October, Haaretz reported that Orange had donated about NIS 1 million to Rogozin High School in south Tel Aviv for renovations to the schoolyard and athletic court, in exchange for placing ads in the yard. About two weeks after publication of the deal, the company's advertising slogans were removed by people claiming to be representatives of Orange.

Rani Rahav Communications, which represents Partner-Orange, issued a statement yesterday according to which copies of "Hello" were donated to libraries and schools as part of the book's commercial launch. "This book is a supplemental text only and is not part of a curriculum, and thus the donation to school libraries does not require Education Ministry approval," the statement said. According to the statement, Rahav has received warm thank-you letters in response to the book, as well as requests for more copies from schools.