Israel’s second biggest news site, Walla, owned by Shaul Elovitch, plans to launch a free daily newspaper, posing a potential threat to American Jewish tycoon Sheldon Adelson.
Adelson owns the freebie Israel Hayom, currently the most popular paper in Israel, which unabashedly gives Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu popular coverage.
However, Netanyahu has nothing to worry about. Walla, as Gidi Weitz revealed in a Haaretz expose, provides positive coverage of Netanyahu and his wife Sara, and for good reason.
Elovitch owns Bezeq, Israel’s largest telephone and Internet service company. He currently needs some important decisions in the communications field regarding the Bezeq group – the main one being removal of the structural separation in the company.
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit recently demanded that Netanyahu, who serves as communications minister, sign a conflict of interest document preventing him from dealing with matters related to Elovitch because of their friendship. However, Netanyahu refuses to sign.
In recent months, Walla and the financial newspaper Globes have been in negotiations to print its new freebie. There is already broad collaboration between the sides, regarding content, advertising and the digital sphere. Observers estimate that the freebie deal would be worth tens of millions of dollars.
Eliezer Fishman, who is mired in billions of dollars of debts, controls Globes, which was forced to make significant cutbacks in recent months and reported ongoing losses put it in danger of collapsing. Significant revenue from printing Walla’s freebie should improve Globes’ financial situation but make it dependent on Elovitch.
Globes workers and the journalists’ union petitioned the labor court last week claiming the negotiations are liable to violate their rights and journalistic independence. The hearing was held behind closed doors to avoid revealing the emerging deal.
Globes management declined to comment because of the nature of the hearing. None of the other parties commented either.
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