Is billionaire Sheldon Adelson beginning to cut back on his investment in Israel Hayom, the free newspaper considered the mouthpiece of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?
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The paper has reduced its daily printing run by 50,000 since December to 275,000 copies. It ceased publishing its weekend circulation numbers in January and it now refuses to confirm how many issues it prints on weekends.
Israel Hayom announced upon its founding that it would be transparent and print on its issues its printing and circulation numbers. The number always appeared on the front page of each issue, followed by the phrase “confirmed by accountants.”
Prior to the recent drop, the newspaper had increased circulation over the years, especially after acquiring the former Maariv presses for 60 million shekels (some $18 million) in 2014. The newspaper printed 325,000 copies of its weekday edition in recent years. On weekends, since the 2015 elections, when Adelson was apparently helping Netanyahu, the newspaper was printing 550,000 copies.
The drop in circulation follows deterioration in relations between Israel Hayom editor Amos Regev and the Prime Minister’s Office. As TheMarker recently reported, sharp differences arose between Netanyahu’s office and Regev, mainly between Regev and Ran Baratz, the prime minister’s spokesman. However, observers say there is a more significant break between Netanyahu and Adelson. The paper has reportedly stopped publishing pictures of Netanyahu’s wife, Sara Netanyahu.
The latest storm around the revelation of tape-recorded conversations between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes likely deepened the crisis. The tapes revealed that Netanyahu was trying to reach an arrangement to limit the circulation of Israel Hayom or the number of ads in the newspaper in exchange for positive coverage in Yedioth Ahronoth. Netanyahu later denied in a post that there was such a deal and announced that one of the reasons he dissolved the government was because of the bill trying to limit Israel Hayom.
Haaretz’s Uri Blau reported that Israel Hayom lost 730 million shekels between its founding in 2007 and 2014. Observers believe the rate of losses has continued since, amounting to about 1 billion shekels. Reducing circulation would dramatically reduce the newspaper’s losses as well as cash injections from Adelson into Israel Hayom’s coffers.