Watchdog Raises Doubts Over Israel Hayom's Purchase of Rival Newspaper

Antitrust Authority questions why Sheldon Adelson’s freebie won out over bid by rival publisher Eli Azur.

Nati Tucker
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Sheldon Adelson.Credit: AP
Nati Tucker

The Antitrust Authority expressed concern yesterday about Israel Hayom’s , according to sources attending the meeting between the two parties and the regulator.

The sources, who asked not to be named, called it a “difficult” meeting, with regulators saying the takeover raised “problems” because of Israel Hayom’s huge share of daily newspaper readership.

The meeting came 10 days after Israel Hayom, a freebie controlled by U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson, won a court-ordered auction of Makor Rishon, a right-of-center weekly newspaper – and a related website, NRG – for 17 million shekels ($4.9 million).

Eli Azur, the publisher of The Jerusalem Post, which, like Makor Rishon and NRG, was controlled by Shlomo Ben-Tzvi.

Israel Hayom was read by 38.6% of Israelis in the second half of 2013, exceeding the 38.4% who read Yedioth Ahronoth – the traditional circulation leader, according to market research firm TGI. On Fridays, Yedioth has retained its No.1 position with 41.4% to Israel Hayom’s 33.7%, but adding in Makor Rishon’s 3.6% share would narrow the gap.

Antitrust officials asked to be provided with core data on the newspaper market, and sought explanations from the court-appointed trustee who oversaw the sale over why he opted to sell Makor Rishon to Adelson’s daily and not Azur, who also put in a bid.

“We are investing a lot of resources in examining this transaction and will not settle for anything less than a thorough investigation,” Antitrust Commissioner David Gilo told Army Radio. “It’s premature to assess it. We are gathering information and I will be wiser afterward.”

The free daily Israel Hayom.
An ad for the free daily Israel Hayom boasts of 'fairness' and boasts it is 'straight to the point.'Credit: Daniel Tchetchik