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.

AP

The Antitrust Authority expressed concern yesterday about Israel Hayom’s purchase of rival newspaper Makor Rishon, 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, acquired a third publication, Maariv, 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.
Daniel Tchetchik