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.
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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.”