Yedioth Ahronoth Touts Rightist Credentials After Post-election Pushback

Israel’s best-selling daily suffers wave of subscription cancellations as readers protest anti-Netanyahu coverage.

Ariel Schalit

Stung by a wave of subscription cancellations in the wake of Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu’s election victory in March, Yedioth Ahronoth – Israel’s largest paid-for daily – is marketing itself to readers as the voice of Israel’s right.

The marketing campaign, whose details were revealed in a recent internal memo obtained by TheMarker, comes after the newspaper gave highly critical coverage to Netanyahu and his wife Sara in the weeks leading up to the March 17 election.

Netanyahu himself accused the newspaper and its Ynet website of attacking him in order to advance the business interests of its publisher, Noni Moses. That only caused Yedioth to intensify its attacks on the prime minister, although they were counterbalanced to some extent by Israel Hayom, the freebie newspaper controlled by U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson that assiduously supported Netanyahu.

The election ended with Netanyahu’s Likud party claiming a better-than-expected 30 seats and, in its wake, what sources said were a wave a cancellations.

Yedioth denied Monday it was losing readers. “The newspaper is not seeing a wave of subscription cancellations, and it’s completely unclear where this mistaken information originates,” it said in a statement to TheMarker.

“With regard to any [sales] talking points, we are entirely proud of the articles that appear exclusively in the newspaper, and so we alert the subscriptions department about them. There’s nothing new in this. Memos like these have been distrusted in the past as well,” the statement said.

But the internal document shows that, in an attempt to stem the tide, sales representatives encountering a reader wishing to cancel their subscription have been instructed to emphasize the newspaper’s patriotic content that expresses a rightist-nationalist viewpoint.

Using the slogan “Things that are only in Yedioth,” management has given call-center reps sales talking points that note things like, “Only Yedioth Ahronoth provides a real and uncensored voice to the national right, with columnist like Hanoch Daum, Sivan Rahav-Meir, Yoaz Hendel and Ben-Dror Yemini,” according to the internal document obtained by TheMarker.

Telephone reps were also instructed to highlight the newspaper’s coverage of traditional religion, particularly the celebrations at Mount Meron over the Lag Ba’omer holiday last week. Among the sales talking points was, “Yedioth Ahronoth was the only non-Haredi daily newspaper to give the most pages of coverage to the hahilula at the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.”

Reps were not just limited to messages about Yedioth’s right-wing and religious credentials; they were also told to push the newspaper’s sports columnists and unusual stories.

The extent of the publishing group’s business problems was evident with the appointment – for the first time ever – of a CEO: Yinon Angel, a long-serving executive in the newspaper.

Yedioth is undergoing a major transition, given the declining readership in the print industry and its intense circulation war with Israel Hayom. The two dailies are fighting hard not just for readers but also advertisers, so a wave of subscription losses would put Yedioth at a serious disadvantage.

The publishing group, which includes the financial daily Calcalist, will be moving from its current Tel Aviv base to offices in Rishon Letzion in the first quarter of 2016, when the company will be cutting jobs and merging departments.