Antitrust Court Orders Fishman to Sell His Shares in Yedioth Aharonoth

After 10 years, trustbuster bans cross-ownership of Globes, Calcalist.

A full decade after being told by the antitrust commissioner to sell part of his holdings in the Yedioth Ahronoth media group, Eliezer Fishman has been ordered to do so by the antitrust tribunal. The ruling in the matter was issued in late 2011 but not made public until Wednesday.

The Yedioth Ahronoth group publishes the daily newspaper of the same name and Calcalist, one of Israel's three business newspapers. Fishman also owns Globes, which along with TheMarker completes the trio.

Eliezer Fishman in 2009.
David Bachar

Fishman must sell off 9% of Yedioth, in which he owns a 34% stake through Braun-Fishman Communications. Braun-Fishman is owned 50:50 by Fishman and by Edna Braun, whose late husband Haim Braun founded Globes. Globes is fully owned by Monitin Press, itself owned by Fishman (two-thirds ) and Braun (one-third ).

The court said cross-ownership of Globes and Calcalist could create a monopoly in the business press. "The market power concentrated between the two (Globes and Calcalist ) could be imposed on advertisers and the readership," wrote Judge Nava Ben-Or.

"Harm to them could be expressed in higher prices and a reduction in the quality and the scope of coverage. The characteristics of the market raise real concern that the third newspaper, TheMarker, could align its conduct with the others and prevent competition among them."

The antitrust authority became involved in 1999 after Braun-Fishman raised its stake in the Yedioth group from 25% to 36.5%, without approval from the trustbuster. Holdings of over 25% are considered a merger between companies and require approval.

In 2002 the antitrust commissioner told Braun-Fishman to reduce its Yedioth holdings to 25%, but the company was later given the option of depositing the additional shares with a trustee for a predetermined period. Dror Strum, the antitrust commissioner at the time, allowed the company to sell the shares in two phases: 3% at first, and the rest six years later. In 2003 Braun-Fishman sold 3% back to the Mozes family for between $20 million and $25 million.

In September 2010, when the second bloc of shares was to be sold, Fishman claimed the market had changed and that Yedioth Ahronoth had lost its monopoly status due to the launch of the Israel Hayom daily. The antitrust authority countered that the relevant market for its decision wasn't the general newspaper sector in Israel, but rather the business press consisting of just three players.