(photo credit: Courtesy)
A new, free daily Hebrew newspaper, Israel Hayom (Israel Today), is set to launch today, with 150,000 copies slated to be distributed in bus and train stations.
While Israel Hayom officials have maintained extreme secrecy regarding the paper's editorial bent, going so far as to ask reporters not to speak publicly about the paper, the paper is bankrolled by Sheldon Adelson, an American casino mogul who has close ties to former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, sources told The Jerusalem Post.
Not only Adelson, but Israel Hayom editor-in-chief Amos Regev, is close to Netanyahu, a source said. An Israel Hayom official refused to deny or to confirm a connection between these figures and Netanyahu. "Mr. Adelson knows a lot of people," the official said.
Prof. Eli Pollak, chairman of Media Watch, a non-profit watchdog group, expressed concern that ,Israel Hayom is bankrolled by "one person with connections to a political figure." But he added, "At least we're getting additional connections."
One official source, when asked whom the paper might support in a future prime ministerial election, said, "You're aiming for Bibi [Netanyahu]," but did not give a definite answer, saying that the question amounted to a "vicious way" to "stigmatize us."
A secrecy policy at a newspaper is "the wrong step," said Pollak. "The first thing a newspaper should be is honest and aboveboard." The public is entitled to ask a paper, 'Tell us what your line is,'" he added.
But Pollak also welcomed "the fact that we're getting another newspaper."
With such a small number of newspapers, nobody has to care very much, Pollak said. He decried this situation as "not healthy" and "detrimental to Israeli democracy."
Israel Hayom sources have also remained tight-lipped regarding how the paper plans to support itself. While many free dailies struggle on a scant budget with a small staff, Israel Hayom, buoyed by Adelson, has recruited a larger team. Writers are to include Dan Margalit, who recently gave up his well-known column in Ma'ariv to join Israel Hayom. A source said that the paper will sell advertisements only to non-profits for its first month, to demonstrate its seriousness.
The paper will also take an unusual distribution approach, placing many copies in private mailboxes as well as handing the paper out in transportation hubs.
Israel Hayom ultimately hopes to reach a daily circulation of 300,000.
The model of a free newspaper offers "a captive audience," including "commuters" and "the soldier vote," said Dr. Aaron Lerner, a co-founder of the Independent Media Review and Analysis.
Pollak has expressed concern that Israel Hayom is bankrolled by "one person with connections to a political figure." But he also suggested that many other papers and their owners share Israel Hayom's model.
"Given the circumstances, the fact that Adelson is the one funding this newspaper doesn't worry me," Pollak said. "I'm much more happy that... this new newspaper will create serious competition... mean[ing] more pluralism and openness to what the public wants."