'Israel Hayom bill' heads to Knesset for early vote

The legislation defines a free daily newspaper as one that is given out without payment six days a week, and applies only to the four newspapers with highest circulation.

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November 11, 2014 18:18
3 minute read.
Sheldon Adelson

Las Vegas gaming tycoon and Israel Hayom proprietor Sheldon Adelson. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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A preliminary vote on a controversial bill to ban Israel Hayom Wednesday could go either way, with coalition MKs having the option to vote according to conscience.

MKs within coalition parties are divided on the bill, with some saying it violates free speech and others, like Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, calling Israel Hayom election propaganda.

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The unusually unpredictable vote will be on a proposal – drafted by opposition MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) and co-sponsored by MKs from Yisrael Beytenu, Bayit Yehudi, Hatnua and Yesh Atid; that is, from every coalition party except Likud – that states it seeks to bolster the print newspaper industry by banning free newspapers.

The legislation defines a free daily newspaper as one that is given out without payment six days a week, and applies only to the four newspapers with the highest circulation, whatever they may be at any given time.

The lowest-priced newspaper of the four cannot cost less than 70 percent of the cost of the second-lowest-priced paper, according to the bill.

As such, the bill would realistically apply only to Israel Hayom, the pro-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paper owned by his major supporter and donor Sheldon Adelson, who also contributes to Republican candidates’ campaigns in the US, and the legislation’s supporters do not deny that they are targeting one newspaper.

On Sunday, Adelson spoke to Israeli press about the bill, calling it a power play by Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes, following a conference of the Israeli American Council, an organization he helps fund, in Washington, DC.



Yediot Aharonot used to be the most popular newspaper in Israel but was eclipsed by Israel Hayom in recent years.

“I believe when sober-minded people think about [the bill] twice, they’ll realize they’re creating a dictator,” he said. “This is a commercial enterprise so that Noni Mozes can sell his newspaper to a German publisher, or anyone who will pay him enough; so he wants to increase revenue.”

According to Adelson, “Noni Mozes has been attacking Bibi and his family for years, for decades, so if we tell the truth about Bibi, there’s a contrast.”

“I got to hand it to Noni, when he says [Israel Hayom] is Bibi’s newspaper, he’s trying to discredit and degrade the independence of the newspaper, but it is simply not true….

It’s just silly. If I were a judge, I’d laugh at it,” the billionaire added.

Last Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted that the government does not have an official position on the bill.

The entire committee voted to be able to vote freely, except for Construction Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi), who thought the committee should reject the coalition- shaking legislation.

Livni (Hatnua) enthusiastically backed the bill, calling Israel Hayom freely distributed election propaganda, even after a Justice Ministry legal adviser said that there is no legal or factual proof that the bill is necessary, and that it could create a monopoly.

Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) spoke heatedly against the legislation, saying it is undemocratic and only the market should shut newspapers down, not the Knesset.

“Although I have problems with Haaretz’s positions, and that is an understatement, I wouldn’t want the Knesset to vote to close it,” he said. “It is strange that those who see themselves as liberal want to close a newspaper.”

“You’re telling us this bill is undemocratic, but last week you voted for a bill to reverse High Court cancellations of laws, and that is undemocratic,” Health Minister Yael German (Yesh Atid) said.

Following the vote, a Likud source said: “There’s Fox News and MSNBC [right-wing and left-wing cable news channels, respectively] in America. Why can’t we have pluralism here? Why do parties to the Left that call for pluralism want to close a newspaper?” As for rumors that Netanyahu will do anything to stop the bill from passing, even dissolving the Knesset, the source said that he does not think an election will be called over the Israel Hayom bill alone, but that the issues on which the coalition cannot come to an agreement are accumulating and any of them could be the final straw.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) recused himself from the Ministerial Committee for Legislation vote, because of a conflict of interest, as his wife, Lihi, has a weekly column syndicated to Yediot Aharonot’s local newspapers, and he had his own column in its Friday features magazine for nearly two decades. He is not expected to vote on Wednesday, either.

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