By Josh Hasten/JNS.org –
With the Summer Assembly of Israel’s 19th Knesset now in session, a highly controversial bill has drawn the ire of many from a wide range of professional fields and political backgrounds, including Members of Knesset (MKs), legal experts, media watchdog organizations, free speech activists, and journalists.
A measure describing itself as the “bill for the promotion and protection of the printed media in Israel,” but informally known as the “anti-Israel Hayom bill,” is set to be brought before Israel’s powerful Ministerial Committee for Legislation in the coming weeks. The proposal seeks to outlaw daily newspapers in Israel whose business model includes free distribution to the general public.
There is little uncertainly that the bill’s initiators, from parties both on the left and the right, are specifically targeting the Sheldon Adelson-owned newspaper Israel Hayom, whose free-distribution strategy has in recent years taken away a significant number of readers from its competition.
The text of the bill–submitted by MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) and co-signed by Yoel Razbozov (Yesh Atid), Robert Ilatov (Likud Beytenu), Elazar Stern (Hatnua), Ariel Attias (Shas), and Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi)–claims that the measure seeks to “strengthen written journalism in Israel and ensure equal and fair conditions of competition between newspapers,” according to a Jerusalem Post translation.
But Professor Eli Pollack–chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (IMW), which calls itself the leading Israeli media watchdog organization–said the bill represents exactly the opposite of its stated goal.
“This legislation is anti-liberal and makes no sense in a free market where anyone can do what they want as long as it’s legal an ethical,” Pollack told JNS.org. “It’s fair competition. There is no reason to try and close [Israel Hayom] down or stop their way of working.”
Israel Hayom has reported that two original backers of the bill, Shas MKs Yitzhak Vaknin and Yitzhak Cohen, recently decided to withdraw their support of the legislation.
MK Shaked also recently admitted to a Channel 2 television interviewer that the bill “won’t pass.” Analysts claim that Shaked–along with her party’s chairman, Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennett– initially supported the bill from the political right since it essentially targeted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel Hayom has been accused of pro-Netanyahu bias.
“Israel Hayom is not a newspaper. It is Pravda,” Bennett said in March, referring to the Russian political newspaper associated with the Communist Party. “It’s the mouthpiece of one person, the prime minister.”
IMW’s Pollack said there is “no question that the legislation [to ban free newspapers] is politically motivated.” He explained that “for years Yedioth [Ahronoth], which calls itself ‘the newspaper of the country,’ had a monopoly and nobody cared.”
“But when Yedioth’s and Haaretz’s [market] shares went down and other newspapers including Israel Hayom and Makor Rishon went up, that posed a problem for those that don’t want right-wing opinions to be heard,” Pollack told JNS.org.