Israeli television station Channel 10 announced on Thursday that it will give its employees two-week dismissal notices on Saturday night, thus paving the way for the station to close at the end of December if the government does not sign off on a deal to save the property.
Earlier this month, the television outlet’s owners and the government reached an agreement by which the state would loan the channel NIS 65 million ($17 million) to enable the company to pay back the massive debt it has accumulated, comprising mostly state royalties and licensing fees.
However, the cabinet must still approve the deal before December 31. The firing notices may be a tactic to push lawmakers into saving the cash-strapped station, after it became clear Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not intend to bring the matter up for a vote at the cabinet meeting next Sunday.
“The prime minister is shutting down Channel 10,” the station said in a statement. ”The prime minister … refuses to bring before the Knesset the law that was formulated and agreed upon to extend the network’s franchise. Therefore the Board of Directors…will meet on Saturday…in order to decide about the closing (of the station) on December 31, and to recommend to management to conduct the orderly dismissal of of all station employees, effective immediately upon conclusion of our broadcast on Monday, December 31.”
The deal, negotiated by a committee headed by Harel Locker of the Prime Minister’s Office, included exempting the station from franchise fees and royalties next year and extending its license for another two years.
The executives originally applied for a three-year extension, which was the time frame previously given by the Finance Ministry for turning the company’s finances around.
Another condition set out by the Locker committee was that half the loan be contingent on US billionaire Ron Lauder, Channel 10′s main shareholder, pledging bank securities; the other portion would be granted against financial collateral. Lauder said he would meet the financial conditions.
The understanding between the shareholders and the Locker committee was passed on to the Communications Ministry, which was to draft a bill for the legislation required in order to extend the station’s license.
Earlier in the day. Channel 10 board chairman Avi Balashnikov appealed in writing to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein for his intervention. ”One cannot overstate the importance of public interest that is as stake,” Balashnikov wrote. “We are talking about a serious blow to freedom of expression, journalistic pluralism…and the livelihood of thousands of families.”
Balashnikov wrote that he had confidence that Weinstein, who was involved in formulating the agreement to save Channel 10, would not allow the station to close down. “…certainly not on the eve of elections, and especially not when not one of the professional authorities in the government that this is an acceptable conclusion.”
The station has been plagued with severe financial problems over the last several years, and its executives have been at a lengthy impasse with the government over debt-structuring plans. In August, Channel 10 sacked 150 staffers, about one third of its manpower.
“We have reached the moment of truth” wrote Balashnikov. “Every additional delay…even technical or procedural” will cause the immediate closing of Channel 10.
Michal Shmulovich contributed to this report.