Channel 10 petitioned the High Court of Justice on Sunday, claiming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be blocking a proposed bailout package for the cash-strapped station due to “impure motives.” Earlier in the day the opposition accused Netanyahu of waging a “personal battle” against the station.
The petition was filed on Sunday afternoon after Netanyahu failed to bring the proposed bailout plan, in the form of a bill, before his ministers at the cabinet’s weekly meeting.
The prime minister “was preventing the government’s discussion of the bill, and so eliminating any chance of implementing the plan without giving any explanation,” the petition stated. Netanyahu was doing so “even though it was clear to everyone that if the law was not passed on to the Knesset without delay Channel 10 would shut down and all its workers terminated.”
In light of these facts “the inevitable — and only — conclusion is that the decision to prevent the implementation of the professional teams’ recommendations stemmed from impure motives,” Channel 10 wrote.
Closing the station “under these circumstances — on the eve of elections and against the positions of all those involved — would be a negative landmark in the history of Israel,” the petition stated, and called for the court to interfere. It was in the best interest of the hundreds of employees for the station to remain active, but it was also important for the democratic fabric and values of the state that the bailout deal become reality, it said.
Politicians on the left accused Netanyahu on Sunday of waging a “personal battle” against the station by withholding the bailout funding it needs to survive.
Late Saturday the station’s board of directors said it would delay by a couple of days the planned firing of all its employees as it attempted to negotiate with the government for a deal that would let it continue operating.
On Saturday night Harel Locker of the Prime Minister’s Office arrived at a meeting of the station’s board of directors and asked them to wait an additional week before sending out dismissal notices. The board declined, but decided to postpone the move for 48 more hours.
The prime minister is “working personally to shut down Channel 10,” Labor head Shelly Yachimovich told reporters, “despite detailed agreements” that were reached in an attempt to save Channel 10.” Netanyahu wanted it closed “simply because the channel doesn’t serve his interests on the eve of elections and [instead] insists on journalism,” she added.
Netanyahu’s office’s latest attempt to push off the firing of hundreds of the station’s employees wasn’t a surprise, Yachimovich said. Netanyahu planned to “toss them a few bones” and bring Channel 10 “down on its hands and knees to beg for its life until election day, using threats and fear to force reporters to give him positive coverage,” she said.
On Thursday Channel 10 announced it would give its employees their two-week 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 prime minister is shutting down Channel 10,” the station said in a statement last week, upon announcing the firings. “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.”
Michal Shmulovich and Asher Zeiger contributed to this report.