After years of financial trouble, Israel’s Channel 10 will stop airing on Wednesday, the station announced Sunday night.
At 10:30 p.m. on Sunday, the channel stopped its regular broadcasts for the night, and displayed instead a photograph of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a message announcing the closure.
“In three days, Channel 10 will close,” the statement read. “The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who serves as the communications minister, refuses to find a solution.
“Therefore, the employee’s union has decided to stop, for tonight, Channel 10’s broadcasts.”
The station will resume broadcasting Monday morning at 6 a.m., it said.
In December 2012, the Knesset voted to extend Channel 10’s broadcasting franchise for two years and to give the cash-strapped television station a loan to cover its debts to the government — while requiring it to transfer its operations to Jerusalem within nine months.
Over the past few years, the station has sunk tens of millions of shekels into debt, failing to meet criteria for its continued rights to broadcast.
Nonetheless, many at the channel had accused the Netanyahu government of personal animus in threatening not to extend its franchise, after the channel broadcast a series of exposés about Netanyahu and members of his circle, including his wife.
Channel 10’s foreign desk editor, Nadav Eyal, wrote on Facebook following the suspension of broadcasts Sunday that the channel had been profitable over the past few months and that a mutually agreeable deal with the Second Authority for Television and Radio — which issues broadcast licenses — to settle the debt was in its final stages.
“This afternoon, the authority sent us a surprising letter. It went back on its agreement to settle the debt… and issued a demand it knew Channel 10 could not meet,” Eyal wrote, adding that the channel was ready to pay the agreed portion of the debt immediately.
Eyal intimated that Netanyahu had a hand in the crisis.
The head of the channel’s workers’ union, Channel 10 business correspondent Matan Hodorov, lashed out at the prime minister in message issued to the employees, blaming Netanyahu for ignoring what he called the “biggest crisis in the history of Israeli television.”
“We hope that an acceptable way forward is found to uphold freedom of the press in Israel,” Hodorov wrote according to news site Nana10, which is affiliated with the channel.
Meanwhile, Israeli politicians took to their social media profiles to weigh in on the unfolding crisis.
Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon, a popular former Likud communications minister, called on Netanyahu to intervene and for a quick solution to be found.
The head of the left-wing Meretz party, Zehava Gal-On, had some harsh words for the prime minister, calling him a bully for using the “last days of his third terms to deal a heavy blow to freedom of speech, and to allow an Israeli channel that employs hundreds of people, to close simply because it would not toe the line [of the right-wing].”
Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni, who is running on a joint ticket with the Labor party to form a center-left bloc, changed her profile picture to an image with the slogan “Saving Channel 10.”
“We won’t allow the viewers’ right to choose which channel to watch to be harmed, nor will we allow the livelihood of 1,000 people to be harmed,” she promised.
Likud MK Miri Regev charged that “black TV screens cannot occur in a democratic country,” and promised to do “everything possible so that we don’t see such things on our television screens. We will help Channel 10 resume it regular broadcasts.”
Economy Minister and head of the Jewish Home party Naftali Bennett said that although “Channel 10 was not one [his] biggest fans, it should not be allowed to close. It’s the time to help Channel 10.”
Channel 10, which began broadcasting in 2002, is Israel’s second main commercial station, and is also available on US and European cable networks. It produces original drama, current affairs and entertainment programming, and operates a generally well-regarded news operation.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.