Dozens of workers at Channel 20 and supporters protested outside government buildings in Tel Aviv on Monday, as the station faces closure for violating the terms of its license.
The right-wing channel is facing hefty penalties for broadcasting news and current affairs offerings, including two interviews with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent months.
Despite the fact that earlier this year the station received a license in principle to broadcast news, the Justice Ministry recommended that it only receive a conditional or temporary license due to its failure to stick to its conditions of broadcast.
The owner of the station, Yitzhak Mirilashvili, has said he cannot keep it going without news programming.
Several well-known Israel television personalities from other networks joined the demonstrators, arguing that silencing the channel amounts to an attempt to limit free speech.
In September, several right-wing lawmakers spoke out in support of the station, vowing it would not be shut down.
Under a 1982 law, the country’s TV stations fall under the jurisdiction of the Communications Ministry’s Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting, which determines the terms of its license.
Channel 20, sometimes referred to as Israel’s Fox News for its right-of-center programming and public claim to offer a counterpoint to the “mainstream media,” began broadcasting in August 2014 with a focus on Jewish tradition with a conservative bent.
In December 2016, the Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting gave its okay for Channel 20 television to broadcast a news program for up to one hour during the prime-time hours of 8-11 p.m. Although permission was granted for the station to show news, that was on the condition that it would implement certain appointments and other supplementary measures, a process that has not yet been completed.
Upon a request from the station, the council also eased its original restrictions, saying 75 percent of the channel’s offerings must focus on heritage and religion, and 25% on current affairs offerings. That permission was petitioned against at the High Court of Justice by a competitor of the TV channel, which argued the council was favoring Channel 20 and allowing it to breach its license.
In July, the council announced it was investigating the channel on suspicion that it had violated the terms of its license in interviewing Netanyahu on a late-night show.
The TV station has paid out hundreds of thousands of shekels in fines for other infractions, including for broadcasting news content, since it went on the air in 2014.
In May the regulatory board awarded Channel 20 the license to broadcast from the parliament for the next 10 years, based on a bid that came in ahead of those of competitors Hadashot (formerly Channel 2 News), Channel 10 and an independent television production company.
In July, however, the High Court nixed a contract for Channel 20 to produce, manage and broadcast the Knesset Channel for the next 10 years. The court found that there were irregularities in the tender process and suspended the agreement until it could be properly investigated. The case is ongoing, with additional hearings scheduled for the fall.