President, ex-finance minister back Channel 10 bailout

Rivlin says shuttering of TV station would ‘cast a shadow on Israeli democracy’; Lapid urges PM to adopt solution to financial crisis

Channel 10's announcement about its closure, blaming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (screen capture: Channel 10)
Channel 10's announcement about its closure, blaming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (screen capture: Channel 10)

Senior Israeli politicians lobbied in support of Channel 10 on Monday, a day after the TV station announced it would close down on Wednesday due to financial trouble.

President Reuven Rivlin said the shuttering of the TV station would compromise Israel’s democratic character, while former finance minister Yair Lapid called for his financial proposal to save the cash-strapped station to be adopted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On Sunday night, the channel stopped its regular broadcasts for the night, and displayed instead a photograph of 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.”

The channel resumed broadcasting Monday morning, but not before several politicians weighed in against the station’s closing.

In a post on his Facebook page, Rivlin called for a temporary bailout, particularly in light of the impending elections.

“The TV blackout casts a shadow on the Israeli democracy, especially during election time,” he wrote. “Given the limited competition in the Israeli communications market, we cannot afford to lose the channel, especially at a time when we need to be exposed to the spectrum of opinions and attitudes.”

Rivlin conceded that the media outlet’s debts must be paid off, but urged the government “to find a solution, even a temporary one, to the current crisis to prevent the closing of the channel,” at the very least until the new government is formed.

President Reuven Rivlin speaking at Kafr Kassem Sunday, October 26 (photo credit: Courtesy/ President's spokesman)
President Reuven Rivlin speaking at Kafr Kassem Sunday, October 26 (photo credit: Courtesy/ President’s spokesman)

The president maintained that “a varied democratic discourse is a condition for a healthy democracy,” appearing to criticize the lack of diversity among the Israeli media.

“Whatever our opinion on the present variety [of media], the way to create it is certainly not by way of closing down channels,” he wrote.

Lapid appealed to Netanyahu to disregard “personal considerations” and adopt his financial proposal to save the TV station.

“There is a framework already on the table in the Finance Ministry which we prepared to regulate the broadcasts on Channels 2 and 10 which will prevent the closure of Channel 10 and allow it to continue broadcasting. All Netanyahu has to do is to take it out of the drawer and implement it,” he said in a statement.

“We must not allow interests stemming from personal considerations to overcome the need to preserve a free media and democratic values,” he added.

In backing the TV station, Rivlin and Lapid joined a chorus of Israeli politicians — including Hatnua chair Tzipi Livni, Meretz party leader Zahava Gal-on, Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon, and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett — who called for a bailout late Sunday evening.

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.

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.

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