Commercial TV channel gets closure reprieve prior to national Israeli election

World Today

Israel’s Channel 10, one of the country’s two commercial networks, won a last minute victory that will allow it to stay on the air for now. Israel’s broadcast authority agreed to give the channel six more months to pay its debts and come up with a plan for the future. Threats of a shutdown, just months before a general election, shocked many Israelis, who feared the closure was politically-motivated and potentially damaging to the country’s democratic nature. CCTV America’s Roee Ruttenberg reported from Tel Aviv.

Commercial TV channel gets closure reprieve prior to national Israeli election

Israel's Channel 10, one of the country's two commercial networks, won a last minute victory that will allow it to stay on the air for now. Israel's broadcast authority agreed to give the channel six more months to pay its debts and come up with a plan for the future. Threats of a shutdown, just months before a general election, shocked many Israelis, who feared the closure was politically-motivated and potentially damaging to the country's democratic nature. CCTV America's Roee Ruttenberg reported from Tel Aviv.

The journalists working in Channel 10’s newsroom were supposed to be out of a job Thursday, given  that their network owes nearly $10 million to Israel’s broadcast regulator and faced cancellation at midnight, when its franchise certificate was due to expire. Though on the air for more than a decade, Channel 10 was unable to secure a long-term license due to its debts.

Chief international correspondent Nadav Eyal blamed the country’s broadcast structure and the government.

“They are in our portfolios. This is not a free market. We are obligated by law to take hundreds of millions of shekels, which was over $100 million a year, and focus them in different fields which were decided by the government,” Eyal said.

The channel launched a public campaign targeting  prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In recent months, the Israeli leader fired a number of ministers in order to move forward with national elections and in doing so, took control of the communications portfolio. Channel 10 is no friend of Netanyahu’s, and many Israelis suspected his public silence on the issue was an election tactic.

Professor Jerome Bourdon of Tel Aviv University said such scenarios were not unique to Israel.

“The history of commercial TV is a history of instability, of interference, and of politicians trying to control or influence businessmen, which is strange. Business people investing huge amounts of money in a business which loses huge amounts of money, [yet] keep on investing because they are fascinating by the idea of owning a channel,” Bourdon said.

Channel 10 said it has now come up with the money to cover what it owes.

The Israeli regulator said the channel was mismanaged, and its ability to pay off existing debt did not justify the issuance of a renewed license. The channel, it said, must demonstrate a solid plan for moving forward, one that’s sustainable and profitable.

A Catch-22, said that the channel, as doing so is impossible without a license.

“Every investor said, ‘You’re gonna make money on a license, and I want in. I just want to make sure you are going to get one,'” Eyal said.

Thanks to a last minute appeal from the attorney general, the regulator has issued a six-month extension. Which means comes June, this real-life off-air drama will be re-broadcast, or cancelled, for good.