Government gives it a year to pay debt

TEL AVIV — Just three days before it was due to go dark, Israel’s cash-strapped Channel 10 has been saved by the government, which has given the channel a year to repay its NIS 60 million ($15.8 million) tax and royalty debt to the state.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, in an opinion submitted by his deputy Avi Licht on Sunday, said the channel, one of only two independent TV stations in Israel, can stay on air until the end of 2012 despite being unable to pay off its debts.

The move must be approved by the Second Authority for Television and Radio Council, which is expected to sign off on it.

Weinstein’s opinion was an about-face by the government. A coalition led by right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu previously nixed Channel 10′s request for a one-year lien. That move, coupled with the fact that Netanyahu is suing the station and its newscaster Raviv Drucker over a series of unflattering investigative reports, have provided fodder for critics who accuse the pol of launching an assault on Israeli democracy (Variety, Jan. 21).

A new Israeli law calls for TV channels to switch from a system of franchises to licenses, and Channel 10′s request for a license was rejected on Jan. 1 because of its debt. Weinstein’s opinion calls on the government to re-examine the channel’s eligibility.

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