TEL AVIV – Israel’s Channel 10, which for years has been struggling to pull itself out of a financial black hole, will go dark for good on Dec. 31 without an emergency injection of cash from the government.
On Sunday night, however, three days before its looming closure, the station halted its broadcasts for several hours and instead displayed a photograph of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It was accompanied by the message, “In three days, Channel 10 will close. The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who serves as the communications minister, refuses to find a solution.”
In a move that sent the Israeli government into turmoil earlier this moth, Netanyahu summarily fired several members of his cabinet and called for fresh elections. He has since been serving as acting minister of communications in addition to his prime minister duties, but has refrained from making a statement on the status of Channel 10.
Channel 10 is one of only two private television networks in Israel. Its closure will mean a monopoly on news reporting for rival Channel 2. Many critics in Israel are calling the situation a genuine threat to Israel’s democratic character.
Israel’s two main commercial broadcasting channels are Channel 10 and Channel 2, the latter of which splits its air time between concessionaires Reshet and Keshet. In addition to its popular news programming, Channel 10 has drama and current affairs programs, but it lags behind Channel 2 in popularity.
The only other local channels are the state-run Channel 1; the Knesset channel, which is devoted to the Israeli parliament; and Channel 33, which is focused mainly on Arabic speakers. Most Israeli homes tap into dozens of additional satellite channels thanks to either Hot Telecom or Yes, the nation’s two competing telecommunications giants.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin weighed in on the Channel 10 situation on Monday, writing on his public Facebook page, “The TV blackout casts a shadow on Israeli democracy, especially during election time. 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.”
Channel 10 was previously brought back from the grave in 2012 when Israel’s parliament gave it a two-year reprieve to pay back the significant funds it owed to the government. Two years later, the station remains mired in debt, but its employees are also operating under a near-unanimous contention that Netanyahu wants to see them shuttered following a series of damning news items about him, his wife and their associates.