TEL AVIV – In an eleventh-hour resolution, Israel’s Channel 10 was saved from looming closure Tuesday night in a move by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who granted the troubled station a six-month grace period to pay off its looming debts.
The station, one of only two private television networks in Israel, was due to go dark today after failing to come up with the coin to extend its operating license past 2014. Channel 10 is co-owned by Regency Enterprises mogul Arnon Milchan (pictured) and Israeli investor Yossi Meiman.
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. 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.
Despite its well-documented financial struggles, Channel 10 is home to popular entertainment and current affairs programming in Israel, and also runs a highly respected news operation. Executives of the station launched an aggressive campaign over the past week to drum up funding for a new license, and both employees and senior Israeli politicians have voiced concerns that the shuttering of Channel 10 would strike a major blow to Israeli democracy by leaving its competitor Channel 2 with a monopoly on the market.
But executives at Channel 10 have also been vocal in their belief that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently also serving as Israel’s Minister of Communications after calling for fresh elections and firing the bulk of his cabinet, has a personal vendetta against the station due to their critical news broadcasts of him and his inner circle.
On Sunday night, the station enacted a short strike, turning off its broadcasts and instead displaying a photograph of the prime minister and 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.”
The decision by Weinstein on Tuesday night will now see a fresh referendum on the station’s future scheduled for June.
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. They will now have six additional months to find sufficient coin to repay their debts and prove they can remain solvent.