The Knesset Economic Affairs Committee yesterday turned down a request from Channel 10 television to defer payment of a debt to the state that comes due at the end of the year.
The committee's decision followed a stormy session in which coalition discipline was imposed to require coalition Knesset members to vote against deferring the payment. That made the vote a foregone conclusion.
The station's CEO, Yossi Warshavsky, charged that the committee's decision would spell the end of Channel 10.
Other sources at the station concurred, saying it constituted a death sentence for the station.
Senior station executives have claimed that the government's inflexibility over payment of the debt is politically motivated: As reported in Haaretz, one Channel 10 official described two instances in which sources in the Prime Minister's Office and in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party purportedly indicated that the station's financial plight could be addressed if Channel 10 dismissed reporter Raviv Drucker or put him on unpaid leave.
It was Drucker whose reporting last March raised questions about Netanyahu's travel expenditures.
By a vote of eight to five, the Economic Affairs Committee turned down the channel's request for an extension on repaying its NIS 45 million debt.
The committee also declined to defer payment of debts by Channel 2 franchisees Reshet and Keshet, which owe NIS 23 million and NIS 9 million, respectively.
"Channel 10's shareholders are very well-to-do people," said committee chairman Carmel Shama-Hacohen (Likud) as he opened yesterday's session. "They are not bankrupt. There's another two months before payment, during which creative solutions can be found. All the talk about how the coalition and rightist parties are persecuting the station is cheap demagoguery."
"This isn't about closing Channel 10, but about payment of its debts," added MK Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beiteinu). "This money belongs to the public."
But opposition MKs angrily charged that the station was indeed a victim of political persecution.
"This session is a lesson to all broadcasters that it is very much worth their while to meet their debt obligations," said Yoel Hasson (Kadima). "Otherwise, they will become hostages to one party or another."
He also denied that the opposition was behind the accusations of political pressure on Channel 10.
"The whispers came from people connected with the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu and from conversations with associates of the prime minister," he said, adding that State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss had agreed to look into the matter to determine whether improper political considerations played a role in the decision on the station's debt.
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