The Knesset passed a law Tuesday that would allow Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to relieve Channel 1’s NIS 150 million debt.
The law states that the forgiven debt will allow the channel to invest funds in local productions, but would forbid it from selling real estate assets before the reform is put into place. The law also includes provisions dealing with the channels internal structural changes.
Very few members from both the coalition and opposition were present during the Knesset discussion.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin harshly criticized the government’s policies toward the media. “We are cutting off all the branches of broadcasts in the country” said Rivlin, adding that if the government wants to implement reforms, it “will have to invest in them.”
While forgiving Channel 1’s debt looks likely, Netanyahu does not show any signs that he will forgive the beleaguered Channel 10’s debt, despite pressure from the likes of President Shimon Peres.
Tuesday’s Knesset meeting comes weeks after Channel 10’s request to delay its debt repayment was rejected by the Knesset Finance Committee. The channel will have to repay some NIS 45 million to the state immediately, with the Knesset committee's decision likely to lead to the closure of the station within six weeks and the firing of hundreds of workers.
The decision not to postpone the repayment came after the committee members' eight to five vote against the request. All members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition also vetoed the plan.
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.
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