President Shimon Peres expressed his support Wednesday for a beleaguered Channel 10 in its struggle to remain afloat in the face of massive debt, and called on all parties involved to make efforts to allow it to "continue its broadcast.”
Peres met several Channel 10 staff members, including executives, anchors, and writers, to hear an assessment of the channel's current situation, including the financial hardships that have befallen it, as well as a number of possible solutions that would allow the station to continue broadcasting.
Peres stated that the channel’s struggle is representative of the struggle over Israel’s democratic character, adding that an additional news outlet is “imperative for the state, society and the strengthening of Israeli democracy.”
The president also reminded the attendees that Israel has struck deals involving billions of shekels with banks with massive debts in the past, and that the same should be done for Israel media outlets.
The meeting comes a week after the channel’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.
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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