At the request of several lawmakers, the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee is due tomorrow to hold a revote on Channel 10 television's request to defer payment of its debt to the state by one year. The debt in question comprises royalty payments and licensing fees, and the channel's management has made it clear that failure to postpone the payment will lead to the closure of the station.

Over the last few years, Channel 10 has published several investigative reports on Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, so it's only natural that the prime minister would take a jaundiced view of the station. And last week, when the Knesset panel rejected the station's request, Likud members voted against the request unanimously.

Did Netanyahu order his party's MKs to vote against the channel's request and thereby bring about its closure? One of his close associates was quoted by Haaretz as saying that if the station's senior analyst, Raviv Drucker, were to vacate his post, the Likud would likely change its position.

Channel 10 was founded with the aspiration of being an alternative to Channel 2. But in this regard, the station has been a resounding failure: Aside from its relatively lively news company, nothing distinguishes it from its rival commercial channel, with all its idols and quiz shows.

Nevertheless, the station's closure, and especially that of its news corporation, would deal a mortal blow to freedom of the press. A situation in which the country has only one television news network, with no real competition from the public broadcasting station, would be dangerous.

No less harmful is Netanyahu's involvement in what appears to be an act of revenge against the station for the professional work of some of its reporters. The message being sent by the Prime Minister's Bureau is that anyone who dares to investigate what goes on in the bureau will be punished. This message isn't aimed only at Channel 10, but at all of Israel's media: They should see it and tremble.

This is a dangerous message that has no place in a democracy. It sends Israel backward in time to its early days, when the director-general of the Prime Minister's Office was effectively the radio's editor-in-chief.

Likud members will have an opportunity to change their positions tomorrow and, thereby, to uphold pluralism in television broadcasting. What is at stake here is not merely payment of Channel 10's debts, but payment of the MKs' debt to freedom of the press in Israel - freedom from threats and from acts of vengeance.

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: סגירת חשבון עם ערוץ 10