The Knesset will be deciding the fate of cash-strapped Channel 10 Thursday evening. MKs will consider a bill that would extend the station's operating license, which is due to expire at the end of this month. The proposed extension is for another two years.
If all goes according to plan Thursday, consideration of the bill is to be expedited with the vote on final passage also slated for Thursday.
The bill is to go before the full Knesset on first reading, then be referred to the Knesset House Committee and then return later in the day to the full Knesset on second and third reading.
There are those, however, who think ultimately the bill will only extend the station's license for another three months, giving Netanyahu, on the assumption that he will be reelected, leverage over the station even after the January 22 Knesset elections. The station has said that under such circumstances, it would chose to simply shut down at the end of this year.
The station's staff planned to suspend broacasts as of 10:20 P.M. Wednesday, but backed off after regulators said it would violate the terms of the station's license.
As the Knesset's consideration of the bill neared, workers at Channel 10 stepped up the public campaign to save the station. They sent the station off the air overnight early Wednesday.
Instead of the usual programming, the screen featured a message calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to see to it that the station's license is extended by two years. The workers took the step despite explicit directives from the station's board of directors and from the Second Television and Radio Authority, which governs commercial broadcasting by Channel 10 and Channel 2, not to do so.
Locker deals moves to Knesset
The director general of the Prime Minister's Office, Harel Locker, had worked out the details of legislation to save the station, but until this week, the bill was not scheduled to be brought before the Ministerial Committee for Legislation or the Knesset.
Now it appears that Netanyahu has agreed to Locker's proposal, which would also provide a state loan to the station of NIS 65 million and require the lead investor in the station, cosmetics heir and World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder, to inject another NIS 80 million into its Channel 10 operations to shore up its financial standing.
The proposal includes several other provisions, including scrapping the requirement to pay fees to the Second Television and Radio Authority by unifying the agency's regulatory operations with that of the Council for Cable Television and Satellite Broadcasting. It would also eliminate the requirement that the station pay royalties of about 1.5% of its revenues to the government.
The approval process was complicated at the beginning of the month when the two license holders that operate Channel 2, Keshet and Reshet, demanded equal terms for their own operations.
In the past, according to industry sources, the Channel 2 franchisees didn't care what concessions were given to Channel 10, but as Channel 2's own financial plight has worsened due to this year's shrinking advertising market, they decided they could not show restraint in the face of government concessions to rival, Channel 10.
Keshet and Reshet, which are regarded as successful as measured by consistently high ratings for their programs, have actually each lost tens of millions of shekels over the past year. On Monday of this week, the CEOs of the two franchisees met with Locker and other members of his panel that developed the recommendations regarding Channel 10, and presented him with their own demands, but emerged from a meeting with Locker empty-handed.
Channel 2 cuts programs
In an unprecedented step this week, Channel 2 shortened its main evening news broadcast from an hour to 45 minutes and scrapped two popular current affairs programs, "Meet the Press" and "Shesh Im Oded Ben-Ami" ("6 O'Clock with Oded Ben-Ami' ).
Instead of Ben-Ami's program, the station explained the reasons for its move, which it said was the result of government policy.
In response, the Second Television and Radio Authority ordered the station to return to its original broadcast schedule, noting that it had not approved any change in the schedule. Some industry sources said Wednesday that the two stations' use of the airwaves to further their own business interests constituted a criminal offense - improper use of a public resource.