The Channel 10 television station filed a petition Wednesday with the High Court of Justice against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the imposition of a 16.8 million shekel ($4.3 million) government fee that he imposed as acting finance minister earlier this month, a fee that the station claims is liable to result in the station going off the air.
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The petition challenges an order issued by Netanyahu just before the new government was sworn in, when he was acting finance minister, imposing the last-minute payment obligation. “It involves a decision that was taken in an underhanded manner,” the petition claims, “apparently a few hours before the cabinet was sworn in and the new finance minister took office.”
Last Thursday, three hours before he vacated the finance minister’s post in favor of Moshe Kahlon, Netanyahu, who is communications minister in addition to prime minister in the new cabinet, signed an order requiring the station to pay the 16.8 million shekels for a three and a half year extension of its operating license. The decision was taken in keeping with a professional opinion issued by the Second Television and Radio Authority, which regulates commercial stations such as Channel 10, but it runs counter to a recommendation by the Finance Ministry’s budget department to reduce the amount to about 5 million shekels.
“It involves a decision over which it is clear to everyone that the essence of the decision – the manner and timing in which it was taken – could be a death knell for Channel 10 if it is not rescinded immediately,” the petition alleged. The station claimed that the Finance Ministry suddenly raised the issue of the debt only on April 30 in connection with the license extension, without allowing sufficient time for a response on Channel 10’s part.
Sources at the station say that the issue of the fee also deterred two potential investors in the station, RGE Media, whose shareholders include U.S.-based billionaire Len Blavatnik, and Israeli entrepreneur Ilan Shiloah. For his part, Shiloah said his investment in the station is not off the table, but he cannot payment from his investor group by the end of this month, when the station must provide payment guarantees.