Channel 10 Expects Board to Shut Down Station on Dec. 31

Crisis comes as Knesset legislation to save broadcaster languishes.

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Channel 10 television said it expects its board to decide tomorrow evening to shut the station down at the end of the month.

Sources at the station are pinning the major blame for the anticipated shutdown on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In a terse statement issued yesterday, the station said that due to the delay in the passage of Knesset legislation to save the broadcaster, which would address the major debts the channel faces, it expects its governing boards to vote tomorrow evening to cease operations on December 31 when the station's current license expires.

According to the announcement, its two boards are expected to direct Channel 10's management to begin the procedure of dismissing the entire staff of the station, effective at the end of the broadcast day on December 31. The station has about 400 employees. Another 600 people, including production companies that provide content to the station, also depend on the station's business.

"The prime minister is closing Channel 10," a source at the station said. "Netanyahu refuses to submit to the Knesset the bill that was drafted and agreed upon to extend our license."

The Prime Minister's Office may prefer a temporary approach to the station's ills until after the January 22 elections. Channel 10 sources say that if Netanyahu throws the station a lifeline for the next several months via a temporary order, he will also be retaining his leverage over the station's future during the election campaign. Early this week, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin announced that the Knesset would not convene again before the elections, which set off alarm bells at the station as it needs the legislation to be passed by the end of the month if it is to continue to broadcast with a license. In any event, at a meeting with station executives, Rivlin said the government must submit legislation before he can consider it.

Race against time

After a dispute that dragged on for years, Channel 10 managed to come to an understanding with the Prime Minister' Office on a legislative plan to save the station and give it two years to put itself on better financial footing. The understanding was reflected in a legislative memorandum concluded this week in advance of the bill's submission to the Knesset, but sources at Channel 10 say they don't believe Netanyahu will submit the bill to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation when it meets on Sunday.

Approval of the bill by the committee would give it official government backing and pave the way for possible passage by the Knesset this year. Sources acknowledge, however, that it appears the bill will not be enacted before the station's current license expires at the end of the year or before the country goes to the polls.

The Second Authority for Television and Radio, which regulates commercial broadcasting in Israel, called for everything possible to be done to have the necessary legislation passed this year to ensure that the public has the benefit of two major public commercial stations, the other being Channel 2.

According to the sources, even if it turns out that the bill to save Channel 10 is on the agenda for Sunday's meeting of the ministerial committee, the governing boards at Channel 10 are still expected to order substantial staff layoffs. The agreement that it struck with the Prime Minister's Office requires Channel 10 to cut its 2013 budget by 20%.

For the rest of this month, station executives are expected to try to enlist the help of Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who has expressed support for the station. Although the attorney general has no formal authority over the future of the station, Channel 10 staff say they believe he has the power to influence how Netanyahu proceeds over the station's fate. Station management has asked for a police permit to stage a demonstration today in front of Weinstein's home in Herzliya Pituah.



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