Preserve the Free Press

With only two TV channels and the same number of daily newspapers there won't be a critical, competitive and biting press.

The decision by the Channel 10 board of directors to fire the channel's 500 workers and close it down has to worry anyone concerned about Israeli democracy. If we add to the imminent collapse of Channel 10 the difficulties being faced by Channel 2, the severe distress at most of Israel's daily newspapers and the threat of immediate sacking that hovers over the employees of local news outlets, we see a mortal blow being dealt to Israel's free press. With the small number of media outlets - some of them not independent - that will survive this crisis, Israel will be a different, totally undemocratic country.

The impression is that this is the aim of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who hasn't liked some of the investigative reports done by Channel 10. Although his director general, Harel Locker, signed an outline agreement to save the channel and the finance minister has adopted it, the cabinet is refraining from expediting the relevant legislation so that it can pass through the Ministerial Committee for Legislation and the Knesset by the end of the year.

On Saturday night Locker asked the Channel 10 board to withhold the dismissal letters for 48 hours. If no last-ditch effort is made, one of Israel's three leading television channels is liable to go off the air. This is an intolerable situation.

A society without an independent, lively and varied press is what dark regimes are made of. A weakening of the free press in Israel will result in many subjects not being dealt with at all, while others will get tendentious coverage. Criticism of the authorities will be neutralized or perhaps disappear entirely, and Israel will hear only one voice - the voice of the government.

It should be clear, then, that at issue is not just the fate of hundreds, if not thousands, of journalists and other employees who will be out of work - which is serious enough. We're talking about a dark and sinister stifling of basic values.

With only two TV channels and the same number of daily newspapers there won't be a critical, competitive and biting press; it will be impossible to report freely or conduct courageous investigations, which are journalism's lifeblood.

This is, therefore, a last call to the government: Prevent the closure of Channel 10.