The government will help Channel 10 continue broadcasting after December 31, with a bill that the Knesset passed Thursday night granting the channel a loan.
The bill – which passed the second and third reading after discussions that went into the night Thursday – went through an expedited process, with all three readings and the Economics Committee meeting on the legislation taking place in one day.
The legislation also continues local news broadcasts for seven months and helps Channel 2. The local news broadcasts were set to be shuttered, and Channel 2 recently announced cuts in its news programming for budgetary reasons.
The legislation on Channel 10 is based on an agreement that Prime Minister’s Office director-general Harel Locker made with the channel’s management over two weeks ago.
According to the proposal, the government would extend Channel 10’s license by two years and loan it NIS 65 million, enabling the channel to repay its debts.
The network was expected to close at the end of the year, leading to protests and angry declarations from opposition parties before Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu decided to back the agreement.
Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon opened the plenum discussion ahead of the bill’s first reading, saying the government should have helped the channel long ago.
“I think this is a partial solution for the Israeli television market. We need a real reform,” he stated. “There is a real problem. I thought a reform moving from media franchises to licenses would help, but it looks like the failures are greater than we thought.”
Kahlon called for less regulation and more freedom for television channels, which should be part of a comprehensive reform and not temporary arrangements.
Several opposition MKs accused the government of attempting to silence criticism from the media.
“Netanyahu is leading an intifada against the free press in Israel,” said MK Yoel Hasson (The Tzipi Livni Party). “He wants the media to depend on him, and [to] terrorize the press, destroy Channel 10.”
Hasson called to separate media funding from political decisions.
“I hear they’re looking for a new editor at [Russian newspaper] Pravda. Netanyahu can be editor-in-chief. He only likes his Pravda newspaper, and wants to destroy all the others,” said Kadima MK Nino Abesadze, who is on Labor’s list for the next Knesset, in reference to the pro- Netanyahu newspaper Israel HaYom.
“At the last minute, the prime minister comes like a knight in shining armor to save the media. Bulls***,” Abesadze quipped. “Netanyahu waged total jihad on the press. After he kills the media, democracy will die.”
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said the claim that the press in Israel was not critical enough was “nonsense,” adding that sometimes it was overly harsh and scathing.
“This is the second time I’ve had to deal with Channel 10 and find an arrangement so it will continue to broadcast. This is the fourth time it had problems and the government saved it,” he said.
According to Steinitz, it should not be taken for granted that the government was helping a television channel.
“This arrangement will not heal [Channel 10]; it will have to heal itself. I hope they don’t come here a fifth time. I don’t think there will be a fifth chance,” he stated.
The legislation was brought to the Economics Committee on Thursday afternoon, after passing its first reading with 33 in favor and none opposed.
Committee chairman Carmel Shama-Hacohen (Likud) said that as long as he was responsible for the issue, Channel 2 and 10 workers and viewers could be calm. “A true democracy needs a strong, independent, biting, balanced press,” he stated.
According to Shama-Hacohen, “in recent days, Channels 2 and 10 are trying to take advantage of election time and pressure the government and the Knesset to give them benefits, aid and concessions in inappropriate ways. Manipulation will not bring us anywhere good.”
However, the Likud MK said he would ignore their behavior, because of the press’s importance to Israeli democracy and in order to keep thousands of people from becoming unemployed.