Protesters take to the street to save cash-strapped Channel 10

Communications minister meets with employees of the financially struggling station.

By CARRIE SHEFFIELD
July 14, 2009 22:39
2 minute read.
Protesters take to the street to save cash-strapped Channel 10

student protest pmo 248 88 aj. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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Swarming the traffic circle at Eliezer Kaplan Street below the Knesset, some 200 protesters gathered Tuesday afternoon, demanding government leaders iron out an interministerial compromise to save Channel 10. Most of the protesters were employees of the financially struggling channel, whose majority shareholder, Yossi Maiman, said Monday that he could no longer afford to keep the channel on the air beyond early August unless negotiators from the Finance and Communications Ministries could agree to reduce the government fees the station pays. Temporarily blocking traffic under the close watch of police, protesters sat in the street, blowing whistles and kazoos, chanting into megaphones and singing a version of Steam's "Na Na, Hey Hey, Kiss Him Goodbye." "They're fighting for their jobs. They're fighting for their survival," said MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), a former Channel 10 anchor who attended the rally. "It's extremely important to allow pluralism, to allow freedom of expression in Israel, and if you shut down this channel, it means that there won't be any competitive channels, any public debate. You'll be stuck with only Channel 2, and that isn't healthy for democracy." Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon met with Channel 10 employees Tuesday morning at the station's studios and was scheduled to meet with Finance Ministry negotiators late Tuesday night. "He [Kahlon] made us a lot of promises. Now we're trying to put some pressure on the Finance Minister, and I hope it works," said Uri Rozen, VP of content for Channel 10's news division. "We don't want money from the state, we just want to continue being on the air. Channel 10 never got even one shekel from the state, it's all a private venture, and we just wanted them to allow us to go on the air," Rozen said. Channel 10 also wants to be granted a license rather than franchise status, which requires periodical renewal. Licenses are permanent and would signal confidence and stability for the channel, which has cost Maiman and his partners, Arnon Milchen, Ron Lauder and Rupert Murdoch, NIS 1.3 billion since its launch in 2002. "I don't know if this particular protest will make any difference," said Nadav Perry, Channel 10's Knesset reporter, who attended the rally. "It can't go on like this, so I hope the solution will eventually come after this crisis. But I'm not sure, I'm not sure. I'm doubtful, and I hope that something will happen at the last minute in order to save this great place." Yechiel Shavi, a spokesman for the Communications Ministry, said the agency had agreed to reduce Channel 10's financial burden, or "bid," to the government from NIS 103 million to NIS 28 m., to be paid over a three-year period. Shavi said the Communications Ministry is more willing to forgive debt because it has a narrower area of responsibility than the Finance Ministry, which worries that granting leniency to one industry could lead to a rash of other companies demanding a similar reprieve. "The biggest problem is about the money, the bid and the money that goes to support the bureaucracy," Mickey Haimovich, Channel 10 anchorwoman, told the Jerusalem Post at the protest. "The money should go to make TV programs and not to support a bureaucracy." Shavi said if granted the reprieve, Channel 10 must also agree to devote a certain number of programming hours to shows deemed uplifting by the state. "It's not Italian TV," Shavi said. "We don't want reality TV. We want to take them [Israeli viewers] up, not down. Reality is good, but not only reality."

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