Bill to extend Channel 10 broadcast franchise clears hurdle

Accused of not fulfilling lawful obligations, Channel 10's fate rouses debate over democratic nature of PM's rule

Bill to extend Channel 10 broadcast franchise clears hurdle (photo credit: REUTERS)
Bill to extend Channel 10 broadcast franchise clears hurdle
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Legislation allowing Channel 10 to continue its broadcasts for another six months passed in the Knesset Monday, with 11 in favor and none opposed.
The government-proposed bill, which passed three readings in one day in an accelerated legislative process, came after Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein decided at the last minute, before the channel was in danger of closure on December 31, to allow it to broadcast as usual until after the March 17 election and formation of a new government.
“The government and legislators recognized several times that the existence of two commercial channels is of great importance to freedom of expression and a pluralistic marketplace of opinion,” the legislation reads.
As such, the bill extends Channel 10’s franchise until June 30, 2015.
In the interim period, the channel will have to find sufficient funding to satisfy the Second Authority for Television and Radio.
Although the channel was able to secure funding to pay the NIS 36 million that it owes to the Second Authority, it could not prove that it will remain solvent, and the Second Authority therefore refused to renew its broadcasting franchise for 2015.
The text of the bill accuses Channel 10 of “not fulfilling all of its obligations according to law, the rules of the Second Authority and the instructions of the franchise. In addition, at this time, it does not meet the conditions set by the Second Authority to move from a franchise to a license.”
MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “in the last moments of his tenure, almost took the free, independent press with him into the abyss.
“If the prime minister cannot tolerate a word of criticism against him, then we have a problem. This house cannot give a hand to that.
We cannot close a television channel just because one person doesn’t like it,” she added.
MK Ahmed Tibi (UAL-Ta’al) accused Channel 10 of broadcasting Islamophobic reports, but said that as someone who believes in democracy, he thinks it should continue to exist.
MK Amir Peretz (Hatnua) said that Netanyahu does not make decisions until the very last minute, pointing to the Channel 10 franchise extension as an example of that.
UTJ MK Yisrael Eichler took issue with the fact that Weinstein was the one who decided to allow Channel 10 to continue to broadcast, calling it dangerous.
“Why do we need an election? We can just choose legal advisers and Supreme Court justices and they can run the country,” he quipped.
Deputy Minister for Liaison with the Knesset Ophir Akunis criticized those who blamed Netanyahu – who also holds the communications portfolio – for Channel 10’s near closure because its journalists have broadcast many reports criticizing him.
“Every populist claim that presents this government as one that is trying to close a commercial channel is a lie. Leave your hypocrisy at home,” he said.
Referring to a bill that sought to shut down Israel Hayom, Akunis added: “There are representatives of Yesh Atid and Labor here who only a month-and-a-half ago voted in favor of closing a newspaper…. You’re preaching to us about democracy?” According to Knesset Interior Committee chairwoman Miri Regev (Likud), Channel 10 was mismanaged and its managers were “pigs who harm their workers and turn this into a discussion about the prime minister.”
“To create a spin that this is somehow about criticism about the prime minister is simply ugly,” she said. “We cannot keep saving Channel 10 with the taxpayers’ money. I am for Channel 10’s workers, but to say that Netanyahu wants to close the channel because it criticizes him is nonsense. One would think the other channels just praise him.”