Channel 10 clings to life

Regulator preparing to issue tender for new operator

Channel 10 staffers 248.88 (photo credit: Hannah Fisher )
Channel 10 staffers 248.88
(photo credit: Hannah Fisher )
More than 200 Channel 10 employees protested outside the Knesset on Sunday, in an effort to save the station and their jobs. It was the last day of demonstrations that began two weeks ago. On Monday the Second Authority for Television and Radio is expected to announce a new franchising tender, which would likely force Channel 10 off the air. The demonstrators asked the government to postpone repayment of the station's debt for two years, until 2012. Otherwise, Channel 10 will likely be shut down in January. Channel 10 began broadcasting in January 2002 as the country's second commercial television station. The dominant Channel 2 began operations in 1993. The continued existence of Channel 10 is a public policy issue, since many see it as crucial to maintaining a democratic platform for a free and independent media. Even the companies that run Channel 2, Reshet and Keshet, have released statements in support of Channel 10. Although the station owes the state approximately NIS 40 million, "the argument between Channel 10 and the government is only in relation to NIS 17m. of the debt actually owed," said Yinnon Miles, a reporter for the channel. "No one really knows what the real argument concerns, because it is illogical for it to just be about money. It would cost Israel more than NIS 17m. in unemployment fees if the channel dissolved - more than 500 people would be without work," Miles said. While the argument appears to be purely financial, there are really two issues at stake, one social and one financial, explained Tzvi Yehezkel, the station's Arab affairs correspondent. "First, Channel 10 is an independent broadcasting station providing news stories that would not otherwise be covered. Without Channel 10, a platform for independent broadcasting will be jeopardized. Second, we risk losing our jobs." Other staffers argued that the argument was solely about media policy. "Channel 10 is now in financial difficulties. The owners of Channel 10 are merely asking to postpone part of the debt they owe the government for two years until 2012," said senior defense correspondent Alon Ben-David. The station is not asking for a reduction of the debt owed, nor for money for salaries. The confusion about the crux of the issue is exacerbated by workers' feelings that their concerns are not being heard by the government or Channel 10. One cameraman explained, "We don't know the specifics of the argument. All we know is that we are falling [through the cracks between] ministries of the Israeli government and the officials of Channel 10. Neither side really seems to be listening to our voice." Channel 10 is not funded by the state and only owes the government its franchise fee. The channel is privately owned, with tycoon Yossi Maiman holding majority shares and US philanthropist Ron Lauder, film producer and businessman Arnon Milchin, and global media mogul Rupert Murdoch holding the rest. Maiman is thought to have invested NIS 3 billion. However, he announced on July 14 that "my shoulders aren't broad enough... At this stage, my partners and I are halting money infusions, and the channel will have to subsist on what it can." The current argument with the government has been going on for the past year. The government has refused to relax the many requirements imposed on Channel 10 in its franchise license regarding content and broadcasting regulations, and the station continues to hemorrhage cash. Ben-David believes that many government ministers sympathize with the channel and do not want to see the loss of Israel's second commercial broadcasting station. However, he said, "the government is being stubborn because they are afraid citizens will criticize them for helping tycoons." "Only a few months ago, Ron Lauder wanted to sell his share of the station, but he couldn't because no buyer would come forward. The likelihood of a buyer coming forward now is even bleaker," Miles said. If a buyer does not come forward and Channel 10 goes off the air, many workers have said they would hold the Second Authority for Television and Radio responsible. They argued that the authority should have saved Channel 10, but instead has refused to consider bailout options or legislation allowing an automatic renewal of the channel's franchise.