Initiative seeks to forestall tender on Channel 10
Communications Minister Ariel Attias has drawn up a plan to save the financially-strapped channel.
By SHELLY PAZ
Communications Minister Ariel Attias of Shas has drawn up a plan to save the financially-strapped Channel 10 from being sold in a tender that the Second Authority for Television and Radio is scheduled to issue on Monday.
Channel 10's 3,000 direct and indirect employees are not yet out of danger, as the threat of a shutdown has yet to be removed completely.
However, Attias, who gathered the management of Channel 10 in his office on Sunday, along with the heads of the Second Authority and ministry representatives, estimated that an agreement for the payment of Channel 10's debts could be reached by Monday afternoon.
Attias's meeting followed a Knesset Economics Committee decision last week to allow the station, which failed to meet financial and content-related commitments, to be put up for bidding in January 2010, once its concession expired.
Committee member Gilad Erdan (Likud), who spearheaded the decision, said there were no plans to close down the channel, just to hand it over to new management. That management, Erdan said, would have to respect the commitments Channel 10 had made to the public and to the local producers, actors and scriptwriters who remained unemployed due to the station's failure to support original, local TV productions - known as elite programming.
The committee's decision was accepted last week in opposition to Attias's move to give Channel 10 concessionaire Yossi Meimann more time to present his plan for paying the channel's debts, as well as plans to support more original productions.
However, on Sunday, a day before the Second Authority's meeting to discuss details of the tender for Channel 10, Attias reached an initial outline of an agreement. According to Attias's plan, the channel would pay back money lost due to the lack of support for local productions, a sum of NIS 70 million. The money the channel owes the state, NIS 26m., would be spread out over time as per an arrangement with the Treasury.
The resolution will be accepted only after Channel 10 presents its financial guarantees to the Second Authority, and the concession will be extended in January 2010 for another two years, until 2012.
Attias, who opposed putting the channel up for bidding, explained that this was not the time for publishing a tender because the channel's debts lowered the chances of receiving an offer. In addition, he said, the current financial crisis made this a bad time to put the income of 3,000 households at risk.
In an open letter by Erdan, published on Sunday in Ynet, the MK rejected Channel 10's accusation that it was not right to make such a decision ahead of general elections. He explained that the channel's management had flouted and ignored the law by investing resources in reality TV shows such as Survivor, The Models and sports matches, at the expense of original productions that would have provided for local creators.
Channel 10's response to Erdan's letter was that the channel was not asking that the debts be erased, but that future regulatory practices be adapted to accommodate other commercial channels in Israel.
"In the current situation, Channel 2 also cannot continue its operation. Channel 10 is not financed by public funds like Channel 1 is, and to this day, it has paid the country more than NIS 200m. in royalties and concession fees - and that for the right to lose money," the response read.
"The debt to which Erdan refers is the investment in TV shows that the Second Authority claims cannot be defined as elite genre. Does Erdan seek to deprive 3,000 households of their livelihood for this trivial fault?" it added.
Attias's last-minute initiative sounded much more promising on Sunday evening, following several weeks in which Channel 10 journalists spoke almost everywhere in an attempt to raise public awareness. The journalists have argued that closing down the second commercial channel in Israel would be bad news for the entire industry, for democracy and for viewer choice.
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