Channel 10 went dark on Sunday night at about 10:30 p.m. Israel time, at the instruction of the channel’s employees union.
Instead of regular programming, the channel displayed a picture of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, alongside the words, "In three days, Channel 10 will close. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who serves as Minister of Communications, refuses to find a solution. Due to this the employees union has decided to cease Channel 10’s broadcast for the night. We will resume broadcasting at 6:00 a.m."
The channel has been facing financial difficulties for several years. In December of 2012, the Knesset held an emergency session and extended Channel 10’s broadcasting franchise for two years, while giving it a loan to cover its debts to the government.
Two weeks ago, with its renewed franchise set to expire at the end of the month, the Knesset’s Economics and Education Committees approved a plan to let Channel 10 spend last than half what its rivals which operate Channel 2 do on programming, in order to lower its costs and allow the channel to operate for another year while recruiting investors to help it.
However, Netanyahu has yet to approve the plan that was forwarded to him for approval, and time is running out. Many have accused Netanyahu of a personal vendetta against Channel 10, since over the years it has broadcast several non-flattering exposes about him, among them the “Bibi-Tours” affair which exposed Netanyahu’s luxuriously expensive travels abroad with his wife Sarah.
In 2011, Netanyahu filed a $3.5 million suit against Channel 10 over the Bibi-tours allegations, which he called the worst libel in 60 years.
Reacting to the channel’s impending closure, Jewish Home chairman, Minister Naftali Bennett, said the channel must not be allowed to close.
"Channel 10 is my not my biggest fan, but we must not allow it to close. We need to diversify it. Not close it. Not fire hundreds of employees. This is the time to help Channel 10," wrote Bennett on Twitter.
Meretz chairwoman MK Zehava Galon attacked Netanyahu over the issue, saying, "Like the last of thugs Netanyahu chooses to take advantage of his last moments as Prime Minister to deal a fatal blow to freedom of speech and allow an Israeli TV channel, with hundreds of employees, to close only because it was not up to par with the government.”
"With all due respect to Netanyahu’s craziness, free speech and a free press are ideas that are greater than him, at the heart of democracy,” she added.