JERUSALEM — A TV channel known for aggressive investigative reporting is on the verge of being shut down after Israeli lawmakers rejected a request to defer its crippling debts — a move critics see as the latest salvo in a campaign to muzzle the press, harass liberal groups and make courts friendlier to the governing nationalists.
Israel's top journalists recently gathered for a conference to warn of what they called an anti-media blitz by the hard-line government. The action has included political appointments to Israel's public broadcasting system, the sidelining of prominent critics, and anti-libel legislation that could curtail investigative reporters.
In this atmosphere, Channel 10, one of Israel's two commercial TV stations, is on the verge of going out of business and leaving the country with only one channel that has an independent news operation.
Channel 10 has struggled financially in its 10 years on the air, racking up losses in excess of $340 million. With its primary owners recently cutting back funding, the station asked parliament to grant it a one-year extension on an $11 million royalty bill owed to the state by Dec. 31 while shareholders try to raise cash.
Israel's parliamentary finance committee this week rejected the pleas, with all members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition voting against an extension.
The station says it will be forced to shut down, leaving rival Channel 2 as Israel's only privately owned broadcast channel. Channel 10 had trouble gaining market share from the start partly because it was not initially allowed to broadcast over standard airwaves and was restricted to satellite and cable.
Netanyahu has not spoken publicly on the matter. His allies say the decision was purely financial.
"The finance committee is not a rescue fund," said Carmel Shama Hacohen, the committee chair. "We are interested in the viewers having more than one news channel, but a Channel 10 that needs favors is not a channel we are interested in."
The TV station is owned by Israeli magnate Yossi Maiman, Israeli Hollywood film producer Arnon Milchan and U.S. billionaire Ron Lauder, whose once close ties with Netanyahu have since cooled. The men, tired of pumping cash into a money-losing venture, have fretted over the government's unwillingness to work with them.
But station executives, along with commentators in the media, believe the motivations run much deeper. They say the government, which has deferred debts for other struggling companies, is using a technicality to eliminate a source of criticism.