Middle East

Israeli TV channel's sudden closure shocks staff

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Media captionIsraeli news presenter gets tearful reporting own show's cancellation

Israel's longest-running TV news programme came to an emotional end on Tuesday, hours after its staff were told of their network's sudden closure.

Presenters of Mabat LaHadashot (A Glance At The News) on Channel One complained of being denied a dignified farewell after 49 years on air.

An earlier show's presenter choked back tears after learning of the news.

The cancellations came as parliament approved the closure of the state-run Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA).

It will be replaced with a new, smaller entity known as Kan on Monday.

The IBA was established in 1948 and held a monopoly on TV and radio broadcasts in the country until the 1990s. Like the BBC, it was funded mainly by licence fees.

In 2014, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government announced that the IBA would be replaced with a new public broadcaster that would be less costly.

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Image caption Kan is due to launch next week, but IBA staff did not expect broadcasts to end on Tuesday

Opponents expressed concern that Mr Netanyahu, who has accused IBA journalists of being overly critical of his right-wing coalition, wanted to control the media.

The setting up of Kan was delayed repeatedly and almost abandoned in March.

Mr Netanyahu reportedly wanted it scrapped because he was concerned that two officials appointed to senior positions in the new broadcaster were left-leaning. However, the leader of another party in his coalition, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, insisted on pressing ahead.

The dispute, which almost led to an early general election being called, was resolved after it was agreed that the two officials would not oversee news.

Although they were aware that Kan was scheduled to launch next week, IBA employees had not expected TV and radio broadcasts to cease on Tuesday night.

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Image caption Critics fear Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to curtail criticism

"We thought of parting a bit differently than this," Michal Rabinovich, the lead presenter of Mabat LaHadashot told viewers.

Commentator Yaakov Ahimeir called it "a mark of disgrace on this government", adding: "They notify you two hours before going on air that this is the last Mabat. What are we, criminals?"

Retired presenter Haim Yavin blamed Mr Netanyahu for the move, but the prime minister's office insisted on Wednesday that it "was not done with his knowledge".

"The prime minister was the one who fought so that the news company of the channel would continue broadcasting with as many workers as possible absorbed into the news body," it added.

The Haaretz newspaper reports that 440 of the IBA's 1,050 employees have so far been hired by Kan. Legislation says the number can be increased to 510.

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