Israel Moves to Cancel Mandate-Era Law Limiting Press Freedoms

23 February 2017

Israel took a step toward freedom of the press last week when the Knesset gave initial approval to cancel a 1933 ordinance requiring a government license for the publication of a newspaper.

The bill was initiated by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri in response to a High Court ruling in a case brought by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, an NIF grantee, together with the I’lam Media Center.

“We at ACRI. . . have taken one more step in ensuring freedom of expression for all,” said Sharon Abraham-Weiss, executive director of ACRI.

The anti-democratic ordinance allowed the Interior Minister to restrict Freedom of the Press. In the past decade the ministry prevented the publication of at least 62 newspapers under the law, Haaretz reported.

The ordinance allowed the minister to halt the publication of a newspaper if he believes it endangers the public or can provoke panic or despair. In one instance, an applicant was rejected because he had been charged with building infractions.

The Washington-based Freedom House that monitors restrictions on democracy around the world recently lowered Israel’s freedom of the press ranking from “Free” to “Partly Free” largely due to military censorship, gag orders and travel restrictions on journalists.

In democratic countries around the world, the State does not have the authority to interfere in the media, restrict it or close a newspaper.

ACRI had initiated the case on the ordinance first in 1996, filing several petitions to the Supreme Court since then, including the latest in 2014 with the I’lam Media Center, an organization founded by Arab Palestinians in Israel.

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