The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, leading journalists and media executives in over 120 countries, is dismayed by the announcement that Israel’s accreditation rules for journalists are to be tightened. Today it sent a letter to Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
The following is an IPI letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon:
His Excellency Ariel Sharon
Prime Minister of Israel
Office of the Prime Minister
3 Kaplan Street
Fax: (+ 972-2) 513 950
Vienna, 4 November 2003
The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, leading journalists and media executives in over 120 countries, is dismayed by the announcement that Israel’s accreditation rules for journalists are to be tightened.
According to information provided to IPI, the director of the Government Press Office (GPO), Daniel Seaman, recently announced new regulations for foreign and Israeli journalists, to be introduced on 1 January 2004.
On the basis of reports in the media, the new security rules include the requirement that journalists seeking accreditation will be subject to a review by the Shin Bet security service and will be required to produce an affidavit made out before a lawyer that the information provided in their application is truthful. A fee will also be payable for the press pass.
In justifying the new procedures, Seaman was quoted on radio as saying, “I am sure that they (the Shin Bet) have the intelligence information regarding people who present a danger … and therefore they have to give their opinion”. In response to the announcement, the Foreign Press Association (FPA) issued a statement arguing that the new policy handed over an “unreasonable veto power” to the Israeli authorities.
Although the GPO alleges that the changes have been precipitated by the need for increased security in Israel, others allege that the new eligibility rules are a drastic attempt to reduce the number of people with press cards. In the past, Seaman has claimed that the press pass has become devalued because it has gone to those only indirectly connected with journalism.
Concerning the review to be carried out by Shin Bet, IPI fears that the involvement of the organisation will enable the authorities to reject applications without having to provide an explanation or on the basis of broad-based and unproven security concerns. The overall effect of this will be to preclude the need for an appeals procedure; indeed, even if one were to be created, journalists would be unable to mount a successful case because they would be denied access to the original Shin Bet assessment.
In addition, IPI notes that Seaman has said the press passes would only be denied where journalists were proven to be “a clear and present danger to the public or (have) involvement with a terrorist organisation.” Regarding these definitions, IPI is worried that they might be so widely defined as to include the possibility of journalists being refused the right of accreditation because of their writing.
On the question of the affidavit, IPI can see no reason for this procedure and believes that it is merely an added layer of bureaucracy meant to slow down the application process. Moreover, if Shin Bet are to review the background of the journalist in any case, IPI believes the affidavit to be unnecessary. In effect the journalist will be paying for an expensive legally-notarised document only for it to be ignored by the Israeli authorities.
Finally, on the question of the fee, IPI is concerned that it might make the cost of employing a number of journalists in Israel prohibitive. Also, IPI fears that it might become an annual fee carrying with it the possibility that journalists might be arrested or deported for having out-of-date press passes.
In view of the above, IPI calls upon the Israeli authorities to rescind these rules and to work with local and international press bodies to overcome the security problems. IPI would also remind Your Excellency that the media have an express right under Article 19 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights to “seek, receive and impart information” and that rather than hindering this essential right the Israeli authorities should be doing everything possible to encourage the free flow of information.
We thank you for your attention.
Johann P. Fritz