Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Press freedom is generally respected in Israel, and the country features a vibrant media landscape. Nevertheless, several incidents during 2007 tested the scope of press freedom, particularly with regard to coverage of events in Lebanon and Syria. In general, an independent judiciary and an active civil society adequately protect the free media. Hate speech and publishing praise of violence are prohibited, and the 1948 Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance bans expressions of support for terrorist organizations or groups that call for the destruction of Israel. Journalists operating in Israel require accreditation by the Government Press Office (GPO) to have access to government buildings and official press conferences or passage through military checkpoints. The GPO has been known to occasionally refuse press cards on political and security grounds, especially to Palestinians. Freedom of information is provided for by law and generally respected. However, in recent years, local human rights groups have lodged petitions with the courts against government bodies for not publishing internal regulations or annual reports. A law that forbids Israeli citizens from traveling to “enemy states” without permission from the Ministry of the Interior raised concerns in 2007 when three journalists were interrogated and faced potential prosecution for having reported from Syria and Lebanon. Press freedom organizations condemned the selective application of the law, as well as the potential effects of such travel restrictions on the diversity of news sources available to the Israeli public.
While newspaper and magazine articles on security matters are subject to a military censor, the scope of permissible reporting is wide and there is a broad range of published material. Editors may appeal a censorship decision to a three-member tribunal that includes two civilians, and publications cannot be shuttered because of censorship violations. Arabic-language publications are censored more frequently than those in Hebrew, while coverage of the Arab minority in the mainstream Hebrew press is limited. The Special Committee of the Israeli Press Council released a report in April concluding that earlier accusations by security officials were false and the media had not in fact endangered lives with their reporting during the July–August 2006 conflict in Lebanon.
Cases of physical threats and the harassment of journalists are rare. However, in recent years, authorities have been known to detain Arab journalists, especially those reporting for media outlets perceived as hostile to Israel. In July, Israel detained Atta Farahat, a correspondent for Syrian Public Television and the Al-Watan daily newspaper who was living in the Golan Heights. The Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression speculated that Farahat was suspected of “collaborating with an enemy state” due to his journalism for Syrian media outlets. According to Reporters Sans Frontieres, Farahat remained in custody at year’s end, and Israeli courts issued orders prohibiting his lawyers or the Israeli press from talking about the case. Another media blackout, surrounding an Israeli air strike on a Syrian military facility, was instituted in September for one month. In addition, media access to the details of a police investigation of Azmi Bishara, an Arab member of the Knesset who wasaccused of espionage, was restricted until a court partially lifted the blackout in April. Mordechai Vanunu, who spent 18 years in prison for espionage and disclosing information about Israel’s nuclear weapons program, was sent back to jail for six months in July after speaking to international journalists about his case, thus violating the terms of his 2004 release. In an incident in November that was condemned by the local Foreign Press Association as endangering reporters, police officers in Tel Aviv disguised themselves as journalists from the Channel 2 television station in an undercover operation to arrest a Palestinian suspect.
Israel has a free and lively press, with 12 daily newspapers, 90 weekly newspapers, and a number of internet news sites that cover a broad range of political viewpoints and religious outlooks. All newspapers are privately owned, freely criticize government policy, and actively investigate high-level corruption. Nevertheless, concentration and cross-ownership have enabled a small number of families—some with close personal ties to prominent politicians—to control the press. A diverse selection of broadcast media is also available. Television started to be privatized in the early 1990s, and since then, the number of commercial networks has grown rapidly. Most Israelis subscribe to cable or satellite services that also provide access to international commercial stations. As a result, the dominance of the state-run Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) in the television market has waned significantly. The IBA’s radio station Kol Israel and the military-operated Galei Tsahal remain popular, while a diverse range of pirate radio stations also operate, serving the country’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish, Russian-speaking, and Arabic-speaking populations in particular. The government does not restrict internet access, which is widespread and used by over 55 percent of the population.
[This rating and report reflect the state of press freedom within Israel proper, not in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which are covered in the following report on the Israeli-Occupied Territories/Palestinian Authority.]