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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                        March 8, 1996 V4, #44
All the News the Big Guys Missed

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Israeli Press Censorship

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel is one of relatively few democracies in the world that maintains a press censorship office and prevents the publication of a wide variety of security-related material. It happens almost every month, sometimes several times in a month. Local sources report on an incident -- an attack in southern Lebanon, or a shooting or bombing in Israel or the Palestinian territories -- but, they warn, "it's under censorship."

That means Israeli and foreign reporters must hold the information until it is officially released. Lt. Col. Ezra Almany is the spokesman for Israel's military censor.

"We also want that the public will know. But we have some rules. We don't think that the public should know everything right now. We think that the public and others will know what is necessary after a few hours, after a few minutes, after days -- and in several cases not all of the material."

Israel's censorship rules cover a variety of security-related topics, ranging from the strength and placement of military forces, to details about military operations and personal information about senior officers. But the Israeli press has been challenging the rules in recent years. And recently Israeli newspapers forced an end to the policy of not publishing the name of the head of the General Security Service, who is an army general.

Almany says there are several types of stories which were banned or delayed in the past, which now are routinely reported without delay -- such as airplane crashes. He says the censor's office now mainly targets information which might be useful to any foreign intelligence service. Indeed, the Israeli military censor's office is a joint operation of security and counter-intelligence units. Punishments for violating the rules range from simple reprimands to revocation of a journalist's credentials to, on rare occasions, prosecution in the courts with the possibility of fines or jail terms.

Israeli newspapers are privately owned, and the government's radio and television stations have new, privately owned competitors. And although Israeli reporters are known for being aggressive and generally free-wheeling, they and their editors and publishers have also seen it as part of their national duty not to endanger the country's security.

So, over Israel's 47-year history, the people in the news media have generally cooperated with the military censors fairly willingly. Among them is Meron Rappaport, the foreign news editor of Israel's largest-circulation newspaper, Yediot Aharonot.

"Basically, it was some kind of an agreement between the Israeli newspapers and radio and television, later, and the government, to form some kind of committee of editors in chief of all the newspapers, big and small. And it was something that was done basically with the agreement of the Israeli media. It accepted it as a need."

At committee meetings, the editors get inside information which helps them understand events, but in return they agree to follow the censor's rules. There are several instances when Israeli reporters held major stories for weeks, even months, until censorship was lifted or foreign media broke the story -- including the secret air-lift of Jews from Ethiopia.

In addition, foreign and Israeli reporters routinely submit stories which touch on sensitive subjects for review by the censor, with officials sometimes deleting sections or preventing an entire story from being published. In addition, Rappaport says, some kinds of stories are not even attempted.

But things are changing as Israel has made peace with some of its neighbors. Not only have the names of the past and present Security Service chiefs been published, Israeli reporters are challenging the rules in other, smaller ways.

Still, no one expects Israel's press restrictions to disappear. The recent changes have created some uncertainty and some greater freedom for Israeli reporters. But Almany of the censor's office says newly clarified rules, with specific punishments for violations, will likely be drawn up after the Israeli elections in May.

Flaws in the forthcoming $100 million Hollywood remake of the Purim Megillah

  1. Arnold Schwarzenegger cast as Mordechai-the-Terminator
  1. Vashti strip scene cut for R rating
  1. Violent ending toned down in response to audience focus groups
  1. Superfluous high-speed car chases through harem quarters
  1. Director Oliver Stone advances "second Isaiah" theory
  1. Setting changed from 4th Century BCE Persia to South Central Los Angeles
  1. Computer-animated singing hamentashen
  1. Comic walk on by Pat Buchanan as Haman's evil twin
  1. "No Iranians were harmed in the making of this film" disclaimer
  1. Title changed to "Return of the Shushan Boys"
  1. Esther's Jewish roots downplayed to broaden appeal
  1. OJ Simpson cast as King Ahasuerus' domestic affairs advisor
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