Newsletter : 6fax0308.txt
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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
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
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
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
Flaws in the forthcoming $100 million Hollywood remake of the Purim
Arnold Schwarzenegger cast as Mordechai-the-Terminator
Vashti strip scene cut for R rating
Violent ending toned down in response to audience focus
Superfluous high-speed car chases through harem quarters
Director Oliver Stone advances "second Isaiah" theory
Setting changed from 4th Century BCE Persia to South Central
Computer-animated singing hamentashen
Comic walk on by Pat Buchanan as Haman's evil twin
"No Iranians were harmed in the making of this film" disclaimer
Title changed to "Return of the Shushan Boys"
Esther's Jewish roots downplayed to broaden appeal
OJ Simpson cast as King Ahasuerus' domestic affairs advisor
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