By: Mark Lavie, Associated Press Writer
(AP) Israel’s government on Monday suspended plans that would have required stringent security checks for journalists to receive accreditation.
The government called off the proposed procedures after local and foreign journalists and watchdog groups criticized them as an attempt to inhibit freedom of the press.
The decision to suspend the guidelines was announced by Arnon Perlman, media adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. In a letter sent to The Associated Press, he promised that any future changes would be taken in consultation with the local and foreign media “with a view towards formulating procedures that will be acceptable to all sides.”
Last week, Government Press Office director Daniel Seaman sparked the uproar when he announced he had decided to hand a list of more than 17,000 accredited journalists to the Shin Bet security service for security checks beginning Jan. 1.
Until that point, only Palestinian journalists were checked by the Shin Bet, Seaman said. Under the new policy, Israeli and foreign journalists would have had to go through a security check as well.
The local Foreign Press Association and other groups, including the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists and Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, criticized the decision. The AP’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Dan Perry, chairs the local FPA.
The FPA said in a statement that while it understands Israel’s security problems, there is no evidence that journalists pose a risk. The new policy would give Israeli authorities “unreasonable veto power” over who can serve as a foreign correspondent, the association said in a statement before the new arrangements were suspended.
Under the planned new guidelines, journalists would also have been required to provide personal information including their religion, have their applications for accreditation notarized, and provide samples of previous work.
The Government Press Office is responsible for overseeing the needs of all journalists in Israel, both domestic and foreign. The office issues credentials, helps arrange visas and distributes information about news conferences and other events.
It had already stopped issuing credentials to most Palestinian journalists in the West Bank and Gaza — many of whom work for foreign press agencies — after Israeli-Palestinian fighting erupted three years ago.
The GPO credentials facilitate access to government buildings and official news conferences, and the Israeli military requires journalists to present government press cards to enter and travel in the West Bank and Gaza.