By: Ramit Plushnick-Masti, Associated Press Writer
(AP) Israel will force journalists to undergo stringent checks from its internal Shin Bet security service as a requirement for accreditation, the head of the Government Press Office said Monday.
Israeli and foreign journalists criticized the decision as an attempt to inhibit freedom of the press.
The Foreign Press Association said that while it understands Israel’s security problems, there is no evidence that journalists pose a risk. The new policy gives Israeli authorities “unreasonable veto power” over who can be a foreign correspondent, the association said in a statement.
Citing security concerns, press office director Daniel Seaman said he decided to give a list of more than 17,000 accredited journalists to the Shin Bet for security checks beginning Jan. 1.
Until now, only Palestinian journalists were checked by the Shin Bet, Seaman said. Under the new policy, Israeli and foreign journalists will also have to undergo a security check, although it will not be as thorough as that given to Palestinians, he said.
“I am sure that they [the Shin Bet] have the intelligence information regarding people who could present a danger … and therefore they have to give their opinion,” Seaman told Israel Radio.
The press office stopped issuing credentials to Palestinian journalists — many of whom work for foreign press agencies — shortly after Israeli-Palestinian fighting erupted three years ago.
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 for foreign journalists and distributes information about news conferences and other events.
Seaman said that after journalists are accredited under the new system, the Shin Bet will evaluate them and inform the press office if they pose a threat.
Based on the Shin Bet’s assessment, the press office will decide whether journalists can hold on to the credentials, Seaman said. The credentials are needed to enter government buildings, attend news conferences and meet with government officials in their offices.
In addition, the GPO will begin charging an annual fee of $23 per card, he said. Previously, it was free.
“Anyone who doesn’t want to undergo the checks, anyone who doesn’t want to pay, anyone who doesn’t want to give personal information, doesn’t have to have this card and can still work in the profession,” Seaman said.
The Foreign Press Association urged the government to reconsider its decision. FPA deputy chairman Tami Allen-Frost said the Shin Bet’s past blacklisting of Palestinian journalists showed there was “almost no transparency” in the security service, and it refused to provide explanations for its decisions.
The new measure “constitutes an utter violation of freedom of the press and the dramatic reversal of the openness that has prevailed in Israel for decades,” the association said. The new regulations “appear to be another step in a two-year campaign to harass and intimidate the foreign press.”
Israeli Press Association director Yaron Enosh, who represents journalists who work for local media, said he fears the new requirements will prevent Israeli Arabs from receiving credentials.
Correspondents who cover diplomatic and defense issues already undergo stringent security checks, Enosh said.
“I don’t see that any of the new demands of the Government Press Office are professional demands,” Enosh said.