Netanyahu aims to amend public broadcast 'handcuff' clause

GMT 12:56 2015 Friday ,04 September

Arab Today, arab today Netanyahu aims to amend public broadcast 'handcuff' clause

Benjamin Netanyahu will amend a new broadcasting law
Jerusalem - AFP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on Friday working to amend a newly passed public broadcasting law, officials said, after an outcry over a provision prohibiting journalists from expressing opinions.

The law, passed in the early hours of Thursday, dismantles the Israel Broadcasting Authority and establishes a new public corporation by the end of March 2016.

A last-minute provision, inserted by Yisrael Eichler of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, stipulates that "broadcasts will refrain from one-sidedness, prejudice, expressing personal opinions, giving grades and labelling, hiding facts or presenting them subjectively and not according to their newsworthiness".

Netanyahu's office said Friday he believed that "journalistic ethics should not be set down in legislation, and has decided to have the relevant clause amended".

The clause has caused an uproar.

Prominent public radio journalist Esty Perez wrote on Twitter: "A democratic state that prohibits its public broadcast journalists from expressing opinions is displaying weakness and panic that characterise unstable dictatorships. Handcuff me. I expressed an opinion."

Journalists from outside the public broadcaster also opposed it, with 15 diplomatic reporters sending Netanyahu, who is officially also communications minister, a letter on Thursday demanding the clause be removed.

The Israeli Press Council president, Dalia Dorner, said the clause "contradicts the fundaments of freedom of expression and press in Israel... and denies the public exposure to information and opinions," and called for it to be cancelled.

The communication ministry -- which formulated the original law -- said it was not behind the provision, stressing it was declarative only, impossible to enforce and would not apply to the new broadcasting body, which would formulate its own ethical code.

Science Minister Ofir Akunis, who is in charge of the reform in public broadcasting, defended the clause as a means to ensure balance.

But he did acknowledge in a posting on Facebook that "the clause might not have been formulated in a sufficiently clear manner".

"News should be presented with facts," he wrote. "Personal programmes, in which the opinions of the presenters are known, are and will be continued to be broadcast."

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