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Press Groups Pledge to Fight Cabinet Censorship Regulation

The representative bodies of the press in Israel continued to vigorously protest today against the Cabinet decision yesterday to extend censorship regulations to areas of diplomatic activity. They pledged to fight the proposed new measure when it comes up for approval before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee. The committee of editors of daily newspapers said today in a statement it would ask for a meeting with Yitzhak Navon, the chairman of the Knesset committee.

Most of the criticism centers on the fact that this move by the government is the first ever into the realm of political censorship. The critics argue that it will tarnish Israel’s democratic reputation and will not secure the secrecy of state communications as the government intends. The only way to do that, the critics argue, is to plug leaks at source. Otherwise they will continue to dribble out–if not through the local press, then through foreign media publishing stories with overseas datelines to skirt Israeli censorship.

The Cabinet’s draft regulations provide that information on secret communications between Israel and foreign governments and secret meetings between officials of Israel and of countries which have no diplomatic relations with Israel is now to be censorable. Transmission of such information can incur a jail term of up to 15 years and publication of it up to seven years.

The editors’ committee said they would ask to appear before the Knesset committee to argue their case. This incipient political censorship, their statement said, would have grave repercussions for Israel at home and abroad. The Journalists Association (the professional union) also condemned the measures in strong terms and pledged to fight against them.

CHARGE GOVERNMENT GAGGING PRESS

Eric Silver of “The Guardian,” chairman of the Foreign Press Association, also protested “in the strongest possible terms.” He warned, “This violation of the freedom of the press is a serious threat to Israel’s democratic reputation.” The chairman of the Press Council, Prof. Nathan Rotenstreich, also attacked the proposed legislation saying it would do more harm than any conceivable advantage it might achieve.

Editorial writers also blasted the government’s action. The largest paper, Maariv, whose recent revelation of a message from President Ford upbraiding Premier Yitzhak Rabin had triggered the new measures, headlined its editorial today, “Gagging.” The editorial stated: “Yesterday the government raised its hand–foolishly and hastily–against the bastion of Israel’s democratic freedom–the press.”

Maariv added that the decision exposed the government’s abysmal loss of control, and warned that the censorship would now absurd to wide at was of foreign policy, areas covering basic issues such as Israel’s future borders, its economic progress and foreign aid.

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