JERUSALEM (Dec. 1)
Israel revoked press credentials Tuesday from two foreign journalists who published details of an army training accident without first submitting them to the military censor.
The Foreign Press Association said it would fight the “deplorable action” taken by the Government Press Office against Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald and Ian Black of The Guardian in Britain.
They were penalized for filing stories on a Nov. 5 army exercise in the Negev, in which five members of an elite army unit died and six more were wounded when a missile was fired accidentally.
Four other correspondents have been summoned to the office of the military censor to receive the lesser penalty of a rebuke for similar violations.
The press association said it suspected information on the ill-fated military accident at the Tze’elim training grounds may have been “deliberately leaked” to correspondents by insiders anxious to broaden public knowledge of the disaster.
The disciplinary actions come amid calls for changes in censorship procedures that date back 50 years to a pre-electronic era. Members of the press want a policy that takes into account the technologies of instant communication.
Adding another note of complexity to the debate is what has been dubbed the war of the generals inside the army itself over responsibility for the accidental firing of the missile during the exercise at Tze’elim.
An army board of inquiry singled out Maj. Gen. Amiram Levin and two other officers for discipline. But military sources began leaking information that the Maj. Gen. Uri Saguy, chief of military intelligence, had been present at the exercise and should also carry responsibility for what happened there.
Both Black and Rosenberg have denied they were the ones who revealed the fact of Saguy’s presence or the report that the exercise was in preparation for the planned assassination of a leader of the Islamic fundamentalist Hezbollah in Lebanon.
They claim their information came from Israeli sources, who deliberately leaked it so that Israelis could learn of it. Israeli newspapers are able to cite news items reported abroad without submitting them to censorship.
In an interview with Israel Radio, Black said he reported only information that had appeared in the Israeli news media and that he therefore had no need to submit the copy to censorship. He claimed the real story was the intentional leaking of information to foreign correspondents by government officials and senior officers determined to have the Tze’elim incident reported more fully.
The Foreign Press Association said it would take legal action to fight the penalties imposed by the censor on its members. It charged Israel with fostering a hostile atmosphere against the foreign press corps in “an effort to divert attention from the accident that resulted in the death of five Israel Defense Force soldiers.”
It said the very existence of military press censorship “is incompatible with a free press in a democratic state.”