Lawmakers and an IDF representative accused journalists of orchestrating events to make Israel look bad, during a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee discussion Tuesday of violent incidents between security forces and the press.
“With all the importance of the press in a democratic country,” MK Moti Yogev (Bayit Yehudi) began, “we cannot get confused and must always give priority to the IDF’s operational freedom of action, because they are acting to save lives.”
Yogev accused the press of behaving like an “imbalanced theater.”
MK Yisrael Eichler (UTJ) compared the press to a car, saying that in some cases it is helpful and brings progress, and in other cases it can be destructive.
According to Eichler, a former journalist, objective reporters should be given freedom of action, but reporters who “take a side in the conflict” should be given less access.
MK Michael Oren (Kulanu) said there is no justification for violence against journalists, but added: “We cannot ignore the fact that the press takes an active, one-sided and tendentious stance in covering the conflict, and therefore, it is part of the game.
“We know with certainty about many cases that were staged and orchestrated, so the media needs to ask itself if it is truly balanced,” Oren stated.
IDF Spokesperson’s Unit representative Lt.-Col. Peter Lerner said forces in the field sometimes have to deal with “media traps” or events that would not have happened if the press was not present.
Lerner explained that the IDF works to allow the press to act freely, while considering operational limitations, and that aim is backed by military orders and regulations.
“We make sure to be in the field to help the press and when necessary, we act to prevent violent incidents,” Lerner stated. “The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit gives instructions and simulations at all levels in the field, under the assumption that [operations] will be covered [by the press] and documented.”
Lerner admitted that there was an increase of violent incidents in recent months, but said they are exceptions that do not reflect the general situation.
He also pointed out that an officer who was violent toward the press was fired.
Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova, a former Arab affairs reporter for Russian-language media who has written for The Jerusalem Post, initiated the discussion and said, “Freedom of action for the media is a central component in a democratic state. Unfortunately, recently, it seems that some reporters are seen as the enemy or as a foreign agent acting against the State of Israel.”
She added, “Violence against the press hurts Israel’s good name in the world.”
Foreign Press Association secretary Gila Sugarman said that in the past two years there has been an increase in physical violence against journalists and their equipment.
Union of Journalists in Israel chairman Yair Tarchitsky called the phenomenon fairly common and said the violence generally comes from low-level soldiers or police officers who are not aware of the way they should treat the press.
“The general feeling is that they see journalists as an annoyance,” he said. “Security forces have to understand the job of the press in a democratic country, even if the truth is uncomfortable for the country.
Our job is to reflect reality as it is to the broader public.”
Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) closed the meeting by calling the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit to review the complaints from press representatives and make sure that they are present in sensitive situations to hold a dialogue with reporters.
“IDF commanders are not trained or authorized to deal with the press; it’s not their responsibility,” Hanegbi said.
“They are focused on security and executing their operational orders. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit must send people to events with the potential for conflict, in order to avoid obstacles to reaching operation goals, on the one hand, and harm to journalists’ work, on the other.”
Hanegbi also said he will discuss the issue with Interior Committee chairman David Amsalem (Likud), whose panel is responsible for overseeing police and border police actions, to hold a similar discussion about complaints of police treatment of the press.