(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Interior Minister Arye Deri made a historic move to increase Israel’s freedom of the press Thursday, canceling a British Mandate-era requirement of a government- issued license to publish a newspaper.
Deri proposed legislation by which the 1933 Press Ordinance would be repealed. Instead, if his bill passes, the Attorney-General’s Office will handle extreme cases, such as harm to national security and public welfare.
The cancellation of the Press Ordinance does not apply to broadcast or online journalism.
“The Press Ordinance is left over from the Mandate and we, as a democratic state that sanctifies freedom of expression, must cancel it immediately,” he said.
Deri added that the government should not intervene by giving licenses to newspapers.
“Canceling the licensing process will allow more newspapers to be opened, will add to the democratic and pluralistic process and will eradicate the antiquated and anachronistic process, which has become obsolete,” the Shas chairman said.
Deri was sworn in as interior minister in January. Last summer, he complained that the Shas newspaper Yom Leyom published things that went against his views, and his office released a statement that Shas should start a “new, high-quality newspaper.”
Union of Journalists in Israel chairman Yair Tarchitsky said the union “praises the intention to cancel the ordinance, which is anachronistic and does not belong in a democratic state.”
As for the new authority to be given to the attorney-general, he said: “When a concrete alternative proposal is submitted, we will review it and try to understand its broader ramifications.”
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel also praised the decision, saying Deri made it shortly before the deadline to respond to its petition to the Supreme Court to cancel the Press Ordinance.
ACRI’s petition also called for the cancellation of the government’s authority to close a newspaper.
The organization said “this authority is an even greater threat to freedom of the press than the license requirement.”
Watchdog organization Freedom House’s 2015 study on freedom of the press ranked Israel as free, with a freedom score of 30, with zero being the best and 100 being the worst.
The legal environment for press received a score of seven, with zero being the best and 30 the worst, and the Press Ordinance was listed as a legal limitation on the press.