Bloggers and other “niche” members of the alternative media will begin to receive press credentials, the Government Press Office in Jerusalem announced Tuesday.

The changes come as a result of recommendations by the Advisory Committee on Evaluating the Criteria for Issuing Government Press Office Cards, which Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein established in late 2010 by order of the High Court of Justice.

The results – which also included “unifying the various types of cards issued by the GPO under the single heading ‘GPO Card,’” essentially blurring the distinction between reporters and bloggers – were submitted Tuesday morning to Edelstein and ministry Director-General Ronen Plot.

According to the GPO, the new criteria will “expand the content of the substantive definitions of media and the list of media professions and positions in order to adapt them to recent changes and developments in the field.”

Government figures have trumpeted the move as an expansion of freedom of expression in the country.

In a statement to the media, Edelstein noted that “at a time when claims are being raised about shutting people up, reducing freedom of the press and interference, the committee’s recommendations are genuinely good news.” The committee’s chairwoman, retired judge Sara Frisch, noted that her recommendations, which GPO director Oren Helman will soon implement, were intended to make the criteria for issuing credentials as “as inclusive and comprehensive as possible, while maintaining their effective benefit and preventing the excessive issuing of the cards, which would be liable to harm journalists’ work.”

However, some members of the press have expressed reservations about the new guidelines.

Abraham Zuroff, the Middle East correspondent for the Jewish Independent, the largest Jewish newspaper in Canada, noted that while “not all bloggers have the credentials to express an educated opinion on matters so complex as the Middle East and the Israel-Arab conflict, neither do all journalists.”

Still, he continued, his ambivalence had to do with “what’s sorely missing in a blog: an editor.

An editor does gatekeeping – verifying facts, which is an essential part of the news industry.”

Israeli journalist Dan Bentsur believes that “serious journalists will continue to do serious journalism regardless of how many people are eligible for a press card.”

However, he also stated that he did not believe eligibility should depend on the number of “unique users” – presumably meaning individual monthly readers of a blog. Rather, he said, “the GPO should look at the blogger’s credibility and ‘body of work.’” According to Helman, the only criteria for accrediting bloggers will be their minimum number of unique users. Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, he pegged this number at 10,000.

At the second annual bloggers convention in Jerusalem in 2009, Ron Dermer, a top adviser to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, promised bloggers that they would receive press accreditation within one year. Many conference attendees were disillusioned after the government’s failure to follow through at that time, and according to Helman, neither Dermer nor Netanyahu was involved in the current initiative.

Bloggers’ reactions to the news have been mixed.

Rafi Goldmeir, the author of the popular blog Life in Israel, told the Post that if he met the criteria, he would apply for a press card.

“It’s a great idea that will give greater access to information to the bloggers and therefore to the public,” he said, suggesting that concerns over bloggers being less accurate in their reporting would be “gravely offset by the increased access to information.”

However, not all bloggers were as excited. Carl, author of the politically conservative Israel Matzav blog, said that in his view, it would not make as big a difference as some might think – “only for the official government events and press conferences,” he said, adding that he was already being “invited to conferences all the time.”

Some Israeli institutions, such as the IDF, have already begun opening up and giving bloggers access over the past two years, such as holding press conferences for members of the blogosphere.

One left-wing political blogger stated that “if they give me access, even if I have an agenda critical of the government, then I salute them.”

While expressing his misgivings as to whether the GPO could apply its new policy in a “fair and objective manner,” the blogger stated that if the government were truly interested in openness, it would stream press conferences and media events live over the Internet for public consumption.

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