PM rules journalists covering flotilla not to be sanctioned

Foreign Press Association welcomes Netanyahu's decision to drop plans to deport and ban journalists covering the Gaza flotilla.

The 'Mavi Marmara' 311 (R) (photo credit: Reuters/Emrah Dalkaya)
The 'Mavi Marmara' 311 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters/Emrah Dalkaya)
Foreign journalists covering the upcoming Gazabound flotilla are not to be treated as illegal infiltrators who will be barred from the country for 10 years, Prime Minster Binyamin Netanyahu decided Monday, overruling a letter sent out a day earlier by Oren Helman, the head of the Government Press Office.
This policy reversal was praised by the Foreign Press Association (FPA), which issued a statement saying it welcomed “the prime minister’s decision to drop plans to deport and ban journalists covering the Gaza flotilla. We are pleased to see that Israel has recognized the value of allowing reporters to cover an important news event, and understand that journalists should be treated differently from political activists.”
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Following a discussion in the security cabinet on how Israel will deal with the flotilla expected to arrive either late this week or early next week, Netanyahu put out a statement saying he instructed “the responsible authorities to formulate a special procedure regarding foreign journalists that participate in the flotilla and arrive in contravention to the Entry into Israel law.”
Netanyahu, according to government officials, believes that Israel has “everything to gain” from greater, not lesser, transparency.
On Sunday, Helman, implementing a decision made at the bureaucratic level in consultation with legal authorities, sent a letter to foreign media representatives in Israel saying that “participation in the flotilla is an intentional violation of Israeli law and is liable to lead to participants being denied entry into the State of Israel for 10 years, to the impoundment of their equipment and to additional sanctions.”
The rationale behind the letter, government officials explained, was that all participants in the flotilla – be they European politicians, American writers or international journalists – would be treated the same.
The letter triggered an angry response from a number of different quarters, including the FPA whose lawyers informed the GPO that they rejected the letter, from the Jerusalem Journalists Association and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
Three ministers in the security cabinet – Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor and Bennie Begin – spoke out against the move in the forum’s meeting Monday, saying that this type of media policy would only harm Israel.
This position was adopted by Netanyahu, who instructed cabinet secretary Tzvi Hauser to come up with a new set of regulations regarding journalists.
According to the statement issued from Netanyahu’s office, “When the matter was brought to his attention, the prime minister directed that the regular policy against infiltrators and those who enter Israel illegally not be implemented” with regards to journalists.
The “regular policy” for those caught illegally entering the country is to detain the individuals, give them an opportunity to appeal deportation within three days, and if they forgo that right, then deport them and ban them from the country for 10 years.
One of the questions the government will need to decide in the days before the arrival of the vessels is who is a journalist, since there are expected to be among the passengers activists who also blog and will call themselves journalists.
The new regulations are expected to only include those employed by a “recognized news agency.”
Netanyahu’s statement also said that members of the Israeli and international media “will be attached to Israel Navy vessels in order to create transparency and credible coverage of the events.”
Journalists were also embedded on naval vessels during last year’s flotilla, but – because of logistical and operational considerations – were not with the force that boarded the Mavi Marmara.