Press Ass'n backs lawsuit to declassify coronavirus cabinet protocols

Media outlets argue that there is no security basis to keep cabinet meeting minutes classified.

A journalist conducting an interview. (Illustrative) (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
A journalist conducting an interview. (Illustrative)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
The Israel Press Association has issued a statement supporting a group of media outlets seeking a court order to declassify cabinet protocols dealing with combating the coronavirus.
Previously, a petition was filed to the Jerusalem District Court, in its administrative capacity, by Globes, Calcalist, Haaretz, KAN News, the Movement for Freedom of Information and activist lawyers Shahar Ben Meir and Yitzhak Aviram, seeking to compel the government to release transcripts from those controversial meetings.
Their argument is that there is no security basis to keep the meetings’ minutes classified, and that typically only cabinet protocols relating to security issues can be kept from the eyes of the public.
The lawsuit is an example of the media fulfilling a public service of ensuring that vital information, which is deeply impacting citizens’ lives, is shared with the public, the IPA said Sunday in a press release.
Only if the public gets access to this information in a professional and credible manner will it maintain its faith in the government’s efforts to fight coronavirus, both to date and going forward, the IPA said.
In contrast, efforts by the government to prevent the public from access to this information will increase suspicion about whether the state is acting in the public interest or based on other narrower ones, such as short-term political considerations.
Judge Eli Abarbanel had ordered the state to respond to the petition, though the IPA did not know when a hearing would be held.
There has been intense criticism of the process of government decision-making regarding the coronavirus, given that many crucial decisions impacting public health, the economy and civil liberties have sometimes appeared to be made haphazardly, at the last minute and often with dizzying multiple reversals.
For example, almost every time an initial decision has been rolled out about closing schools, synagogues or declaring certain cities “red” zones, the decisions undergo multiple changes as soon as various impacted political sectors criticize them.
Despite the petition, the government has at least two responses it can try to use to convince the court to keep some or all of the cabinet meetings under wraps.
One claim could be that given the involvement of the IDF, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the Mossad in aspects of combating the coronavirus, large portions of the cabinet meetings would need to be blacked out to protect national security considerations, even if coronavirus is primarily a health issue.
A second claim could be that certain cabinet decisions are better kept secret at least until the issue has died down so that politicians will feel free to act professionally and make serious decisions, instead of trying to perform in anticipation of later being revealed to the public.
The petitioners can respond that in this case there is a clear record of politicians performing, catering to narrow constituencies and not acting seriously, and only transparency will help force the political class to act more responsibly.