Livnat calls for an end to movie censorship

Culture minister: In the internet era, Film Board bans are just irrelevant.

limor livnat 248 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
limor livnat 248 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Speaking at a Pais Council for Culture and Art conference on culture policy Wednesday, Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat (Likud) voiced support for ending the censorship of Israeli films and labeled the ability of the Films Rating Board to deem movies suitable or not "irrelevant." "This is an institution whose operation has been made mandatory by law," Livnat said during the conference in Jerusalem. "But six years ago, a committee headed by [current Ambassador to the UN] Professor Gabriela Shalev released a report that recommend stripping the film board of its authority to censor movies, except in the case of material for children. Those recommendations have yet to be heeded." While the military censor's power to ban or restrict films is not included in Livnat's proposal, and the minister added that the right to classify or give movies parental ratings will remain intact, the ability to view nearly any film over the Internet, along with court rulings that have overruled the film board's decisions, have cast the authority they hold to censor films into question. "The film board's authority has been diminished in recent years by Supreme Court rulings, and technological advances that allow for films to be viewed over the Internet without restraint," Livnat said. "This only makes censorship all the more irrelevant, and in light of that, I've decided to recommend that the film board's authority to censor movies be removed." A spokeswoman for Livnat pointed to the events surrounding the film Jenin Jenin as an example. The film, a documentary by Israeli Arab Mohamed Bakri that was released in 2002, portrayed the fighting that took place in the West Bank town between IDF soldiers and Palestinian gunmen during Operation Defensive Shield as a massacre, and showed only interviews with Palestinian residents of Jenin - no Israelis. After a few screenings in Israel, the documentary was banned by the film board on the premise that it was libelous and might offend the public, but Bakri took the ban to the Supreme Court and the decision was overturned. "The fact that the film includes lies is not enough to justify a ban," Supreme Court Judge Dalia Dorner said at the time. On appeal, the Supreme Court's ruling was stayed, but in August 2004, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the overturning of the ban, stating that the film board does not have "a monopoly over truth." Although the Supreme Court described the film as a "propagandist lie," the ruling affirmed that choosing not to show "both sides" of a story was not grounds for censorship. Nonetheless, the film board's authority was severely challenged by the case, and Shalev's report recommending the stripping of its censorship authority was released the following year. While Livnat reportedly surprised the conference participants when she announced her intentions to do the same on Wednesday, this is the second time that she has attempted to end the censorship of films in the country. In 2005, Livnat participated in drafting a bill that would have stopped the censoring of films, and was sent to the Justice Ministry before being shot down before early elections. However, Livnat said on Wednesday, she felt that her current call for its cancellation was a matter of duty. The censorship of plays, which was also based on a mandatory law, was overturned in 1988 by then-interior minister Aryeh Deri, and no longer stands.