Panel freezes Web site 'talkbacks' law

Bill frozen after Web sites urged to arrive at new standards deciding how to filter readers' comments.

computer 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
computer 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A law that Web site editors said could put an end to Israeli Internet news media was frozen on Tuesday, after the Knesset Science and Technology Committee decided to freeze legislation proposed by MK Yisrael Hasson (Israel Beiteinu) to make editors legally responsible for the content of reader responses posted on their sites. Hasson's bill, which has already passed its preliminary reading, caused widespread alarm within the Internet news community, and the editors of many of Israel's most popular news Web sites flocked to the Knesset to defend the institution known in Hebrew by the English term "talkback." "Talkbacks are a medium of expression for many people, who have no other way of expressing themselves," said Yon Pered, editor of top Hebrew news Web site Ynet. Current libel laws do not encompass the responses posted by "talkbackers," who frequently write under pseudonyms and, Hasson claims, have been responsible for spreading false information that has ruined peoples' jobs and public images. But the Internet editors were joined in their opposition to Hasson's bill by the Justice Ministry, represented in Tuesday's hearing by attorney Tamar Kalhoura, on the grounds that new technology demanded new legislation. Kalhoura instead offered a proposal that as soon as a site received a complaint regarding a specific talkback, it would be required to contact the talkbacker and ask whether or not the writer was willing to legally defend his or her content. If not, the talkback would be erased from the site. Ultimately, MK Michael Eitan (Likud) proposed a compromise in which the legislation of the proposal would be frozen for one month, while Internet editors would meet to try and come up with a set of standards that would be agreed upon by all and would define what could and could not be published on Web sites. At the end of that period, the committee formed to set the standards would be required to return and report its conclusions to the Science and Technology Committee. Eitan pointed out that a large number of talkbacks are already being edited and reviewed for content. Attorney Haim Revaya of the Israeli Internet Association said his organization would take the issue under its wing in helping the various site editors come to an agreement on their position, and it was agreed that they would also sit with the editors on the standards reviewing committee.