Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to amend public broadcast ′handcuff′ law | News | DW | 04.09.2015
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Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to amend public broadcast 'handcuff' law

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is working to correct a newly passed public broadcasting law, officials said, after an outcry over a provision prohibiting journalists from expressing their opinion.

The law, passed in the early hours of Thursday, dismantles the current Israel Broadcasting Authority and establishes a new public corporation instead by the end of March 2016.

By Friday, Netanyahu's office announced that he planned to amend the clause, saying that "journalistic ethics should not be set down in legislation."

A last-minute provision, inserted by MK Yisrael Eichler of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, states that "broadcasts will refrain from one-sidedness, prejudice, expressing personal opinions, giving grades and labeling, hiding facts or presenting them subjectively and not according to their newsworthiness."

Critics claim that the purpose of the debated section is to prevent senior journalists and commentators from expressing their opinions on public TV and radio, but specifically targets journalists known for their critical approach towards Netanyahu's government.

Outdated ethical code

Eichler attempted to reintroduce the clause, originally written in 1972, which was part of the official ethical code of Israel's public broadcasting. The code has been updated several times, so that the clause in question was removed in 2009.

The Israeli Press Council president, Dalia Dorner, said the article "contradicts the fundaments of freedom of expression and press in Israel... and denies the public exposure to information and opinions," and called for its cancelation, together with 15 other Israeli journalist from outside the public broadcasters.

Ofir Akunis

Israel's Science Minister, Ofir Akunis

The journalists, who cover Israeli politics, sent a letter to Netanyahu demanding the clause be removed.

Science Minister Ofir Akunis, who is in charge of the general reform in public broadcasting, defended the clause as a means to ensure balance. But he did acknowledge in a Facebook post that "the clause might not have been formulated in a sufficiently clear manner".

"News should be presented with facts," he wrote. "Personal programs, in which the opinions of the presenters are known, are and will continue to be broadcast."

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