Supreme Court Considers Petition on Anti-Press Freedom Laws
On Monday the Supreme Court received a petition, filed by attorney and I’lam legal co-ordinator Alaa Abdallah, and attorney of the Association for Civil Rights Dan Yakir. The petition contests a number of items from the 1933 Journalism Ordinance, and the 1945 Defence (Emergency) Regulations, which impose restrictions on the freedom of the press in Israel.
The petition demands the removal of the need to request permission from the Minister of the Interior prior to the printing or publication of a newspaper, which is stated in Article IV of the 1933 Journalism Ordinance, which was adopted by the Israeli state from the British mandate. Currently, under this law, failing to request such permissions and gaining an advanced license before publishing can result in penalties, including a fine and up to six months in prison. Furthermore, Article XIX entitles the Minister of the Interior to issue an arrest warrant if a newspaper publishes content that the Minister believes would endanger public security or, in the Minister’s opinion, is false or misleading.
The petition is also targeting Article 94 of the Defence (Emergency) Regulations of 1945, which state that it is not permitted to print or publish any newspaper content without first obtaining a permit from the relevant District Commissioner. This Commissioner currently has the power to approve or refuse, or even revoke, such permissions at any time, and can do so ‘in his discretion, and without assigning any reason’ for his decisions.
The petitioners have pointed out that these regulations affect freedoms of journalism and of the press, and that the restrictions are especially irrelevant as they do not also apply to internet content. Furthermore, the petitioners have highlighted the overwhelming authority and control that these laws give to certain people, in particular the District Commissioner. Allowing him to make decisions on his own, without having to provide explanations or justifications, can lead to biased and discriminatory judgments; but it can also undermine the power of the Courts, who cannot examine the legality of the Commissioner’s decisions because these regulations state that he does not have to demonstrate motives or reasons for his decisions.
After an examination carried out by I’lam, we found that there have been 17 such unjustified rejections of requests to publish a newspaper between 2004 and 2013. These rejections harm the right to freedom of expression and the public right to know.