New York, November 6, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply troubled by the Israeli Government Press Office’s (GPO) new administrative guidelines for press accreditation, which were announced on Sunday, November 2.
The guidelines, set to take effect on January 1, 2004, include a provision requiring the country’s internal security service, or Shin Bet, to vet candidates seeking accreditation. GPO director Daniel Seaman has said the measures were adopted for security reasons and has emphasized that accreditation “is not conditioned on the approval of Shin Bet.” He told CPJ that he will have final approval over any application and those rejected could appeal the decision.
However, the guidelines appear to give the GPO and Israeli security authorities broad discretion to deny applications based on vague or unsubstantiated security concerns, which in the past have been used against Palestinian journalists.
Article 7 of the new guidelines states that “If the Director is of the opinion, after consultation with the security authorities, that granting the Card or Certificate may endanger public safety or state security, the application shall be rejected on security grounds.”
The new rules could directly affect foreign correspondents and Israeli reporters who cover the occupied territories. Press accreditation, in the form of a GPO-issued press card, facilitates journalists’ passage through Israeli checkpoints. Inside Israel these cards grant journalists entry to official government events and press conferences.
The new guidelines follow other restrictive measures adopted by the GPO in recent years, which have triggered bitter complaints from international media. Most prominently, in 2002 the GPO froze the accreditation of most Palestinian journalists from the occupied territories who work with foreign media. News bureaus complain that these measures have handicapped their ability to operate in the occupied territories since many employ Palestinian stringers and fixers.
Israeli press groups protested Sunday’s announcement of the new guidelines. The Foreign Press Association (FPA) of Israel said in a statement that the new measures provide the authorities “unreasonable veto power over who can serve as a foreign correspondent” and constitute a “dramatic reversal of the openness that has prevailed in Israel for decades.”
While the government’s concerns about security are real, the new measures are unwarranted because of routine security procedures already in place in the country.
“These guidelines are unnecessary, excessive, and likely to be misused to obstruct the work of journalists,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “They should be rescinded immediately.”