Foreign press group rejects police-proposed limits on coverage in public spaces

Regulations presented to Supreme Court amid legal battle for freedom of access to events are ‘too vague,’ allow arbitrary restrictions, journalists say

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A police officer blocks media from entering the Old City, outside the Lion's Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, July 23, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A police officer blocks media from entering the Old City, outside the Lion's Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, July 23, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An umbrella group representing foreign media in Israel said Monday it rejected media restrictions proposed by the Israel Police limiting media coverage of events in public spaces, saying they were “far too vague” and allowed for arbitrary limitations.

The Foreign Press Association statement came after Israel Police presented the proposals as part of a Supreme Court case in which Israeli and foreign journalists, along with human rights groups, appealed against existing regulations that they say are too restrictive.

The petition follows several incidents in which FPA members were banned by police from covering events in and around Jerusalem and included a number of cases where reporters were allegedly assaulted by authorities.

Police formulated the proposals after it emerged before the court that there were no clear regulations on media coverage in public spaces, Haaretz reported.

The media group objected to several of the clauses proposed by police including the right to restrict entry of media to an area when it may lead to an infringement of an individual’s privacy, or when there is a concern that media personnel may be at risk of harm, or when the presence of media could escalate violence, endangering lives.

In particular, the FPA balked at a clause in the police proposal which, it said, stated that under “special circumstances” media could be denied access to a scene: “wording that is so vague it could cover anything.”

A suggestion that police could accompany journalists at an event scene was, the group said, “reminiscent of government media ‘minders’ in totalitarian regimes.”

According to the FPA, police told the court their proposals strike a “proper balance” between the need to maintain public order, freedom of the press, and safety considerations.

Police arresting a man on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on September 18, 2018. (courtesy)

“While we respect the court-ordered dialogue with police, these proposed procedures remain far too vague and open the door for excessive and arbitrary restrictions,” said FPA Chairman Josef Federman. “The FPA’s attorneys will shortly submit to the Supreme Court our response to the police proposal.”

The FPA which represents journalists covering Israel and the Palestinian territories for international news organizations.

Police currently have powers “that allow authorities to prevent reporters and photographers from covering events of public interest,” the FPA noted and claimed that police sometimes “ignore official press accreditation when preventing media photographers from doing their job.”

“From our experience the police rarely look at the official GPO [Government Press Office] credentials cards or understand what they are,” Federman said.

The FPA highlighted events at the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem where, the organization said, reporters “have frequently been denied permission to film” over the past 18 months.

“Access to the Temple Mount has been heavily restricted over the past 18 months, thereby imposing a frequent media blackout on the most important site in the region,” Federman said. “It makes no sense to ban the media when the everyday public and tourists still have access.”

The Temple Mount and the Old City became the focus of mass protests in 2017 — some of them violent — when Israel introduced new security measures at the site following a terror attack in which three Arab Israelis shot dead two police officers near the Lions Gate. They used weapons they had stored at the mosque.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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