Telecom minister seeks powers to halt media broadcasts that harm national security

Karhi strongly denies report he had planned a more extreme measure, allowing detainment of anyone whose media output ostensibly undermines military morale or incites rebellion

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Illustrative: Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi heads into a cabinet meeting in the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, September 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Illustrative: Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi heads into a cabinet meeting in the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, September 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi has proposed new emergency regulations that, if approved, would allow him to halt media broadcasts and confiscate broadcast equipment if an outlet’s output is seen to harm national security, public order, or serve as a basis for “enemy propaganda.”

The proposed regulations appear designed to allow him to shut down the local offices of the Al Jazeera news network, which he has accused of harming national security and inciting violence, but critics have expressed concern that they could impinge on the freedom of the press.

The regulations are slated to be brought up for ministerial approval in a meeting of the security cabinet on Monday.

On Sunday The Marker published details of what was supposedly an earlier and far more extreme draft of the regulations, which would have given the communications minister the ability to order the detainment of anyone whose media output he believed was undermining military morale, harming national security or inciting rebellion.

Karhi took to Twitter on Sunday to deny that he had sought such far-reaching measures and said the regulations he had submitted to the cabinet for approval had been approved by the National Security Council, the Defense Ministry and others, and had been submitted to the Attorney General’s Office for its approval as well.

Israelis being kidnapped and taken into Gaza by Hamas terrorists, October 7, 2023, as seen in pixelated videos from social media screened on Israeli television. (Channel 12 screenshot)

The regulations in their more moderate form, details of which were first published by Kan news, state that the minister will be entitled to take action if the broadcasts will “almost certainly” cause real damage to “public security or national security, or serve as propaganda or public relations for the enemy,” if the military censor agrees.

The more extreme draft would, according to The Marker and The Seventh Eye investigative outlet, have given the minister the ability to instruct the police, with the agreement of the national security minister, to arrest any journalist or media employee for violating clause 103 of the penal code, which forbids publishing news items during wartime “that have the potential to undermine the spirit of Israel’s soldiers and its residents in their stand against the enemy,” which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

The national security minister is the leader of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, Itamar Ben Gvir, who was in the past convicted on charges of incitement to racism against Israel’s Arab minority.

Karhi denounced The Marker’s report, calling it slanderous. He described the publication as an “insane newspaper” and accused it of defaming Israel, and sarcastically wished it “a swift recovery.”

A spokesperson for Karhi did not respond to questions as to whether the current version of the regulations had been moderated from an original more far-reaching proposal.

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