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  • ACRI

Regulations for Emergency Closure of Media Outlets During Wartime

On October 16, 2023, we sent legal correspondence (Hebrew) to the Attorney General, demanding the government not advance emergency regulations granting the Minister of Communication authority to shut down media outlets during wartime. These regulations were presented under the guise of ceasing broadcasts of the Al Jazeera network from Israel but, in essence, sought to empower the Minister to close any media outlet for ambiguous reasons regarding a security breach, public peace disturbance, public order appeal, or for enemy propaganda purposes. Such a closure would be immediate, without judicial order, a hearing, and even without the approval of a senior legal authority.

Attorney Gil Gan-Mor, Director of Civil and Social Rights Unit at ACRI, argued that in the age of the internet and social networks, controlling a broadcasting entity that disseminates news cannot prevent manipulations performed by the adversary to fulfill their propaganda goals. Therefore, it seems that the overt purpose to prevent security or a public order breach or misuse of media content for enemy propaganda is a deceptive motive. Moreover, the real intent of the proposed regulations is to penalize specific media outlets for their broadcast content. Gan-Mor argued that these proposed regulations are precisely the kind of case that cannot justify the unprecedented use of emergency regulations.

"Even in wartime, and perhaps especially during war, moments in which critical decisions are made, the importance of freedom of press and information (within regular limitations) is paramount. The government should not have the authority to control the content transmitted or received through measures to shut down media outlets under the pretext of compromising security, public order, or the fear of exploiting broadcasts for enemy propaganda. This constitutes a severe and non-immediate attack on the media, freedom of expression, and the democratic space. The harm in such a situation outweighs the benefit, as there is no utility," the correspondence stated.

Following public criticism, a revised version of the proposed regulations was introduced, stating that the bill would only apply to foreign broadcasting entities and not Israeli broadcasters, and that measures would only be allowed for security purposes. Nonetheless, from our perspective, even the revised regulations are not proportionate. Among other things, they allow for the shutdown of media outlets for security reasons, without specifying what those security reasons are. They also allow the suspension of foreign broadcasting channels in Israel on a case-by-case basis without a hearing, leading to a infringement on freedom of expression and freedom of press. Furthermore, this is not a matter that aligns with regulations in a state of emergency. Violation of freedom of expression is a violation of human dignity and therefore cannot be enacted through emergency regulations, but rather through regular legislation that meets the basic principles of fundamental law: human dignity and freedom and has been passed through regular legislative procedures. Therefore, on October 18, 2023, we once again sent legal correspondence (Hebrew) to the Attorney General, requesting not to approve the regulations in their new wording.

Subsequently, the government decided to advance the issue through legislation rather than emergency regulations. On February 12, 2024, a government bill on the subject was published, and it was referred to the National Security Committee for discussion. Ahead of the discussion, additional versions of the proposal were published.

On March 11, 2024, we sent legal correspondence to the committee and opposed the bill in its entirety. Attorney Hagar Shechter argued that government abuse of the media tramples on freedom of expression of both the media and citizens of the state who want to consume its broadcasts, and severely harms democracy. She noted that there are already many clauses in the legislation designed to prevent publications that may harm state security, and that the real purpose of the bill is not security, but political driven – to enable the government to impose sanctions on foreign broadcasters which are not to their liking.

The law passed in the Knesset on April 1, 2024. On April 4, 2024, we petitioned the High Court of Justice against the law.


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