‘Lawless, irresponsible’ – Israeli gov’t slams local media over terror attack coverage

“National security comes before competition between news agencies,” said Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

The Knesset held a public debate session that included Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel, Public Security Committee head MK Merav Ben Ari and representatives from Hebrew-language media and  Israeli police after news coverage of the immediate aftermath of last week’s deadly Tel Aviv terror attack sparked public outrage and a harshly worded letter from the Shin Bet security agency.

Scores of journalists, photographers and videographers were seen on Dizengoff Street in the hours following the terror attack that left three people dead as thousands of journalists and security forces searched for the perpetrator.

Several Hebrew-language news stations broadcast the search live, which according to critics meant that the terrorist may have potentially been able to follow the movements of security forces and their techniques.

Some also noted that the faces, vehicles and other sensitive information of undercover and elite units were revealed on live TV, creating potentially long-term consequences for national security.

Economics committee head MK Michael Biton said that he had expected the media to cover the event in a more “responsible” manner and that the press failed to take “all of the [differing] aspects [of the event] into account.”

‘Broad change is needed’

Communications Minister Hendel was harsh when speaking about the press’ behavior, emphasizing that moving forward, there would be different standards for coverage of security events.

“On Thursday, there was lawlessness,” he said. “In the current reality when everything is broadcast live, it is extremely difficult to censor the material or for an editor to make decisions.”

Hendel said that in discussions before Tuesday’s session, his ministry had suggested the media implement a delay, which would create “a gap between filming and broadcasting.”

But he warned that if the press did not act more responsibly in the future, the government would be forced to step in and set limits on media outlets.

“‘The lessons learned from the latest terror attack necessitates broad change,” he said, adding that a “joint Code of Ethics for these kinds of events could be a good solution. If the [media does not] do so, we will not hesitate to implement regulation.”

He added that “national security comes before competition between news agencies.”

‘Not the role of the press to defend national security’

Anat Saragusti, a prominent journalist who served as the representative of the Union of Journalists in Israel during the session, pushed back against the idea that the government would introduce legal measures to limit media coverage after terror attacks and other security or defense-related incidents.

“We oppose legislation that limits media coverage but support self-regulation,” she said. “As we speak, we are working on a Code of Ethics that will provide [the media] with guidelines for coverage during security events.”

Saragusti said that it is “not the role of the press to defend national security — that is the role of the defense agencies. Nor is it the job of the press to [uphold] national morale, but rather to serve the public’s right to know and the public interest.”

Saragusti suggested that the backlash over the coverage was more out of a sense of government embarrassment around the hectic scene, rather than concerns over national security.

“It is very easy to attack the press when what happened during the event was managerial chaos,” she said. “The press did its job and reported what happened on the ground.”