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IFJ backs opposition to "gagging" press bill

(IFJ/IFEX) - 2 November 2011 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today supported Israeli journalists who are leading the opposition to the draft press bill introduced in the Knesset to reform the media law in the country. The private member bill, proposed by Yariv Levin from the Likud party and supported by Meir Sheetrit of Kadima provides for a hefty increase in the amount of damages which can be awarded in libel cases without proof of actual damage.

Media reports say that, if the bill is passed, defendants in libel cases could face up to 60.000 Euro in damages from just under 10.000 Euro under the existing law. Fines could rise to over 70.000 Euro if "the complaint's response is not published in full".

"This draft legislation is a self-serving tactic for powerful figures who want to frustrate public scrutiny," said Jim Boumelha, IFJ President. "No one has any grounds to fear anything from the kind of responsible and professional journalism that is part of the democratic fabric of Israel."

It is reported that the bill's sponsors claim to act in the interests of citizens who need protection from 'the great power of media' but journalists dismiss this as a barely veiled attempt to silence the free press in the country. They accuse the right wing politicians and the rich and powerful of waging a campaign to stop the press from investigating and exposing malpractices of influential figures.

The IFJ backs the position of the National Federation of Israeli Journalists (NFIJ), an IFJ affiliate, which strongly criticised the bill and urged the Knesset to vote it down and protect the valuable role the media has played in ensuring accountability on behalf of the Israeli public.

"We are concerned that this law will lead to self-censorship out of fear of crippling damages on media outlets," said Danny Zaken, NFIJ senior representative and chairman of the Journalists' Association in Jerusalem. "We shall spare no efforts to persuade the Knesset to avoid the slippery slope towards gagging the vibrant Israeli press."

What other IFEX members are saying

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