The New York Times newspaper acknowledged late last week that it complies with court-ordered gag orders when reporting from Israel.
The acknowledgement followed the publication of a report on the lifting of a gag order dealing with the arrest of Majd Kayyal, an Israeli Palestinian journalist, who was held incommunicado for a week after an unauthorized visit to Lebanon.
In reporting the case, the newspaper stated that “a court-imposed gag order on the case was lifted on Thursday,” without specifying that it, too, had complied with the order.
That drew criticism from several media critics, because Kayyal's arrest had been mentioned publicly by a journalist at a U.S. State Department briefing and featured prominently over several days on the pro-Palestinian Electronic Intifada website.
The confusion was palpable in a subsequent article by the paper's public editor Margaret Sullivan.
She acknowledged that The Times was "indeed, bound by gag orders," and quoted Jerusalem bureau chief Jodie Rudoren as saying that "the situation is analogous to abiding by traffic rules or any other laws of the land." Rudoren also said that two of her predecessors had been subject to gag orders in the past.
But then Sullivan went on to say that she had been told by two ranking editors at the paper – the managing editor, Dean Baquet, and an assistant managing editor, Susan Chira (who was the foreign editor for eight years) –that they were unaware of The Times ever agreeing to abide by gag orders in Israel.
Foreign Editor Joseph Kahn also told her that he was in favor of finding ways to let readers know that the paper was conforming with state restrictions.
The Times’ newsroom lawyer, David McCraw, told her that he had been consulted about publishing an article dealing with Kayyal’s arrest. “The general understanding among legal counsel in other countries," he said, "is that local law would apply to foreign media.”
Sullivan said that she found it "troubling that The Times is in the position of waiting for government clearance before deciding to publish."
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