On Sunday the ministerial committee on legislative matters approved the draft of a new press law. The new law eliminates a number of anachronistic clauses, including the requirement that newspaper owners be over a certain age and hold a matriculation certificate. But it also stipulates new requirements that newspaper proprietors may not be too eager to comply with.

If the Knesset passes the law in its current form, publishers will - among other things - be required to disclose in their newspapers detailed listings of their holdings in other corporations. According to the explanatory material for the draft law, "This disclosure is necessitated by the public's right to know the identity of the person supplying it with information and opinions, commentary and criticism. This identification will also create a degree of 'transparency' concerning a newspaper's editor and proprietor."

Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, who heads the ministerial committee on legislation, did not participate in Sunday's vote, on the grounds that he cannot do so because he used to write for the mass-circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth. The new law, which was submitted by Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, entirely supersedes the legal framework that currently regulates media activity: the Press Order of 1933 and Defense Regulations 94-96 from 1945.

"The antiquated framework, which is embedded in the perceptions of a foreign colonial ruler, does not suit the values of the State of Israel," states the explanatory material. That is why the requirement to receive an Interior Ministry license to publish a newspaper will be canceled, on the grounds that "the principle of freedom of speech calls for the elimination of the licensing requirement."

Spotlight on holdings

Under the new law, a newspaper will be required to publish the name of its publisher every day. If the publisher is a corporation, the newspaper will also have to publish the names of those individuals who hold controlling interests in that corporation, as well as the extent of their holdings, and the names of the directors. Once every six months, on January 1 and July 1, the newspaper will be required to publish "the publisher's holdings in any other corporation that exceed 25 percent; and any holdings exceeding 15 percent when they pertain to another newspaper." Moreover, on these dates the newspaper will also be required to publish "the average number of copies of each issue that was printed during the six months prior to this publication."

The new law stipulates that every newspaper will be required to appoint an ombudsman, who will have to publish an annual report. As noted, the draft law drops previous requirements concerning an editor's age and education, but the demand that both editor and publisher not have a criminal record remains in place. "An individual will not serve as the publisher or the editor of a newspaper with a large circulation," states the draft law, "if he has been convicted in a conclusive verdict and the court has stipulated on its own accord, or at the attorney general's request, that because of the nature, gravity or circumstances of the crime said individual is not fit to serve in this role."

The law also states that if a newspaper's editor or publisher is convicted of a crime while serving in his post, the editor will cease to serve in that capacity within 30 days of being convicted and the publisher, within 60 days. With regard to state security, the new law stipulates that "a District Court is authorized to prohibit or restrict a newspaper's publication if it is convinced that publication of the newspaper is liable to endanger state security or public safety. The decision, as stated, will be limited to a certain period of time and will be implemented under conditions determined by the court."