Censoring the censor
Lately it seems the Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman is sometimes assuming the role of chief censor. The spokeswoman has spoken out against what she considers overly explosive coverage of the rocket landing sites.
Lately it seems the Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman is sometimes assuming the role of chief censor. The spokeswoman, Brigadier General Miri Regev, has been interviewed by all of the television channels and has spoken out against what she considers overly explosive coverage of the rocket landing sites. The TV newspeople do not understand her consternation.
"After all, a representative of the [IDF] censor is always sitting in the studio," said a senior source at Channel 10, "and he approves the broadcast of what Regev opposes."
Not that Chief Military Censor Colonel Sima Vaknin-Gil needs any help from the IDF spokeswoman. At the beginning of this week Vaknin-Gil distributed guidelines to the media concerning the war coverage. Among other things, she ordered no real-time broadcast of the exact locations of the Katyusha landings or visits of senior officials to the north.
Vaknin-Gil says that she was merely reminding the media about rules that have existed for years.
"The censor always maintains a balance between national security and the public's right to know," says the censor. "We work according to the High Court of Justice Schnitzer's ruling (in a petition from 18 years ago, concerning the publication of an article on then Mossad Chief Nahum Admoni - A.C.). The High Court ruled that details could be publicized as long as there was no clear and imminent danger to national security. Of course, during a war "clear and imminent" assumes a different meaning."
Vaknin-Gil is aware of the criticism from the military ranks.
"If I were on a military operation right now," she says, "I would tell the military censor a thing or two. The IDF does not want any live broadcasts, but even the chief of staff knows that the current censorship is all that can be provided, using its own criteria."
In the past few days the Second Broadcasting Authority, the military censor and the IDF spokeswoman have received hundreds of complaints from Israelis who are shocked and outraged by the excess coverage, which they claim helps Hezbollah, which is following broadcasts from Israel.
"I cannot allow myself to let the public's hysteria affect the decisions based on the balance with which I have been entrusted," says Vaknin-Gil. "Still, the censorship takes into account the public's feelings, as I view national endurance as a major component of security. We have therefore made the rules more stringent, with the consent of the media and in keeping with the circumstances."
Vaknin-Gil adds that she also does not like the direct broadcasts, but "there is a difference between my views and my ability to prevent the broadcasts," she explains. "It is also not realistic for 2006."
Even so, she admits that she, too, is addicted to the news broadcasts.
"I just spent four hours in a meeting and was incommunicado," says Vaknin-Gil. "The moment I returned to my office I turned on the TV."
The IDF spokeswoman, for her part, does not think she is being more strict than the censorship.
"My personal responsibility as a citizen and as the military spokeswoman is to stick to the rules," says Regev. "The censor's office has no connection with the media as I do, and I brief the censors just as I do any other military body. It is unacceptable that during a war, when I go somewhere with the chief of staff this is announced on a live broadcast, and immediately afterward a Katyusha falls there. This is a matter of mortal danger."
Regev contends that she is only asking the media to display minimal responsibility.
"If Second Authority sources tell me they have been contacted by hundreds of citizens," says Regev, "if everyone is asking us to 'do something about the newspapers,' and the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee tells us, 'If you can't do anything, we will,' then something has to be done.
"To spell it out for you, Hezbollah wants real-time information so that it can assess its aim. Is this the job of the media, during war-time, when we know that national strength is the most important thing?"
Still, Regev is afraid someone will get the impression she wants to halt the flow of information.
"I do not think that the live broadcasts are excessive," she says. "The viewers, particularly those sitting in the bomb shelters, need to receive information in real time. I am in favor of live broadcasts, in favor of information. This is how it should be, and this is how it will continue. All I am asking is that when a Katyusha falls, don't say exactly where it fell."