Court to Hear Petition on Army's TV Take-over in Emergency

The High Court of Justice will today hear a petition submitted by two citizens against an Israel Defense Forces plan to commandeer all television broadcasts in Israel for at least fifteen minutes in the event of an Iraqi missile attack against Israel.

The state yesterday submitted an affidavit from Major General Dan Harel, head of the IDF's Operations Directorate, in which he defends the decision to commandeer the TV stations, arguing that the decision does not contravene the law delineating the responsibilities of all the TV stations, both the state-run and the commercial ones.

The petitioners, Ofer Ne'eman and former state prosecutor Michael Kirsh, argue that the blanket take-over plan would constitute a blow to freedom of information, with the public unable to receive reports from any source other than the army.

Harel's statement said that the decision to take over the television broadcasts had been made following consultations with all the television stations and a meeting with Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein.

Rubinstein decided to limit the plan to commandeer all television transmissions to 15 minutes, unless the emergency requires more time to deliver instructions to the public. Harel said the damage to freedom of information would be minimal.

Harel also opposed a compromise proposal that suggested a five-minute tape with instructions would be shown on all the channels, and then the full instructions would be broadcast on the three main channels, while the other stations would resume their regular broadcasts.

There was concern, he said, that the message might not get through to even 1 percent of the public, which could be watching cable or satellite broadcasts during an emergency, without being aware of the announcements on the other channels.The state's response to the petition concluded by saying that the issue of the best way to protect the public was an operational one that did not warrant intervention by the court.