Higher Education Body Must Show Haaretz Minutes of Meetings

A Tel Aviv District Court judge has ordered the Council for Higher Education to show Haaretz the minutes of its meetings and the meetings of its planning and budgeting committee.

Judge Boaz Okon said the ruling was based on the Freedom of Information Law.

Haaretz turned to the court after the council rejected a request to allow it to study and photograph the minutes as part of a follow-up report on steps the council took following the 1999 State Comptroller's Report. The council had suggested that the newspaper make do with reading its decisions and forgo reading the minutes of its meetings.

In the petition, Haaretz's lawyers, Tamir Glick and Mibi Moser, said the council is a public authority about which every citizen has the right to receive information. The attorneys pointed out that the council deals with vast public sums of money - NIS 6 billion annually - and the public has the basic right to receive information about the way in which the money is handled and allocated.

Okon accepted these claims, but permitted the council to delete from the minutes any section that might infringe on the privacy of a third party provided that it stipulate which section was deleted, the reasons why it might constitute an infringement, and when the minutes were taken. The judge also allowed the council to delete any section that is legally confidential, such as consultations with its lawyers, provided that it stipulate similar details. The council was also allowed to request court permission to delete the names of individuals from the minutes, provided it explain the reasons and context for such action.

Okon criticized the way the council had defended itself in court following the Haaretz request. He called the council's attitude "inflexible and sweeping," adding that publicizing the minutes would give the public a more realistic picture of the decision-making process. "The activities of the Council for Higher Education must be based on the principle of service," he wrote in the ruling.

While the judge accepted the council's contention that in many cases remarks are published out of context, he said it could always respond accordingly. The newspaper cuttings presented by Haaretz, Okon said, displayed "an attempt to present full and serious information."