Minister Dery Seeks to Repeal Anachronistic Israeli Press Restrictions

A 1933 law passed during British Mandatory rule requires a government license for any newspaper, and has been used to bar 62 from being published in the last decade.

Dreamstime

Interior Minister Arye Dery said Thursday he would seek to repeal an anachronistic 1933 statute that enables the government to prevent a newspaper from being published. 

The decision, which still requires parliamentary approval, would cancel the need to obtain a license in order to print or distribute a newspaper.

The so-called press edict had been passed during the British Mandatory era as a tool to impose strict political censorship. Dery said that once the law has been rescinded he would bring to the attention of the attorney general extreme cases of newspapers suspected of damaging state security interests or the public welfare.

Dery's decision follows an appeal by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel  to the High Court demanding that the law be rescinded. The group has sought for two decades to get the measure outlawed. 

ACRI welcomed Dery's decision though pointed out that it was issued just ahead of his deadline to respond to the group's appeal.

"The press law is a remnant of British Mandate rule, and we as a democratic country that cherishes freedom of expression should cancel it, the sooner the better," Dery said.

"The government should not be involved in distributing licenses to newspapers."

Data uncovered recently by Haaretz found that on the basis of this edict, the Interior Ministry has prevented publication of at least 62 newspapers in the last decade, or more than 10 percent of applications for publication.

In 1953, the interior minister at the time tried to shut two newspapers, Kol Ha'am and Al Ittihad, on the basis of the prestate edict, over editorials they published that were strongly critical of the government. But the High Court effectively overruled the minister by granting editors' appeals of that decision.