The Israel Police have approved new regulations authorizing police officers to limit reporters' and photographers' access to certain locations, including crime scenes in "exceptional circumstances." The new rules give senior police officers expanded authority to exercise their own judgment on the scene.
Under the new guidelines, reporters and photographers can be kept away from crime scenes if “exceptional circumstances” justify it, without having to explain what those special circumstances are. Journalists can be also be kept out if their presence would lead to “an atmosphere of violence.”
At the same time, the new rules state that “the police recognize that the media must be allowed to reach the scene and allow them to reach areas where admittance is barred to those who are not journalists.”
The Union of Journalists in Israel said the new regulations “will lead to the concealment of information from the public and allow police officers to exercise too broad a judgment.” Journalist union chairman Yair Tarchitsky expressed concern that the new regulations give police officers on the scene too much power. “The police need to respect the value of freedom of the press and defend its importance even if it creates inconvenience or difficulties in certain situations.”
The new regulations were developed following the filing of a petition to the High Court of Justice by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Union of Journalists in Israel, after the police prevented journalists, sometimes by force, from covering incidents in East Jerusalem. After the High Court was informed at one hearing in the case that the police did not have any formal rules on the subject, the police wrote the regulations.
The new rules, which to do not require approval from any outside entity, grant the authority to decide what “exceptional circumstances” are to the regional police commander, an officer with the police rank of brigadier general. The regional commander has the option of either limiting journalists' access or barring it completely if a real concern exists over “serious harm to the physical safety of the journalist if access were allowed,” or if “admitting the journalist or photographer would escalate the atmosphere of violence to a level that is liable to endanger human life.”
The commander on the scene — generally a station commander with the rank of chief superintendent — will also be able to limit access to the scene of a crime or other incident if the commander is of the opinion that it would create the possibility of actual risk to human life or bodily harm; if it is likely that allowing the presence of the journalist at the scene would obstruct an investigation or severely harm a person’s privacy; or if the commander believes the presence of journalists would be a violation of an order declaring a closed military area or would violate a decision requiring a secure area around someone who is receiving security protection.
The new rules are based on a policy paper circulated about a year ago by the legal adviser to the Israel Police, Ayelet Elyashar, following protests by ultra-Orthodox demonstrators over the conscription of yeshiva students.
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