Limits to Israel's Free Press

The "anti-libel law": The  Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved in October two bills that will significantly stiffen the sentence for the media and ordinary citizens' violation of libel laws.

The bills were put forth by MKs Meir Shitrit from Kadima and Yariv Levin from Likud. The two bills were combined into one, and despite the justice ministry's objection it is likely to pass in the Knesset. The bill calls for increasing compensation from NIS 50,000, without the complainant even being required to prove that damage was caused him, to NIS 300,000. In addition, media outlets will be required to pay NIS 1.5 million in compensation to citizens whose full reaction was not published as part of the report that was deemed libelous.

The bill may intimidate the media and discourage it from dealing with sensitive subjects – publishing criticism or investigations of public figures, politicians or tycoons. Bloggers and independent news outlets might cease working altogether given the constant threat of a lawsuit. The law already allows courts to issue such gag orders, but there are occasions when a suspect's name is released before he has been able to petition the court for such an order.

Abolishing automatic publication of a suspect's name: Last August, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved for the second and third hearings a bill that allows criminal suspects who have not been charged with a crime to delay publication of their names for 48 hours, in order to enable them to request a court order banning such publication.

The bill allows for exceptions in which the court can authorize the release of a suspect's identity within the first 48 hours – if the suspect is of "public interest" or asks for his name to be released. Opponents of the bill say news outlets would be in risk of a criminal felony because of the difficulty of knowing exactly when 48 hours have passed. They also claim that the bill may prompt excessive caution which will deny the public from important information. MK Zehava Gal-On called the bill "an arbitrary censorship of the procedures of criminal investigations."