Court to Rule if IDF Can Take Over Broadcasts in an Emergency

In a High Court petition brought against IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon, attorney Michael Kirsch is demanding the court cancel the defense establishment's decision to take over all Israeli and cable channels, including foreign news broadcasts, in case of a missile attack.

The IDF decided this week that in an emergency, it would be take over broadcasts on all channels for up to 15 minutes, effectively blocking all incoming reports from the outside world as well as from Israeli reporters.

Urging the court to hold an urgent hearing on the matter, Kirsch's petition, filed Tuesday, said the IDF's decision "strikes a fatal blow to the freedom of expression."

If there is a missile attack, it is vital to enable free information flow via the foreign channels like CNN and BBC, so Israelis can get as full a picture as possible of events, he said.

The decision to commandeer all radio and television channels in case of emergency has triggered considerable anger among the media. The final emergency procedure was formulated by the IDF, following meetings in past weeks with the Home Front Command, the Communications and Defense Ministries, the Cable and Satellite Council, the Second Authority for Television and Radio, and the directors of Channels One, Two and 10.

The main controversy focused on the length of time the IDF would be allowed to commandeer, and whether it should take over all the channels.

According to the procedure, in case of a missile attack, the IDF spokesperson in the Defense Ministry's war room will announce it to the studios of Channels One, Two and 10 in Jerusalem. At this point a cassette five minutes and 12 seconds long will be broadcast, announcing the alert with the password "Iron Wall" and preliminary instructions in five languages.

The channel to go on the air first with the announcement will immediately take over the broadcasts on all the cable and satellite channels. From that moment there will be no TV broadcasts in Israel but those provided by the state.

At the end of the cassette, the broadcast will switch to the military spokesperson, who will give a first update on the goings on and advise the public how to act. Then the broadcast passes to the Home Front Command studio in Ramle, where experts will give further advice and instructions to the public.

The entire process is supposed to last for about 15 minutes. After that the channels will be allowed to resume their scheduled broadcasts, except Channel One, on which the spokesperson will continue broadcasting "until the closure of the event." The definition of the event's "final closure" will be at the discretion of the spokesperson. From that point on, Channel 33 will broadcast instructions and Home Front Command programs around the clock.

At the end of the emergency broadcast, TV viewers will return to the channel they had previously been watching, apart from 400,000 digital cable subscribers, whose TVs, for technical reasons, will pick up the station that took over the broadcasts - but whose remote control will be able to change the channels.