The Committee Against Freedom of Expression

The Winograd Committee exceeded its mandate, and entered an area that does not pertain to the state and its government's performance in the war, but instead to a free media's role in a democracy, during emergency.

At first the media sharply criticized the fact that the Winograd Committee was a government panel rather than a state inquiry commission. Then, following the scathing interim report, some journalists expected a courageous report and personal conclusions. Now the report is being treated to a cold shower for failing to deliver the goods, refraining from personal recommendations against the prime minister and not expressing the anger and frustration over the war's failure.

The panel members' clear hostility to the media is thinly disguised in the report. They devote an entire chapter to "security of information in war," laying bare their attitude to press freedom. The report demands more strict censorship, harsh penalties for journalists breaching it, and an end to IDF press-office openness during war.

Fifty pages are allocated to freedom of the press, but most of them deal with field security and defense-related information. The panel pays lip-service to the principles of freedom of expression, but in fact is undermining them.

It calls for making a pact between the military censor and the media. It recommends reconsidering the Schnitzer ruling - the Schnitzer High Court of Justice ruling against the military censor - regarding the criteria to ban publication based on the argument of infringing on state security.The meaning is clear. The committee suggests reducing the media's freedom of expression on defense issues in general, and during an emergency in particular.

This demonstrates ignorance of the media's role in an information age, and is a threat to basic democratic values.

Today the High Court's ruling lends much weight to the freedom of expression and the public's right to know, stating that publications may be censored only in the case of "near certainty of a real infringement of state security."

The Winograd Committee believes that this ruling could jeopardize state security, and that even a "reasonable fear" of infringing on state security should suffice to overrule the right to publish and the right to know.

These recommendations are not in the spirit of the ruling, for as long as the High Court of Justice's ruling remains unchanged, a government panel must not recommend to state and public bodies to adopt balances in central constitutional issues such as the freedom of expression.

The committee's approach is contrary to the spirit of the era of free information, and the age of Internet and mobile phones, in which official bodies have no control over the flow of information. The panel members think that stronger measures to prevent the leaking of defense secrets, and harsher penalties, must be used to control the media.

Unlike the Israel Press Council's report on this matter, the panel establishes that the Israeli media exposed and published classified information that helped Hezbollah in the war. The panel states that the media must not release information in violation of the defense authorities' instructions, must not try to steal concealed information, enter restricted military area or interview officers or combatants in it.

Such principles are not appropriate for a democratic state and free press. The panel exceeded the mandate it received from the government, and entered an area that does not pertain to the state and its government's performance in the war, but instead to a free media's role in a democracy, during emergency.

The panel recommends developing and implementing technology to enable surveillance and enforcement on the electronic media, including the Internet. Good luck to you.

The writer is a law and media expert from the Interdisciplinary Institute in Herzliya.