- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003

TEL AVIV — Journalists in Israel yesterday described new rules for accreditation as an “insult” and charged that planned checks by the Shin Bet security service would impinge on the country’s tradition of free press.

Israel says the Shin Bet checks, announced Tuesday, are needed so that terrorists cannot exploit the freedoms afforded to journalists.

But journalists said the new regulations governing the issuing of press identification cards could be used to bully and crack down on reporters critical of the government.

Security personnel request press cards when reporters cross into the West Bank and Gaza Strip or want access to the scenes of terrorist bombings, as well as at events with the prime minister and other top-ranking officials.

The new rules have aggravated an already strained relationship between Israel’s Foreign Press Association (FPA) and the Government Press Office (GPO).

The new regulations “appear to be another step in a two-year campaign to harass and intimidate the foreign press,” the FPA said in a statement. Foreign Press Association Deputy Chairwoman Tami Allen-Frost called the rules “insulting and demeaning.”

“Here, you’re guilty before proven innocent. We don’t think security forces should tell us if we’re valid journalists or not,” Miss Allen-Frost said. “They think anyone holding a press card needs to be investigated.”

The government argues that the tightened regulations are aimed primarily at reducing the number of Israelis who have obtained the credentials even though they are not full-time journalists, said GPO Director Danny Seaman.

He said press cards have been issued to about 11,000 Israelis, many of whom posed as reporters in order to get VIP access. A decade ago, only 2,000 journalists received credentials from the GPO.

Mr. Seamen said most reporters will be able to obtain press cards within minutes, although the new regulations allow the GPO 90 days to check applicants with dubious credentials. The Shin Bet will have a chance to review the journalists only after they are issued their press cards.

The Israel Press Association, representing Israeli journalists, is calling on members to boycott the new accreditation process.

“In the last few years, it feels that there are more and more steps making journalists’ work more difficult and problematic,” said press association director Yaron Enosh. “It’s a way for the authorities to control what the journalists write and report.”

Reporters are much less concerned about a long-standing requirement to submit stories on military matters for censorship to ensure that they do not include sensitive material that could endanger soldiers or operations.

That requirement applies mainly to Israeli reporters, who tend to have better military sources and whose material is more likely to be seen or read.

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