Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) – In an announcement described by media commentators here as “extraordinary,” Israel’s foreign ministry has issued an edict prohibiting its staff from speaking to the domestic press.
The move earlier this month came after the Ha’aretz daily reported that Arab states would not call for a vote on monitoring Israel’s nuclear program during the International Atomic Energy Agency’s annual General Conference next month.
The report was evidently based on a leaked classified cable that had been sent to Israeli diplomatic missions abroad.
An anonymous ministry source told the Times of Israel immediately after the new restrictions were put in place that foreign ministry director-general Dore Gold had been “furious” about the leak. The new prohibition was then put into place.
The foreign ministry played down the latest restriction on the domestic press. A spokesperson said in an email to CNSNews.com that the prohibition was “standard procedure which we reiterate once in a while.”
“Just as in any other ministry or government office (and not only in Israel ...) contacts with the media have to be approved by the director general or the spokesman,” the spokesperson stated.
In practice, some ministry staff seem ready to continue communicating with reporters outside of normal channels: An internal communication about the prohibition was itself leaked to Ha’aretz and the Times of Israel.
“No contact is to be made by ministry workers in Israel or abroad with any representatives of the Israeli press,” said the leaked document.
Some sectors of the Israeli government have been accused of applying pressure on domestic media in various ways since elections last year.
Critics say the situation is further complicated by the fact Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has taken on the communications portfolio.
One impediment for the press in Israel is the fact some content is bought and sold, often without the news consumer being the wiser. Paid content and unfair market advantages have set the stage for a major battleground within the country’s robust domestic media market.
Some paid content is funded by the government or run in pro-government media outlets. Israel Hayom, the country’s leading print outlet, is owned and operated by American businessman Sheldon Adelson and supports Netanyahu. The most popular news website, Ynet – the online version of the Yediot Ahronot daily – is a frequent user of paid material.
The issue of paid and hidden advertising was a major reason cited by Freedom House when it downgraded Israel’s press freedom ranking from “free” to “partly free” in its annual country assessment.
A parliamentary bill introduced earlier this year sought to limit the increasing amount of hidden advertising in media, but ended up being largely symbolic.
Protection of sources is another contentious issue in Israeli media. Israeli law does not strictly protect confidential sources, although the courts will often provide protection when source confidentiality is challenged.
A 2012 Supreme Court ruling found that both the source and the information connected to the identity of the source is protected.
Authorities continue to investigate and monitor journalists, however. A 2015 lawsuit filed by Ha’aretz used freedom of information legislation to get information about ongoing police investigations of journalists.