The IDF and the Israeli media are trying to determine what kinds of events should be off limits for journalists:
“The censor always maintains a balance between national security and the public’s right to know,” says [Chief Military Censor Colonel Sima Vaknin-Gil]. “We work according to the High Court of Justice Schnitzer’s ruling (in a petition from 18 years ago, concerning the publication of an article on then Mossad Chief Nahum Admoni – A.C.). The High Court ruled that details could be publicized as long as there was no clear and imminent danger to national security. Of course, during a war “clear and imminent” assumes a different meaning.”
Vaknin-Gil is aware of the criticism from the military ranks.
“If I were on a military operation right now,” she says, “I would tell the military censor a thing or two. The IDF does not want any live broadcasts, but even the chief of staff knows that the current censorship is all that can be provided, using its own criteria.”
In the past few days the Second Broadcasting Authority, the military censor and the IDF spokeswoman have received hundreds of complaints from Israelis who are shocked and outraged by the excess coverage, which they claim helps Hezbollah, which is following broadcasts from Israel.
“I cannot allow myself to let the public’s hysteria affect the decisions based on the balance with which I have been entrusted,” says Vaknin-Gil. “Still, the censorship takes into account the public’s feelings, as I view national endurance as a major component of security. We have therefore made the rules more stringent, with the consent of the media and in keeping with the circumstances.”
By contrast, our debates over the media’s coverage of the War on Terror are fairly abstract. But beyond the obvious conflicts over broadcasting the locations of Katyusha rocket strikes and other operational details, the Israelis face a similar question: Given that the terrorists’ objective is to maximize fear, to what extent do the media assist them by airing terrifying accounts of their attacks? What effect does that have on the “national endurance”? I don’t envy the IDF officials and Israeli media chiefs faced with that question.