Monday, August 15, 2011

Israel's Freedom of the Press Balancing Act

Romano's group learns what you can say and can't say as a reporter
covering, say, the border between Israel (left) and Lebanon (right).

An article by Prof. Carlin Romano of Ursinus College in today's Chronicle of Higher Education provides an excellent description of Israel's 'motley' blend of press laws developed out of security needs, on the one hand, and desire for free-expression. on the other. Former journalist, now philosophy professor, Romano visited Israel recently as part of group of academics from diverse disciplines under the auspices of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. The aim of this trip was to get an overview of Israel's fight against terrorism. Having spent time in Israel 22 years ago, Romano recalls what he learned "...about how security and free speech can be balanced." 

"'Unlike the situation in the post-Pentagon Papers United States, where journalists and officials often saw themselves as adversaries in a First Amendment battle, Israeli journalists generally understood why their society needed to control strategic information. They cooperated more with government and intelligence officials and worked, one explained, with “two brains”. One was the vacuum-cleaner, fact-gathering efficiency tool shared with empirically minded American journalists. The other was the patriotic, security minded conscience of the Israeli citizen. When I asked former Jerusalem Post editor Ari Rath what happened when his aggressive, scoop hungry side and his patriotic Israeli-citizen side came into conflict, he replied, “When push comes to shove, I am an Israeli patriot.'”

Romano is surprisingly "fair and balanced". Read the whole article here. As I am discovering just now, he is a prolific writer who publishes widely. He has another interesting piece about the muted response of American university presidents to the rise of fascism and he wonders how today's academe would respond to a threat from Iran. 

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