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August 03, 1984 - Image 25

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-08-03

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

• TIM.' mr•••••••••• ■ ••••.



he U.S. media, which have
battled the government in recent
years over Vietnam, Watergate, the
Pentagon Papers and other major is-
sues, have shown little patience or
understanfding for self-censorship, a
policy which has a long history in

Self-censorship is an alien con-
cept to the U.S. media which, in
covering Vietnam and Watergate, for
instance, took it upon themselves to
define "national security" rather
than bend to requests — in some
cases "orders" — not to print mate-
rials or information considered to be
Setting aside the possibility and
probability that at times the gov-
ernment may have been politically
motivated, there is no mechanism in
this country for the media them-
selves to decide collectively to with-
hold information.
Indeed, the competitive influ-
ences are so strong that even if a
newspaper or television network ,
An Israeli soldier examines the body of a terrorist killed when Israeli troops stormed a
considered the withholding of infor-
hijacked bus in mid-April. A newspaper photograph later forced the revelation that two
mation in the public interest, the
terrorists, reportedly killed during the storming of the bus, had been beaten to death by
potential of losing a "story" generally
Israeli interrogators.
overrides these impulses.
The issue of self-censorship was
recently tested in Israel — and unfor-
tunately misinterpreted and misun-
derstood in this country — following
the April hijacking of a busload of
First reports said all the hijac-
kers were killed when Israeli forces
freed the hostages. Subsequently, in-
formation leaked out that two of the
four had survived and had been kil-
led by Israelis after their arrest. Gov-
ernment officials asked the •media to
withhold publication, pending an in-
The Israeli media complied with
the request excdpt for the sensational
tabloid, Hadashot, which printed
photographs of the two terrorists
being led from the scene. The news-
paper was closed by the government
for four days.
The U.S. media cried foul, with
the eminentNew York Times leading
the way with a story headlined:
"Testing the Limits of Israeli Civil
Times columnist Anthony
Lewis, in a separate column, sub-
sequently called Israel's censorship
policy a "habit,", and he added, "the
Special to The Jewish News
habit grows."
• What none of the American
media seemed to understand or ac-
knowledge is that the issue involved
censor, which is the basis for the flex-
Hadashot did not test the right of the
was not censorship but ,self-imposed
ible censorship mechanism that
,,,press to publish freely. Rather, it
exists," wrote Frankel. "Penalizing
tested the' right of a renegade paper
Hadashot for defying the rules of the
to play by its own rules;which would
The government did not order
game was, therefore, necessary to de-
threaten Israel's free press. The
the media to withhold publication of
fend the game."
the photographs bit rather asked the
The media in the U.S. have
tween military censorship.and its ab-
press to impose an embargo of their
recognized that the impera-
own. A system providing for self-
tives of national security can co-exist
' tive to the imperatives of freedom '
regulation has been in effect since
with the imperatives of a free press.
and censorship- only to the impera-
1945 and has continued because, un-
. Indeed, columnist Lewis believes —
tives of national security,
fortunately, Israel is a country which
and he is probably correct — that
has lived continually in a state of
most editors in this country would
find such a system "outrageous."
merely a violation of censorship. It
Erwin Frankel, editor of the
But rather than castigate Israel,
Jerusalem Post, defended the policy
the U.S. media might consider a Simi-
agreement betWeen the Israel
in a letter to the
Mechanism in this country.
' "The 'closure of'the' new Oeint116ifj4941165,9/PrtitlIcaefillit4W4OlitAry

• • • • *** .. 'Ad •-• • d'A •• • ••
• •L'1 • • •



Should U.S. media adopt
Israel's system of protecting
national security?

1. J.

/ A


Friday, August 3, 1984 25

In the Pentagon Papers case, the
Times, followed by the Washington
Post and then other newspapers,
printed those documents even before
court hearings could decide the sen-
sitivity of the material.
Daniel Elsberg, who leaked the
documents, was considered a hero in
the liberal community but few asked
how Elsberg and the Times et al
made the decision on their own that
the papers were "political" and not
damaging to national security.
In another case, the late
President Kennedy personally called
Times columnist James Reston, ask-
ing him not to print information
about the imminent invasion of the
Bay of Pigs in Cuba.
Reston complied with the re-
quest. He, has since lamented on oc-
casion that perhaps he should have
printed the column and public disclo-
sure might have avoided the ulti-
mate debacle.
But the question is not one of the
consequences of publication but
rather how decisions are or should be
made regarding the public disclosure
of potentially sensitive government
In the last ten years, this country
has witnessed several confrontations
between the government and the
media and it is not altogether clear
that the public always has been
served well with publication.
A systematic and comprehensive
approach of resolving these adversa-
rial relationships — such as the one
in place in Israel — might very well
be suited for the U.S.
Rather than criticize Israel, the
U.S. media might take a closer-look
at a system which provides for com-
prehensive deliberations before
going to press with information
potentially harmful to the public.
Too much is at stake at times for
any one media institution to make
these decisions on its own. Its inter-
est goes beyond the public's interest
and no amount of protestation can
deny that.
A collective judgement — one
arrived at by representatives of the
major media outlets as well as gov-
ernment officials — would go a long
way to assuring that publication of
sensitive materials had at least a
comprehensive and full hearing.
Such a system may cost a televi-
sion station or newspaper "an exclu-
sive." But if that ianot a concern — as
the media maintain — then, of
course, there is nothing to lose.
Not only would such a system
offer a safeguard in publishing in
formation dealing with national se-
curity, but it would be an important
step in restoring some public respec-
tability for the media as well as reas-
suring Americans that- the press is
responsible and prepared to exercise
some self-restraint.
It would also repair the relation-
ship between the media and govern-
ment, a relationship which has been
unnecessarily strained. That alone
would be worth the effort to launch •
such a system. ,
• . •• •• •




./ •16


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