Military Censor Says Job Obsolete

TEL AVIV (Reuters) -

Sima Vaknin-Gill may be Israel’s last chief military censor. And she makes no secret of welcoming that.

After 10 years in a role that stirs frequent annoyance and occasional dread among journalists, Vaknin-Gill wants her office, which dates back to the country’s wartime founding, replaced with a streamlined civilian agency more in sync with contemporary media freedoms.

Her call for reform, set out in an 88-page essay in a Defense Ministry journal this week, is largely academic: military censorship in Israel is already a waning apparatus.

By law, Israeli journalists and accredited international correspondents must submit, prior to publication, any item touching upon security issues to the censor’s office. In reality, this is not done — a nod to the impracticality of blanket oversight in a country with fast-breaking military news.

Instead, and despite their sweeping blackout powers, Vaknin-Gill and her staff of 35 usually limit intervention to reports about core secrets such as intelligence missions or nuclear projects. Their decisions can sometimes be overturned on appeal.

“It’s a matter of recognizing the situation as it is, and institutionalizing the values of Israel both as a democracy and a democracy that has to defend itself,” the 50-year-old air force brigadier-general told Reuters in an interview.

Looking to official secrecy regulations in the United States and Britain, Vaknin-Gill advocates “more preemption and less prevention” of sensitive reporting in Israel.

She envisages a civilian agency — preferably without the word “censorship” in its title — that would provide advance “guidance” to the media on steering clear of exposing facts that Israel deems crucial to its national security.

Vaknin-Gill favors holding military officers and government officials more stringently to their non-disclosure obligations — something she says would be facilitated by trimming censorship.

“The real secrets will be kept secret, I hope, because everyone will understand their importance,” she said.

Vaknin-Gill’s reform manifesto got the green light from Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, but he has not yet said where he or the government stands on her ideas.

The question may have been rendered moot by cost cuts. Israel’s armed forces commander, Lieutenant-General Gadi Eizencot, has proposed shifting military censorship to the civilian realm so it no longer draws from the defense budget.