Israel: Al Jazeera ban is an attack on media freedom and war reporting

Israel: Al Jazeera ban is an attack on media freedom and war reporting - Media

ARTICLE 19 strongly condemns Israel’s move to close the Al Jazeera news channel and block its websites in Israel. Prior to its closure on 5 May, Al Jazeera was one of very few international media outlets still operating out of Gaza. Banning Al Jazeera is an attack on media freedom that will prevent essential war reporting. Independent media coverage of the conflict is crucial for informing people, locally and globally, about the situation in Gaza and enabling them to advocate for change as the devastating war, now into its eighth month, continues. Israel must allow Al Jazeera to resume operations and ensure that all international and domestic media outlets can operate freely, including in Gaza. 

On 5 May 2024, the Israeli government unanimously authorised the Israeli Communication Minister to order the closure of Al Jazeera broadcasts in both Arabic and English within Israel, banning its website in Israel, closing its offices in the country and confiscating equipment used by its personnel. Following the decision, police officers and Communications Ministry inspectors seized the channel’s equipment and locked the premises of Al Jazeera in East Jerusalem. 

These actions were undertaken under the so-called Al Jazeera Bill, approved by the Knesset on 1 April 2024, authorising such measures in case of ‘threat to national security’. Shortly after the Bill was passed, Israeli authorities announced their intention to use it against the operations of Al Jazeera in Israel. 

The Israeli authorities first threatened to close Al Jazeera in Israel in November 2023. Instead, they shut down Al Mayadeen, a Lebanese media outlet, based on emergency media regulations citing threats to national security.

Al Jazeera, which operates in both Israel and Palestine, is one of the few international media outlets that was able to report out of the Gaza Strip. It has enabled courageous on-ground reporting carried out by Palestinian journalists during this war – which has resulted in unprecedented numbers of casualties of journalists. Al Jazeera was able to cover the situation and atrocities on the ground, ensure that the voices of the people in Gaza reached the world, and document human rights and humanitarian law violations. The coverage of the war also continues to inform global advocacy and solidarity movements.

ARTICLE 19 warns that the action taken by the Israeli government against Al Jazeera represents a violation of media freedom and the right to access independent and diverse media coverage and sources.

Although freedom of expression can be restricted on the basis of protecting national security, the restrictions must be necessary and proportionate to achieve this aim. In particular, state authorities should demonstrate the restriction imposed is the least restrictive means possible for protecting national security. Permanently or temporarily banning a media outlet is a highly-restrictive measure which is rarely justified. 

Moreover, the restrictions on expression should be imposed by a court or independent adjudicatory body (e.g. an independent media regulator), while respecting due process standards. 

ARTICLE 19 finds that the Al Jazeera ban failed to uphold international freedom of expression standards, which the Israeli government is bound to respect. It is part of a worrying trend of the government’s attempt to control the narrative of the war and censor essential independent reporting about it. This is particularly alarming at a time when international media are banned access to Gaza.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Israeli government to overturn its decision to shut down Al Jazeera in the country and revoke the bill on which the measures were carried out. All international and domestic media outlets must be allowed to operate freely, including in Gaza.