Benjamin Netanyahu
Photo: Reuters
'Draconian law.' MK Tzipi Hotovely
Photo: Gil Yohanan
Only for media outlets. MK Yariv Levin
Photo: Gil Yohanan

Libel bill stirs controversy in Knesset

Members of Knesset up in arms over amendment to bill that would loosen criteria for slander suits. PM announces his support, while bill initiator, MK Zevulun Orlev says he will vote against it unless significant changes are made

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday that he would support a controversial libel law amendment that is up for a second reading at the Knesset.


The announcement comes despite the staunch criticism voiced against the amendment by Knesset members and the media in recent weeks.


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If passed, the bill would loosen the criteria for slander and libel, and significantly raise the maximum damages paid for such violations. The addition could make authors of insulting Facebook posts liable to pay up to NIS 300,000 (roughly $80,500) in damages if sued.


"As long as I'm prime minister, Israel will continue to be an exemplary democracy, and no one will tell anyone what to think, what to write, what to investigate and what to broadcast," Netanyahu said at a Likud faction meeting. "This is the Likud's way.


"However, freedom of expression must give a voice to all public sectors," he added. "I know there's a desire to fix some distortions that limit the freedom of expression, and I'm in charge of doing this responsibly and in the liberal spirit, with respect for others."


He noted that when "I thought that certain proposals may compromise democracy, I shelved them even though there was a majority (in favor). We will preserve democracy, the freedom of expression and the rights of minorities."

מופז קרא לחופש הצבעה, לבני והסיעה החליטו להתנגד (צילום: נועם מושקוביץ)

Livni and Mofaz. Agreed to vote against bill (Photo: Noam Moskovich)


The proposed amendment was dealt a blow earlier Monday. Ynet has learned that one of the bill's initiators, MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi), decided that he won't support it unless it is significantly revised.


"I am dissatisfied with the way the law is worded," he said. "The proposal is unbalanced in its protection of the freedom of speech and the independence of the media. If the wording of the law is not significantly revised in time for the second and third Knesset readings, I will vote against it."


Another initiator of the bill, MK Yariv Levin (Likud), said he agrees to make amendments to the law by which it would only apply to media outlets with wide circulation, and not to individual bloggers and Facebook users.


'Draconian law'

MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) also expressed reservation, calling the initiative "a draconian law, which is like using a hammer to kill a fly."


Hotovely called to reduce the maximum compensation that can be filed in libel suits, saying that it was enough to double the sum, instead of increasing it sixfold.


Meanwhile, the coalition suffered another setback after Independence Party Chairman Ehud Barak requested not to have coalitional discipline in the vote, but was refused. As a result, five faction members, who object to the controversial bill, said they would absent themselves from the plenum during the vote.


Kadima faction members approved party chairman Tzipi Livni's proposal to vote against the amendment to the libel bill. 


The party members also agreed that MK Meir Sheetrit, whose proposal was unified with MK Yariv Levin's (Likud) proposal, will be able to bring forward the proposal and clarify that if no major changes are made, he will retract the bill and oppose it.




פרסום ראשון: 11.21.11, 18:15
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