[Baltimore Sun] Israeli officials seize AP equipment and take down live shot of northern Gaza, citing new media law

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JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli officials seized a camera and broadcasting equipment belonging to The Associated Press in southern Israel on Tuesday, accusing the news organization of violating a new media law by providing images to Al Jazeera.

The Qatari satellite channel is among thousands of clients that receive live video feeds from the AP and other news organizations. The AP denounced the move.

“The Associated Press decries in the strongest terms the actions of the Israeli government to shut down our longstanding live feed showing a view into Gaza and seize AP equipment,” said Lauren Easton, vice president of corporate communications at the news organization. “The shutdown was not based on the content of the feed but rather an abusive use by the Israeli government of the country’s new foreign broadcaster law. We urge the Israeli authorities to return our equipment and enable us to reinstate our live feed immediately so we can continue to provide this important visual journalism to thousands of media outlets around the world.”

Officials from the Communications Ministry arrived at the AP location in the southern town of Sderot on Tuesday afternoon and seized the equipment. They handed the AP a piece of paper, signed by Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, alleging it was violating the country’s foreign broadcaster law.

Shortly before, the equipment was broadcasting a general view of northern Gaza. The AP complies with Israel’s military censorship rules, which prohibit broadcasts of details like troops movements that could endanger soldiers. The live shot has generally shown smoke rising over the territory.

The seizure followed a verbal order Thursday to cease the live transmission — which the news organization refused to do.

“In accordance with the government decision and the instruction of the communications minister, the communications ministry will continue to take whatever enforcement action is required to limit broadcasts that harm the security of the state,” the ministry said in a statement.

Israel’s opposition leader Yair Lapid called the move “an act of madness.”

“This is not Al Jazeera. This is an American news outlet,” he said. “This government acts as if it has decided to make sure at any cost that Israel will be shunned all over the world.”

Israeli officials used the law to close down the offices of the Qatar-based broadcaster on May 5 and confiscated the channel’s equipment, banned its broadcasts, and blocked its websites.

At the time, media groups warned of the serious implications for press freedom in the country since the law gives Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, who is a member of the hard-right flank of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, wide leeway to enforce it against other media.

“With this decision, Israel joins a dubious club of authoritarian governments to ban the station,” the Foreign Press Association in Israel, which represents dozens of international news outlets operating in the country and the Palestinian territories, said earlier this month. “And the government may not be done. The prime minister has the authority to target other foreign media that he deems to be ‘acting against the state.’”

“This is a dark day for the media. This is a dark day for democracy,” it said.

Israel has long had a rocky relationship with Al Jazeera, accusing it of bias against the country, and Netanyahu has called it a “terror channel” that spreads incitement.

Al Jazeera is one of the few international news outlets that has remained in Gaza throughout the war, broadcasting scenes of airstrikes and overcrowded hospitals and accusing Israel of massacres.

The war in Gaza began with a Hamas attack in Israel that killed 1,200 people and saw 250 others taken hostage. More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed since then, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between civilians and combatants in its count.

Hamas has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, Canada and the European Union.

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