The Knesset approved on Monday evening the first reading of an amendment to the libel law.
The amendment seeks to raise the compensation for libel to 300,000 shekels, six times the amount currently prescribed by law, even without proof of damage. The court will be allowed to double the compensation to 600,000 shekels if it is convinced that the libel caused damage.
The amendment was submitted by MKs Meir Sheetrit (Kadima), Yariv Levin (Likud), Zevulun Orlev (The Jewish Home), Anastasia Michaeli (Yisrael Beiteinu) and Yisrael Hasson (Kadima).
In addition, the bill would require the offending media outlet to publish a retraction, and the full response of the injured party, within what the law defines as “reasonable time.” In case such a reaction is not published, the injured party could receive compensation of up to 1.5 million shekels.
The proposal sparked controversy among members of the Knesset, some of whom described it as a “silencing law”, while others argued that the law would result in a more responsible media which is committed to reporting the truth.
Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni applied heavy pressure on Monday on her party members who supported the amendment, demanding they retract their support.
It was later decided in a meeting of the party members that the party opposes the amendment, despite the fact that two of its members are behind the initiative.
It was also decided at the meeting that MK Sheetrit will be able to raise the proposal before the Knesset, but must clarify that he will oppose the amendment unless some essential changes are incorporated before the next Knesset readings of the law.
The Labor Party criticized the amendment, with MK Avishay Braverman saying that “this law will encourage excessive lawsuits by those who have the means for the purpose of intimidating and silencing anyone who criticizes them, without having to prove that damage was done.”
He added, “This law is scary and is designed to shut mouths and avoid criticism.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Independence) voted in favor of the amendment, and United Torah Judaism and Shas also supported it.
MK Yariv Levin said after the amendment was passed, “We’ve made an important step to maintaining democracy. The Knesset has expressed its support for maintaining freedom of expression and eliminating ‘freedom of degradation’ and established an important rule which states that accuracy is better than the scoop.”
“I intend to continue the process of legislation and bring the bill to final approval soon,” added Levin.