What reporter has not dreamed at some point in his career of being able to sue his editors for distorting his deathless prose on the copy desk?
In Israel the reporter's fantasy became fact recently when staff writer Yair Kotler of the respected Hebrew language daily, Haaretz, sought and obtained a temporary court injunction against his own newspaper, preventing it from printing an article that he said was so badly edited as to endanger his reputation as a responsible and unbaised journalist.
The article, an interview with Deputy Prime Minister Yigael Yadin, was supposed to run in a weekend supplement. Kotler showed the court galley proofs with the changes his editor had made, however and won a restraining order.
Then, Haaretz asked the district court to lift the ban on the grounds that there is no legal basis for a journalist to question his editors' decisions in court.
The court postponed a decision but the next day the entire case became irrelevant when the rival daily Maariv printed the entire, unedited version as an advertisement paid for by Deputy Prime Minister Yadin's political party, the Democratic Movement for Change, which felt the unedited article was more sympathetic to Yadin than the edited version.
If Maariv had any qualms about running a pirated copy of its rival's article as an advertisement it was not enough to prevent it from doing so.
The incident points up the livey and competitive nature of the Israeli press, which is among the most inquisitive and resourceful as well as freewheeling in the world.
There are 27 daily papers in Israel. Thirteen are in Hebrew, four in Arabic and one each is published in English, French, Yiddish, Polish, Hungarian, German, Romanian and Russian. Add that to a television and radio service, to which Israelis are addicted, and you have something for nearly everybody among Israel's 3 million people.
An Israeli television crew got into Egypt before last December's Cairo conference without the permission of the government, although the crew members technically belong to a public broadcasting authority. When the Israeli government tried to limit the number of Israeli journalists going to Cairo, the journalists took the government to court and won.
Famous scoops have become apart of the Israeli newspaper legend. Uri Dan of Maariv, in the early morning hours after the Entebbe raid while the Israeli commando planes were flying home with the rescued hostages, managed to get a telephone call through from Tel Aviv to Uganda's Idi Amin and hit the streets with a dramatic evewitness account of the raid's aftermath from none other than Amin himself.
Dan Margalit of Haaretz took $50 and deposited it in a Washington bank in the account of Leah Rabin, the wife of then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, last March. It was illegal then for Israeli citizens to hold foreign bank accounts without permission and when the deposit was accepted, Margalis had the proff he needed to print the story that led to Leah Rabin's conviction and Yitzhak Rabin's resignation.
Rabin's government coalition fell the previous December indirectly as the result of a tiny, orthodox religious paper called Shearim.
Rabin held a ceremony for the first American F15 fighter planes to reach Israel but the planes did not arrive until shortly before sundown on a Friday. Religious Jews are not supposed to drive on the sabbath, which begins with the setting of the Friday sun, and so religious ministers were not able to get home in time to prevent a violation of the sabbath.
Nobody made anything of it until Shearim pointed out the desecration of the sabbath. The result was that the religious ministers voted against the government in protest and were kicked out of the coalition, resulting in the government's fall and a call for new elections - elections which brought a new party under Menachem Begin to power.
Sometimes the Israeli press gets carried away, however. Israeli radio was criticized for broadcasting in advance that West German commandos were about to attack a hijacked plane in Somalia earlier this year. Their enterprising monitor had picked up communications between the commando plane and its home base in Germany.
There is also the famous case of the correspondent in Europe who suspected that his competition was peeking at his stories at the local Reuter news agency office which transmitted stories to Tel Aviv for both papers.
He had Reuter print up a false story for transmission but did not actually transmit it. The competition fell for the ruse and promptly sent the false story to his own paper under his own byline.
The practical joke failed because the competition's paper checked the story out, found it to be false and refused to print it. The practical joker's own paper, however, printed the false story because, unknown to him, it was his own paper's habit to peek at the competition's stories when they came into the Reuter office in Tel Aviv.
The Israeli press, as well as foreign correspondents in Israel, have to submit their stories for military censorship and the charge has been made that, especially for the Arabic language press, that the censorship is sometimes political instead of strictly military.
Pnina Lahav, a Lecture in constitutional law at Hebrew University, wrote in the Jerusalem Post recently that "unlike their counterparts in the U.S. and Britain, Israel's newsmen and politicians have by and large accepted government regulation of the press. Licensing and censorship are viewed in the main as the necessary concomitants of a liveral democratic system of regulation that is left over from the Britain mandate.
No political scandal remains secret for long from the Israeli press, but it could be said that, with a few notable exceptions, the Hebrew language press is something less than inquisitive when it comes to Israel's behavior in the occupied territories.
When the Arabic language press tries to point out abuses of power, they are censored. One notable exception was Haaretz's refusal to believe the government's denial of a story which Time Magazine and othe foreign papers had printed about the tear gassing of children in a West Bank school. The incident, which the military government had tried to cover up, led to the dismissal of the West Bank military commander.
Despite censorship and regulation it would be hard to deny that the Israeli press is alive and well and that even the Arabic papers in East Jerusalem have more freedom of expression than the vast majority of newspapers in the Arab world.