JERUSALEM, JULY 30 -- The Israeli Foreign Ministry said today that it had suspended its relationship with a Jerusalem radio studio after allegations surfaced the that the ministry had paid journalists associated with the studio to report favorably on Israel for foreign radio stations.
A Foreign Ministry statement also denied a report in the New York Times that the ministry secretly channeled money to the production facility to pay journalists' salaries, helped them make connections with broadcast outlets and briefed the journalists on what they should report.
"There are no journalists on the Foreign Ministry's payroll," the statement said.
The ministry said, however, that it had commissioned the radio studio to prepare programs on Israeli current events and other subjects that were then distributed openly by Israeli embassies abroad.
Officials confirmed that the freelance journalists who were employed by the studio to prepare the reports also were given special briefings arranged by the Foreign Ministry.
The ministry and the owner of the studio, Avi Yaffe, maintained that all of the material prepared at the studio for the Foreign Ministry had been distributed under the ministry's name.
But the Times and foreign radio reporters here said the ministry also had paid some of the journalists to do stories favorable to Israel for broadcast outlets abroad and that foreign radio stations had broadcast those dispatches believing they were independent news reports.
The foreign radio stations that are said to have broadcast the reports include several small stations in the United States as well as outlets in Europe, South America, Africa and Asia.
The Foreign Ministry maintained that it had decided to suspend contacts with Yaffe's studio earlier this month, before the Times report, because some of the journalists working on Israeli-commissioned reports at the studio were also "independent journalists" with foreign clients.
"In the course of the standard review, we became concerned about possible misperceptions that some aspects of the current arrangements might be misconstrued as involving conflicts of interest," the ministry statement said.
A ministry spokesman said officials were now reviewing the ministry's arrangement with the studio, but he denied that the government had covertly channeled funds to Yaffe or directly paid any of the journalists. He added that he did not know who the journalists were.
Yaffe, who denied any covert link with the government, said more than 10 freelance journalists worked at his studio. He described them as "moonlighters" who worked on the government-commissioned reports to earn extra money.
Connie Mus, head of the Foreign Press Association, said the reports concerned him because "this undermines the position of every journalist working in the country."
"Professional journalists should be independent. If they're paid by the Foreign Ministry, it discredits the entire press corps," Mus said.