The International Federation of Journalists today warned Israel that its boycott of the BBC announced this week challenges free speech and sends out a dangerous message in a region where press freedom is under pressure.
Ariel Sharon has barred the BBC from his meeting with the British press during his visit to London today, amid accusations that the corporation made false allegations against Israel in a report on weapons of mass destruction.
The bar follows a decision made by Mr Sharon's office a fortnight ago to "withdraw cooperation" from the BBC in protest at a documentary that looked at the lack of international scrutiny of Israel's nuclear and biological weapons programmes and the double standard compared with Iraq.
Although the programme, Israel's Secret Weapon, was broadcast in Britain in March, it was a trailer on BBC World rather than the content that provoked Israeli anger.
“Governments that claim to be democratic cannot pick and choose media coverage to suit themselves,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “Independent and critical journalism is the price of democracy and by sending a message that undermines press freedom the Israeli Prime Minister adds to problems already being experienced by many journalists and independent media in the Middle East.”
The Israelis have broken contact with the BBC in protest at its repeated "demonisation" of the country and the showing on BBC World of a critical documentary on Israel's nuclear, biological and chemical arsenal.
The IFJ says comments by Daniel Seaman, director of the Israeli government press office, of a BBC attitude towards Israel "verging on the anti-Semitic" and accusing the corporation of showing programmes which had sought "to delegitimise Israel and showed some of the attitudes once familiar in Der Stürmer (the Nazi journal)" were symptomatic of Israeli intolerance of media criticism.
"The price of democracy is transparency and public scrutiny,” said White, “When Israel turns its face against these basic principles it makes the job of democratic transformation in the Middle East harder not easier.”
The IFJ says that Ariel Sharon should visit Britain with an open mind and be prepared to meet with all journalists and news organisations without any discrimination.