Air the Yigal Amir Interview

There is a clear public interest in airing the Yigal Amir interviews. There is no less clear a danger in preventing its broadcast.

Nobody benefits from the decision by the two commercial television channels to shelve a series of interviews with Yigal Amir, Yitzhak Rabin's murderer. Nobody apart from the assassin himself, who due to the hysteria surrounding the broadcast has garnered an aura of reverence and mystery reserved for larger-than-life figures.

It is very easy to understand and even identify with the many Israelis who do not wish to see or hear Yigal Amir. With three shots to Rabin's back he murdered the prime minister of Israel at a peace rally, in order to prevent the continuing reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians, and in the process undermined the democratic foundations of the state.

Yet there is a clear public interest in questioning the killer, and there is a real need to shed additional light on his motives and his sources of inspiration, on the people and groups that affected him and the public atmosphere that led him to his terrible deed. Thursday night's preview on Channel 10 contained enough new information to justify broadcasting the interview in full.

Opponents of the broadcast fear a slippery slope: They fear that Amir will, in the eyes of the public, turn from being the murderer of a prime minister into just another talk-show celebrity whose reason for being in prison is forgotten by all. In fact, though, it is the sudden censorship of the broadcast that has built an image of a mysterious character who should be hidden from the public. As such, it is difficult to understand the concerns of those who oppose broadcasting the interview. Hasn't Israeli society emphatically stated its position against the assassination and the assassin? Isn't Israeli society strong enough to confront with his statements?

An interview with the press is not a prize or a medal of honor. The media in Israel and abroad often broadcast interviews with killers, terrorist leaders and the heads of crime organizations. Usually they provide snippets of information that are vital to understanding the sources of evil and painting a portrait of its perpetrators. Airing these stories is not tantamount to admiration for their murderous acts. This is exactly how the interview with Amir should be understood.

Of particular concern are the attempts at the highest level to intervene in the decision over the broadcasts. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appealed to the chairwoman of the Second Authority for Television and Radio, Nurit Dabush, to prevent the broadcast. Dabush, whose job is to represent the public interest in commercial broadcasting, should have immediately opposed this meddling and defended Channel 10's decision to air the tapes as planned. Debating censoring a broadcast for political reasons is not in line with her job description, and in fact is contradictory to it.

In shelving the interviews, new and pertinent information was kept hidden and the commercial networks lapsed in fulfilling their duty. The suddenness of the decision strengthens the rumors of a conspiracy and lends an element of romance to the figure of the murderer. It is not too late for the Second Authority to correct its mistakes in this affair. It must defend the journalistic decision to broadcast the interview, allow it to be aired this week and prevent crass attempts at intervention by politicians and shareholders in the professional considerations of the newsroom. There is a clear public interest in airing the Yigal Amir interviews. There is no less clear a danger in preventing its broadcast.