On Tuesday, the Tel Aviv District Court dismissed a lawsuit against Haaretz, its publisher and reporters in which a former prosecutor claimed that the newspaper had improperly disclosed that she had been a source for a 2003 story, allegedly breaching an agreement with her.
In a precedent-setting decision, Judge Avi Zamir ruled that Baruch Kra, a Haaretz reporter at the time, and Shmuel Rosner, who was head of the paper's news division, had conducted themselves as required and acted to maintain journalistic privilege.
The lawyer, Liora Glatt-Berkovitz, who declined to comment on the dismissal of the case, filed the suit in 2007 against the paper, its publisher Amos Schocken, and Kra and Rosner.
The case comes against the backdrop of a 2001 decision by then-Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein to open a criminal investigation into Israel's prime minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, and others over the funding of Sharon's campaign to head the Likud party.
As prosecutor, Glatt-Berkovitz was assigned to the police investigation that led to suspicions in what became known as the Cyril Kern affair - that Kern, a South African businessman, had transferred millions of shekels into a bank account that belonged to Sharon's son Gilad.
After the date for the 2001 elections was moved up, Glatt-Berkovitz expressed the belief that the public should know about the investigation into suspicions that Sharon had been involved in bribery. She did this through Kra, the reporter.
She provided Kra with pages from a draft request for a judicial inquiry into Kern and a copy of a letter she had written to the state prosecutor. In the letter, she discussed her suspicions that later led to the opening of the Kern case.
In her civil suit, Glatt-Berkovitz claimed she provided the documents on the condition that they would not be shown to anyone but rather deposited in a safe or destroyed. In January 2003, Kra reported in Haaretz about the existence of the bribery investigation. He then immediately called Glatt-Berkovitz and they discussed their thoughts about the report.
The same day, Kra and Rosner faxed the four pages of the draft request to Channel 2 crime reporter Moshe Nussbaum, who showed the document on the station's evening news program that day.
The next day, the station broadcast a report based on Glatt-Berkovitz's letter to the state prosecutor.
In an interrogation under caution by a special team that investigated the leak, Glatt-Berkovitz acknowledged what she had done. Criminal charges were filed against her, and in a plea agreement she was convicted of disclosure and breach of duty and was removed from the prosecutor's office.
Judge Zamir rejected all of Glatt-Berkovitz's claims. He acknowledged that journalists must recognize the possibility that disclosure of a news source could damage the source, sometimes dramatically, and that journalists have an initial duty not to disclose a source's name or other information that would lead to the disclosure of the source's identity.
He said journalists can assume that any information provided to them is appropriate for disclosure as long as their sources do not state explicitly otherwise. The judge also noted that Glatt-Berkovitz's conduct immediately after the news was reported did not suggest she felt any grievance toward the newspaper or the defendants.
On the fact that Nussbaum, the Channel 2 reporter, was provided documents, the judge ruled that this is accepted practice in the media and that in its broadcast of an image of a document provided by Glatt-Berkovitz, the station did not disclose her identity.
Lawyers for the Haaretz Group said in a statement: "The court ruled that the Haaretz newspaper and journalists Baruch Kra and Shmuel Rosner conducted themselves professionally and did all they could to maintain journalistic privilege."
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