Journalist Ilana Dayan Appeals Finding She Libeled Captain

Investigative reporter Ilana Dayan appealed to the Supreme Court yesterday against the Jerusalem District Court's finding that she libeled an Israel Defense Forces officer.

The court required Dayan and Telad, the franchisee of the television station that airs her program, "Fact," to pay the officer, known as Captain R., NIS 300,000 for showing footage and airing audio tapes that suggested he had "confirmed the kill" of 13-year-old Iman al-Hams near an IDF fortification in Rafah in the Gaza Strip in 2004.

Dayan said that if District Court Judge Noam Sohlberg's December 2009 verdict was not overturned, it would deal "a mortal blow to freedom of the press, and to a press that sparks controversy and public discourse and dares to expose to the light of day stories that ought to be told."

Captain R. was acquitted by a military tribunal sometime after the segment aired. He then sued Dayan and Telad for libel.

Sohlberg said in his verdict that the materials and the way they were presented did an injustice to Captain R.

In several key respects, he wrote, "the facts of the incident were presented in a manner that strayed from the truth and left viewers with impressions, facts and conclusions that were not true, and which created a negative impression of the complainant in viewers' imagination."

Telad also filed its own appeal yesterday.

Earlier this month, Captain R. appealed the ruling as well, asking that his compensation be increased considerably.

Dayan argued in the appeal that Captain R. himself can be heard in a recorded radio transmission from the scene reporting that he had confirmed the kill by shooting two bullets at the girl point-blank.

She also said her broadcast devoted considerable time to Captain R.'s explanation - that by firing he had intended to neutralize the threat he thought the girl posed - as he presented it during his interrogation by the Military Police.

The segment similarly presented the explanation he gave for a later burst of gunfire, which he said he did not aim at the girl's body, the appeal stated.

Therefore, it argued, nothing in Dayan's report judged Captain R. - just as nothing in his acquittal by the military tribunal cleansed his conduct of its moral failings.

The appeal also charged that Sohlberg saw the entire event as a story of heroism and determined that the soldiers fired "to thwart an attack," while dealing leniently with Captain R.'s statement over the radio toward the end of the incident that "anything that moves, even if it's a 3-year-old, must be killed."

Moreover, it said, while Sohlberg is free to interpret the incident as he sees fit, and "is certainly free to think that the story of a girl being killed as she flees, and then having her body shot at close range by the respondent, is a story of heroism ... there is no place for denying the appellant the right to think otherwise."

The appeal accused Sohlberg of running Dayan's report "through a particle accelerator" and splitting it into tiny fragments, while ignoring the big picture.

Sohlberg also identified 11 items that ostensibly deviated from the way the court would have reported the incident, thereby making himself a kind of "editor-in-chief" of the report, it said.

Telad's appeal stated that Sohlberg's ruling ignored a petition to the High Court of Justice filed by the girl's parents about a year after Captain R.'s acquittal, which analyzed each of the charges against him, as well as the event itself.