Israel's AG seeks to keep press from reporting criminal investigations
Proposal would contradict fundamental principles of democracy, says attorney representing Haaretz and other media outlets protesting the proposal.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein plans to impose a wide-ranging gag on media reports of criminal investigations, including those of public officials.
Weinstein, who will hold a hearing Wednesday to allow the press to respond to the proposal, has informed the media that he is seeking to pass a law that would ban the public disclosure of any information from ongoing police investigations - whether or not a suspect has been indicted.
Under such a law, photographs of law-enforcement activities relating to an investigation would also be banned, as would the release of any material from a police case file. Publication would be allowed only with court authorization.
Keeping out the press "totally contradicts the fundamental principles of an orderly democracy," said Tal Lieblich, an attorney representing Haaretz and other media outlets protesting the proposal. "It's impossible not to see a link between the decision to try to legislate such a bill and the wave of controversial legislation that is sweeping through the Knesset these days. The goal of this new proposal is to reduce the principle of open disclosure which is founded in a number of existing laws. This is ill suited to an orderly democracy. A democratic state does not conceal actions taken by its authorities."
Law-enforcement officials have also expressed consternation over the bill, especially since it also applies after an indictment has been filed. Some said such a law should be more flexible in allowing coverage of public officials.
Should the law pass, any information provided by the subjects of an investigation will be classified.
Even indirect reports of what they said will be banned from publication, unless a court provides explicit authorization.
Weinstein and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman say the public disclosure of details of criminal investigations constitutes a violation of an individual's right to privacy and dignity.
It "raises concerns about damage being done to the rectitude of the judicial process, since judges and witnesses are exposed to evidence disseminated in the media before such evidentiary information can be submitted in court," said Neeman. "This hinders witness testimony and influences the way testimony is given."
Last week retired Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner, who heads the Israel Press Council, objected to the clampdown.
"The police and the judicial system are unable to solve their own problems, and so they are trying to gag the media," Dorner said. "The last thing which needs to be done is to clamp down on the press."
This is not the first time that the issue of disclosure of investigation evidence has been addressed by legal experts.
In 2000, a committee headed by retired judge Eliyahu Winograd recommended that materials from an investigation ought not to be reported in the press before the suspect was charged. The committee, however, decided that this should not be enshrined in the law.
Weinstein first alluded to his legislative initiative in May of last year, in a public appearance at the Israel Bar Association.