Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is promoting an amendment to the penal code that would impose sweeping bans on publishing investigative materials in the media. These are broadly defined in the proposed amendment as “a document, including digital or recorded media ... that is created, taken, received, written or documented by a police officer or investigator in the framework of the investigation of an offense.”
The amendment would allow for a prison sentence of up to three years for police officers, suspects, defendants, prosecutors, defense attorneys or journalists convicted of involvement in any part of the chain of events leading up to and including the publication of the banned materials.
Despite the great importance of protecting the rights of suspects, Weinstein’s initiative is flawed. Hermetically sealing investigatings from the public as a matter of principle is a violation of freedom of expression and the fundamental right of suspects and defendants to publicize their experiences. It is obvious that the news media will also be significantly damaged by the amendment, which will compromise their ability to discharge their duties as guardians of human and civil rights.
If the amendment’s purpose is to prevent leaks, then let law enforcement authorities put their own house in order rather than penalize journalists. The statement by the head of the Israel Police investigations and intelligence department, Maj. Gen. Yoav Segalovich, in discussing the amendment, that “investigations must be conducted in the dark, far from the public eye,” shows the bill’s real danger: In the dark, far from the public eye, illegal measures can be taken without ever coming to light.
Apart from the fact that the disadvantages of Weinstein’s amendment outweigh its benefits, a measure of insensitivity is needed to promote such legislation in the current public atmosphere. Israeli democracy is under attack by powerful forces that seek to silence people, to stifle criticism and to bring down the curtain. These forces view the prosecution and the media as hostile; now Weinstein and his colleagues come to ride roughshod over the media, imposing a blackout over certain cases and thus assisting mainly suspects in high office. It would have been better had the blackout initiative never been born, but it is not too late to admit the mistake and shelve this unsound proposal.
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