Rona Ramon
Rona Ramon and her late son, Asaf, at a 2003 memorial for Ilan Ramon. Photo by Alon Ron
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Rona Ramon, the widow of Israel’s first astronaut Ilan Ramon and bereaved mother of a fighter pilot killed in a training accident, has thrown her support behind a bill that would prevent the media from photographing grieving families for the first 48 hours after receiving notification of their loved one’s death.

The bill, drafted by MK Shai Hermesh ‏(Kadima‏), is slated to reach the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday.

The bill specifies that journalists will be prohibited from making contact with immediate relatives of a fallen soldier, or coming within 200 meters of them, for the first half-hour after the family has received news of the soldier’s death. It also stipulates that family members may not be photographed or caught on video during the first 48 hours after notification, unless they give written permission.

Any journalist found violating these terms could face one month in prison or a NIS 300,000 fine.

Ahead of the committee hearing, Ramon recently sent a letter to cabinet ministers pleading with them to support the bill.

“To our great sadness we live under circumstances in which tragic news is delivered to acquaintances, friends and even our own doors,” she wrote. “Eight months ago, my son Asaf was killed during a flight exercise. An hour after the accident, a strange commotion began outside my home. I received unclear phone messages, and while I tried to decipher what they meant, I noticed journalists and cameramen gathering outside. I need not describe just how horrific and traumatic a sight it was to behold.”
 

Ramon wrote that she learned of the nature of the tragedy from a journalist’s telephone call. “Of course I understood that a terrible accident had occurred, but I didn’t know exactly what had happened, or which of my two soldier sons it had involved. Meanwhile, a journalist called me on some pretext or another, and I essentially received the news from her that Asaf had been in an accident, and I was then left with the awful suspicion that the worst had happened. The official IDF notifying team came only after several hours, once they had verified Asaf’s death in keeping with military regulations.

“With the media circus outside my home − driven by journalists’ greed to get the first picture or interview − the privacy of my family members and close friends was crudely violated,” she wrote. “Moreover, the process of informing the extended family, acquaintances and friends had to be done quickly, dictated by the media’s desire to publicize the news.”

In her letter, Ramon underscored the importance of keeping the media out of families’ homes in the initial hours after they have been notified of a death.

“Receiving that kind of news is intimate, private and of course very difficult. The family needs and is entitled to a period of privacy and quiet to absorb the enormity of what has happened ... We live in a time and place in which news spreads at warp speed, but there are circumstances in which silence is golden and restraining our activity is essential for maintaining respect for what has happened and understanding its significance,” Ramon wrote. “Life presents us with circumstances that we have to treat with civility, humanity and morality, and it pains me that in the State of Israel we need to pass legislation on these matters,” she wrote.

Hermesh said yesterday in response to Ramon’s letter, “I too, along with all the people of Israel, felt the pain experienced by Rona Ramon over the loss of her son Asaf of blessed memory, and was deeply shocked by the media’s reckless behavior in ambushing her outside her home and making contact even before she had received official notification. It is unfortunate that legislation is required in place of basic decency, but the tragedy that occurred to Mrs. Ramon and others before her convinced me that without such legislation, other families receiving similarly tragic news will fall victim to competition between media outlets.”