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Medic Media, a company that was awarded a franchise to rent telephones and televisions and distribute gift packages to new mothers in 22 Israeli hospitals, was last week found guilty by the Tel Aviv Magistrates Court of selling the names of thousands of patients to commercial companies without the permission of the patients. Medic Media, along with company director Shmuel Shaham, was convicted of selling lists of names to an emergency health-care company, Natali, to insurance agencies and companies involved in marketing baby products. Medic Media was also convicted of using the lists to market the Shahal emergency service.

Both Shaham and the company were convicted of fraud and breach of confidentiality, which is guaranteed by privacy laws, and of "contempt for an individual's right to privacy." According to the verdict, the companies that purchased the lists of names from Medic Media were told that all the people on the list had given their permission.

Criminal charges were brought against the company after the publication of an article in Ha'aretz in November 1997. This is the first time that a company operating within Israeli hospitals has been convicted under privacy laws. The phenomenon of companies using lists of patients receiving hospital treatment especially widespread in maternity wards. New mothers are given gift packages by various companies, who then contact the families at home with various commercial offers.

Medic Media, jointly owned by Clal, Poster Media, Migdal, the Dankner Group and private investors, operated from 1993 to 1997 - when it went into receivership - in 22 hospitals owned by the state and the Clalit health maintenance organization. Two years ago, these hospitals signed a new agreement with Tele-pharm, which purchased Medic Media from the receiver.