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Yesterday's decision by Petah Tikva Magistrate's Court ordering Channel 2 News to give the police the Galant document seems problematic. The judge's assertion that only a journalist's source is protected, not the documents the source provides, contradicts the courts' traditional stance on this issue. After all, handing over the document could lead to exposure of the source.

The foundational ruling on protecting journalistic sources was handed down by then Supreme Court president Meir Shamgar in 1987.

Shamgar granted partial immunity to such sources even though this is not written in the law books. Specifically, he ruled that journalists would not be required to reveal their sources unless it was necessary to solve a serious crime - and even then, only if there was no other way to find the perpetrator.

What this means is that law enforcement agencies can require a journalist to reveal his source only if all attempts to solve the crime by other means have failed.

While Shamgar's ruling dealt with the question of whether a journalist could be forced to testify in court about his sources, the police subsequently issued regulations requiring police investigations to be governed by the same principle. And based on this principle, it seems the police should have sought access to the Galant document only at a later stage of the investigation, if and when its efforts to solve the crime in other ways have proven unsuccessful.

In 1997, when journalist Ayala Hasson disclosed that the appointment of a new attorney general might have involved an illicit deal (the "Hebron-Bar-On" affair ), prosecutors decided not to seek a court order forcing her to reveal her source; they concluded the probe could be successfully without knowing the source's identity. That is how the police should be conducting itself in the Galant case as well.