Netanyahu’s Freedom-quashing Plan to Ban Reporters’ Secret Recordings

Recording without the other person knowing is a way to reveal injustices, so the prime minister’s plan would deny the public the little power it has.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, 17 July 2016.
Abir Sultan, Reuters

Benjamin Netanyahu excels at manipulations that keep the media busy; one of the prime minister’s techniques is to suggest ways to attack reporters. Channel 10 News revealed one such plan to criminalize secret recordings.

His proposal is probably in the initial stages and many details are unknown, but the repercussions are clear. Recorded documentation is power. Anyone today can record with a simple device like a smartphone; it’s the public’s main tool to rein in powers like the state or large corporations.

Recording without the other person knowing is a way to reveal injustices. It’s a way to prove discrimination at a club entrance, document racist hiring practices, and catch employers harassing employees. Netanyahu’s initiative is an attempt to deny citizens the little power they have. What the state may do, the people will not be allowed to do.

The media is the main victim of such recording bans, so law enforcement and the fight against corruption would suffer. Recall aide Shula Zaken’s recordings of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, without which he never would have been convicted of accepting bribes.

The work of journalism includes such recordings every day, even if many of them never reach the public. They are preserved to protect the reporter if an inverviewee sues for libel. Still, investigative journalism is disappearing because of its high cost, and a ban on recordings would drive another nail into the gatekeepers’ coffin.

Such a law could also affect major corporations. It’s unclear, for example, if the law would forbid recording people without their knowledge. If so, companies would have to change their “some conversations are recorded” message over the phone.

The current legal situation, allowing recording with only the recorder’s knowledge, is identical to U.S. federal law. But 12 U.S. states have restrictive laws from which Netanyahu seems to draw inspiration.

Such tough laws are perceived as a way to protect the right to privacy, which is also a right in Israel with a constitutional basis. Still, even in the stricter states, the ban on recording is perceived as archaic, and the courts show an openness toward recordings made for goals perceived as legitimate.

Indeed, Netanyahu’s proposal pleases the Erdogans and Putins of the world, leaders who fear the power of their citizens and prefer to weaken them.