Haaretz and its journalist Uri Blau failed to exercise proper caution to protect a source, a Tel Aviv court ruled on Thursday. The court ordered the newspaper and the reporter to compensate the source, who gave them classified information, but did not set a sum.
Meanwhile, the court ordered Haaretz to pay the plaintiff Anat Kamm’s legal costs of 75,000 shekels (nearly $20,000). Kamm gave Blau a USB drive containing classified military material in September 2008.
“It appears Blau hadn’t considered the repercussions and risks in the way he exposed the plaintiff,” District Court Judge Rahamim Cohen wrote in his ruling. “His evaluation of the risks was not in keeping with the reasonable discretion he should have exercised under customary journalistic practice.”
The disk on key Kamm had given Blau consisted of some 1,500 classified documents she had copied during her military service in the office of Central Command chief Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh. On the basis of these documents Blau published a series of articles, which were approved by the military censor.
One of the articles, released in Haaretz in November 2008 under the headline “Clearance sale,” revealed that the IDF had authorized the killing of Palestinian fugitives even when they could have been arrested, in violation of the High Court of Justice’s instructions. Following this report, together with the publication of documents classified “top secret” that Kamm had given Blau, the IDF, Shin Bet and police launched an investigation to find the leaker.
Kamm was questioned on suspicion of leaking the documents and subsequently was convicted, in a plea bargain, of espionage and disclosing secret information. She was sentenced to three and a half years in prison and was released in January 2014, after the reduction of one third of her term.
Blau was required to return to the Shin Bet dozens of documents and was convicted in a plea deal of holding secret information. He was sentenced to four months of community service.
In 2013 Kamm sued Haaretz and Blau for 2.6 million shekels for revealing her as the reporter’s source. She maintained that the negligent conduct of the newspaper, Blau, publisher Amos Schocken and then deputy editor Avi Zilberberg had led to her exposure as a source and caused her grave damage.
The suit claimed that the respondents broke an agreement with Kamm as a source, publishing the articles close to the time she gave Blau the information. It said Kamm realized that if Blau had not made the agreement with the Shin Bet, the documents could not have been used against her.
The court ruled that Schocken and Zilberberg were not responsible for the damages Kamm had incurred. The lawyers who represented Haaretz and Blau, Ze’ev Leond and Tali Lieblich, said in response: “There is heavy fear the decision will have a chilling effect on investigative journalism in general and on security reporters in particular, who will be deterred from publishing reports based on leaks. Placing responsibility on a newspaper and a reporter for exposing a source, in circumstances in which the authorities carried out unprecedented acts to breach reporter’s privilege and when the reporter himself is defined as a suspect of criminal acts, is unreasonable.”
“A reporter is not above the law and like any citizen he too must not assist a source to disrupt an investigation. There is no dispute that the investigators failed to trace the source’s identity from the reports in Haaretz. Only due to an aggressive investigation by the Shin Bet was Anat Kamm found as the leak’s source,” their statement said.
“A newspaper and reporter cannot save the source from [herself]. In this case this is not a source who was persuaded to leak or was pressured to do so by the reporter, but exactly the opposite. The source acted in a planned way on her own initiative, long before she approached the reporter, to commit the offense of removing classified material from the army without permission. A source who chooses to continue to keep secret documents illicitly after the publication in the paper and hastens to confess to the acts in [her] investigation, cannot shift the responsibility onto the newspaper [she] asked to publish the documents.
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