Israel’s Channel 13 News gave police unedited footage from a July demonstration against Benjamin Netanyahu that helped the police incriminate participants suspected of assaulting a policeman, and attacking the channel’s news crew.
The news company did not object to the police request, which was backed by a court order, even though the court gave it an opportunity to do so. The attorney for one of the suspects plans to file a complaint to the Press Council against Channel 13 for handing over the material.
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The protest entailed violent clashes between demonstrators and policemen. Some demonstrators attacked an undercover detective, Itamar Ohayon, who was seeking to arrest one of them and suffered a broken leg. Several moments later, one of the suspects in the attack on Ohayon also confronted members of the Channel 13 News team and damaged their equipment.
Nearby security cameras filmed the alleged attack on the detective. Two suspects, Uri Goldberg and Aryeh Bracha, were arrested that same night. They were indicted for aggravated assault last week. During the investigation, the Zion Precinct police asked the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court to order News 13 to turn over all the raw footage it had from the demonstration, not just footage of the attack on its own crew. The police made clear in its request that the footage would also be used to investigate the attack on Ohayon.
On July 24, Judge Yaron Mientkavich signed the order, instructing the station to give police “all the footage from the site of the incident at that demonstration.” On the order – apparently in consideration of the sensitivity involved in using journalistic footage in an investigation – the judge added in his own handwriting: “If there is opposition to submitting the material, it should be explained by July 28, 2020.”
There doesn’t seem to have been any such opposition. An investigator in the case wrote in a memorandum that when he asked the company’s legal adviser for the raw footage, she merely requested a signed court order. “I sent her the order by email,” he wrote. The next day a News 13 executive sent him the complete footage by email. “In a conversation, Yuval [the executive] made it clear that this was raw, unedited footage,” the investigator said.
While the confrontation between the demonstrators and the Channel 13 News crew lasted about five minutes, the police were given 70 minutes of footage, including other confrontations between demonstrators and police. The investigator who summarized the material wrote, “I focused on the video of the specific event [that is the subject] of this investigation.” Police used the footage to incriminate the two suspects.
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Uri Goldberg claims he didn’t know he was struggling with a policeman, because the undercover cop didn’t identify himself. He thought a rightwing activist was attacking him, and understood it was a policeman only when they were on the ground and the detective said to him, “Don’t resist.” Police investigators cast doubt on Goldberg’s version of events.
The transcript of his questioning shows how investigators used the news footage. “I’m showing the [suspect] the video from the Channel 13 file, time 28:53,” one of them said to the suspect. “You see what I see? Look, it’s simply a disgrace, this is called a lynching. There you are, it’s really clear, trying to run away from the officer. Here you are walking as the officer is holding on to you, being dragged after you, until you both fall down together, you see that?” At that point Goldberg said he was invoking his right to remain silent. His attorney, Gabi Lasky, is expected to file a complaint with the Press Council against Channel 13.
Around five minutes after the incident with the detective, several demonstrators confronted the Channel 13 News crew, and tried to prevent reporters Yossi Eli and Avishay Ben Haim from covering the demonstration. Aryeh Bracha, who is also accused of attacking the policeman, was documented attacking a camerman. Bracha claimed that he had been under the influence of drugs at the demonstration.
Courts have previously forbidden police from using raw press footage in their investigations. The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court refused in November to let police use video footage taken by a documentary filmmaker to use against people suspected of evading police checkpoints that had been set up near the sites of demonstrations. The court ruled, “The public interest in a free, effective and objective press trumps the public interest in advancing a criminal investigation.”
In 2019, the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court ruled that Channel 12 did not have to turn over footage from an investigative report by Raviv Drucker to aid in a rape investigation, and the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court made a similar decision about a Channel 2 News interview with a criminal suspect. “Forcing a journalist to submit information to the investigating authorities undermines his independence and turns him into a subcontractor for the police, which could lead to a loss of public confidence in the media and reduce cooperation with it,” the judge wrote.
Channel 13 News commented: “Subsequent to the serious incident in which News 13 reporters were attacked and as part of the police investigation of the matter, and only after a judge’s order was issued, the police were given documentation from the site at which the News 13 journalists were attacked. It must be emphasized that not all the raw material from the event was given to the Israel Police. News 13 insists that anyone who attacks journalists doing their work be prosecuted. Any hint that News 13 cooperated with the police in an effort to bring about the arrest of demonstrators who were not connected to the attack on the journalists is a complete lie that is totally detached from the facts of the case.”