State Prosecutor Slams Bill That Would Jail Journalists for Publishing Material From Police Probes

Shai Nitzan says the bill, which seeks to prevent the police from making their recommendations public, would 'tie our hands behind our backs'

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, October 30, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan criticized a proposed law that seeks to prevent the police from making their recommendations public in certain criminal cases, which includes a clause that would impose prison sentences of up to a year on journalists who publish leaked material from the probes.

In a discussion of the bill in the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee on Tuesday, Nitzan called the bill “highly problematic” and said that if passed, it would “tie our hands behind our backs.”

Continuing, he said that “in sensitive cases, the Knesset will now tell me not to proceed in the most optimal manner. If they want us to combat crime and corruption in the best way possible, we need to have the optimal means of action. It’s important that we hear the police’s position.”

Nitzan said the proposed law would remove the responsibility of police investigators to gather the maximal amount of required evidence in a situation in which they feel that a case is ready while the state prosecution feels that the evidence is insufficient.

Earlier in the debate, the bill’s sponsor, MK David Amsalem, referred to a report in Haaretz saying the latest version of the draft law contains an article that could lead to a prison sentence for journalists who publish material that was leaked from a police investigation. Amsalem said there was a “scribal error” in the reference to journalists and that it would be corrected. “Journalists can relax,” he said.

“In internal debates, the police realize they’d have to report to us and that I could tell them there are missing details. If they are prohibited from telling me their opinion they will in fact be shirking their responsibility. This will inhibit the effectiveness of police work,” Nitzan told the committee.

“There is no way an indictment will proceed without a prosecutor reading the material, but investigators have a big advantage. Our job is to analyze the evidence. In complex cases we sit and talk to them and it’s very important that we hear their positions. The bill says ‘they won’t help you and you won’t hear their opinion. Instead, you’ll only read the dry documents.’”

The current version of the bill contains no explicit reference to journalists, but it says that anyone who publishes information from an investigation or provides such materials to an individual who is not authorized to receive them, without the permission of a court, could be sentenced to up to a year in prison if convicted.

Amsalem clarified that the article applied to police investigators or employees of the State Prosecutor’s office who leaked information, and not to journalists.

Nitzan signaled to Amsalem that in any event the proposed law would not achieve its purpose. He asked: “Do you really believe that if someone wants to leak we won’t read about it in the paper?”

Nitzan later asked Amsalem to avoid doing anything that would harm the public.